No Fixed Address: Special committee meeting hears from frustrated tenants, experts

Renting is increasingly tough, according to tenants who showed up at Toronto city hall Monday afternoon, voicing their struggles at a special meeting on housing. But any solutions won’t come quickly or easily and must come from all levels of government, experts warned

Special joint meeting brings together housing, tenants issues at Toronto City Hall

City councillors Josh Matlow and Ana Bailao are calling for 'real reforms' on rent control at Queen's Park. They chaired a joint meeting of the affordable housing committee and the tenant issues committee at city hall Monday. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Renting is increasingly tough, according to tenants who showed up at Toronto City Hall Monday afternoon, voicing their struggles at a special meeting on housing.

But solutions won't come quickly or easily and must come from all levels of government, experts warned.

The joint meeting, between the city's affordable housing committee and tenant issues committee, called for council's support to pressure the Ontario government to reform the Residential Tenancies Act  — which among many things, sets rent control guidelines.

"Something has to be done. When people are getting slapped with $600, $700, $800 rent increases, it's not acceptable," said Coun.Ana Bailao, who represents Ward 18, Davenport and chairs the city's affordable housing committee.

Bailao and Coun. Josh Matlow, the chair of the city's tenant issues committee, say the province needs to change the law to maintain affordability and improve the city's supply of rental housing.

Kye Iannuzzi, 30, gave a short presentation about the challenges he’s faced at the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board, a tribunal that works to resolve problems between landlords and renters. (Pelin Sidki/CBC)

It's a complex issue, Bailao says, and the province must find a balance between tenants' rights and ensuring developers continue to build purpose-built rentals.

Construction of dedicated apartment units has remained stagnant over the last two decades, and only very recently has the city seen an uptick.

A 15-page report tabled at the meeting highlighted many of the same struggles identified by readers as part of CBC Toronto's No Fixed Addressinvestigative series.

Vacancy in Toronto is at 1.3 per cent. A "healthy" vacancy rate, according to the city, is considered to be three per cent.

Meantime, nearly 99,000 households are on the city's waiting list for housing — or about the same number of people who are renting and living in condos, according Sean Gadon, the city's affordable housing director who tabled the staff report.

"We have a housing system doing a number of things - but [the data] suggests it's broken," Gadon said.

Help for tenants

One of the most pressing issues out of the joint meeting, according to one young renter, is tenant rights.

Kye Iannuzzi, 30, gave a short presentation about the challenges he's faced at the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board, a tribunal that works to resolve problems between landlords and renters.

He says it can feel impossible to navigate.

"Unless you're a legal professional, it becomes incredibly difficult to self-represent at this board," said Iannuzzi, who rents in the city's mid-town area.

Urban planner Sean Galbraith would like to see council update its zoning bylaws, which are about 50 years old. (Submitted by Sean Galbraith)

Iannuzzi says some of his friends, who've also tried going to the board in the past, have given up.

"Everybody I talk to doesn't want to fight that fight. They just want to quash it and move on. That's why myself and some of my friends are running into issues where rental rates are unaffordable, because you have to leave those places where you have rent protection."

'We need more Parkdale in North York': urban planner

The meeting also heard about the need to support the creation of secondary residential units, including laneway suites.

The city is working on a set of proposed guidelines for laneway development, pitched to help ease the city's rental-housing crunch, by tapping into one of the last remaining sources of under-utilized land.

Up until now, "it's been a significant fight anytime you wanted to build one in Toronto," according to urban planner Sean Galbraith.

Toronto has fallen behind other cities, including Vancouver and Ottawa, he says, when it comes to policy around laneway suites.

But he also believes the city can do more. He'd like to see council update its zoning bylaws, which are about 50 years old.

"I think we need more Parkdale in North York," Galbraith said.

He says about 40 per cent of the city's zoning only allows for single detached homes.

"If we could change that to allow for triplexes, quadplexes, and little walk up apartment buildings like you have in Parkdale and old Toronto, that would be amazing. It would provide a more diverse range of houses instead of just small pockets downtown."

The joint committee on housing and tenants issues will send its recommendations to the mayor's executive committee this May.

About the Author

Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: shannon.martin@cbc.ca or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.

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