Cost of living has become one of the dominant themes of the federal election campaign and in Toronto, where real estate prices are soaring and rents are sky high, housing affordability is one of the number one issues facing voters in the city.
All four parties have released extensive platforms filled with promises to make buying a home more affordable, should their government get elected.
The Conservatives pledged to return to 30-year mortgages for first-time home buyers to help lower monthly payments while also easing the stress test on mortgages. The Liberals say they will be implementing a tax on foreign buyers and the NDP has promised to do both.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also announced they would spend $5 billion immediately towards their goal of building 500,000 affordable housing units in 10 years. The Green Party says they’ll build 25,000 new housing units and 15,000 renovated units every year for the next 10 years while providing rental assistance to 125,000 households.
While the promises may sound like positive solutions on paper, Professor of Public Policy at York University Thomas Klassen says governments have several limitations in terms of what they can actually deliver.
When it comes to housing, the main roadblock is the federal government can’t control a lot of factors that affect it.
“They can promise, they can say we have a plan. But that plan is much harder to put into place than you would expect,” said Klassen. “They don’t determine housing prices, they don’t even determine where housing and what housing is built. That is determined by city governments and the private sector.”
“It can decrease taxes, but I’m not sure people feel that as much at the end of the year,” he said.
Klassen goes so far as to say he believes one should not even pay attention to promises made on housing.
“Anything to do with housing-related promises, you can discount that, because that just isn’t something the government can do. It can’t control what a house or apartment will be sold for or rented for.”
In the riding of Parkdale-High Park, the issue of affordable housing hits home with many residents, as evidenced at a meeting held by the Parkdale Tenants Association on Monday.
Judith Penfold from the association says many people in the riding are spending more than 50 per cent of their income and in some cases, up to 90 per cent, on housing.
“They resort to food banks, they really have a hard time making it from pay cheque to pay cheque,” said Penfold. “If anyone loses an apartment, really, the next stop is the street. There’s no way you’ll get another one.”
Tenants in the area have fought back against skyrocketing rents, mobilizing in the hundreds to withhold rent from landlords who have attempted to increase rates above the government caps.
NDP candidate for Parkdale-High Park Paul Taylor says his party’s commitment to build 500,000 affordable housing units is the way to tackle housing affordability.
“We need more housing. This is why landlords, in terms of the rental situation, have all of the control. We just don’t have enough supply … so landlords are able to charge whatever they like,” said Taylor. “We really want to be able to come to the table with some dollars to be able to build more housing so there’s much more supply so people have choice and opportunity to access this type of housing. Every single person deserves a home and we need to be making sure we are working towards that.”
When asked how he plans to actually get units built, he says they will be coming to the table, along with the province, with the funds and working closely with those partners.
“We are in the middle of a house in crisis. People need action now and we need to make sure the richest of the rich who are benefiting from our current system are contributing to making things better,” said Taylor.
“Every single person deserves a home and we need to be making sure we are working towards that.”
Taylor also mentions that more affluent residents in the area say their children and grandchildren can’t afford to move out.
“When we’re looking at things like increasing the Home Buyers Tax Credit for first time home buyers and looking at extending mortgage terms to 30 years for Canada House and Mortgage Corporation mortgages for first time buyers, things like that allow people to live in the communities in which they have grown up,” said Taylor.
However Liberal candidate for Parkdale-High Park Arif Virani echoes Klassen regarding the lack of agency the federal government has when it comes to housing issues.
He says he hears about things like predatory developers, rent control or Ontario Municipal Board decisions, which fall under provincial control and over which the federal government has no jurisdiction.
However, as with several other services, the feds can write a cheque and he emphasized the steps already taken to alleviate housing issues in his riding.
“We put in a national housing strategy. They are billions of dollars in the strategy. We transferred $1.3 billion to the mayor of the city to help with the TCHC units. There are 365 Toronto Community Housing Corporation units in this riding. Most of them are in Parkdale,” he said, adding that those federal dollars also go toward maintenance, so that those unit don’t fall out of the rental supply market.
The riding of Parkdale-High Park is largely considered a two-way race between the Liberals and the NDP in the upcoming federal election.