It used to take 6 years to afford a home in Toronto — now it's more than 15

Generation Squeeze's new 'Code Red' campaign aims to help fix the GTA's housing crisis that's leaving millenials renting longer and struggling to afford their own homes.

Generation Squeeze's new 'Code Red' campaign aims to help fix the GTA's housing crisis

Yared Mehzenta has a full time job with the provincial government and no student debt. Even so, he's still not sure he'll ever be able to afford a home. (Lauren Pelley/CBC)

Yared Mehzenta has no student debt, a full-time job with the provincial government, and splits his monthly rent with a roommate.

But even though the 28-year-old wants to buy a home one day, he's accepted the fact that he might just rent "forever."

"It seems insane that you can have a good job and no debt and still feel like owning a home is not really a possibility," says Mehzenta. "That seems to me an indication that something is wrong."

Fixing what's wrong with Toronto's housing market was a big conversation topic at the Saturday launch of Code Red, a new campaign from Generation Squeeze — an organization advocating for Canadians in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are feeling the sting of lower pay and higher housing costs, which often leaves them renting longer.

Generation Squeeze's latest campaign, Code Red, is focused on tackling the affordable housing crisis. (Lauren Pelley/CBC)

Mehzenta was among dozens of millennials attending the Toronto kick-off event, dubbed an "emergency community meeting" on the GTA's affordable housing crisis.

Paul Kershaw, the University of BC professor who founded Generation Squeeze in 2011, says young people in cities like Toronto are "squeezed between a vice grip of time and money pressures."

The Code Red campaign, he says, is about sparking conversation about those pressures — and pushing governments to find some solutions, particularly on the affordable housing front.

'We need to gently densify'

Kershaw's research has shown it now takes more than 15 years for someone in the GTA to save up a 20 per cent down payment on a home. Back in 1976, it took around six, and up until 2010, it took just under 12.

Rethinking land use is a big factor in solving the current crisis, Kershaw says. "Much of the GTA is zoned for just one house per lot," he explains. "We need to gently densify that to three or four homes per lot."

He also says a change in tax policy could be helpful, such as an "empty home tax" that would be lifted if people with unoccupied properties put their unit on the market for rent.

"Then, at no cost to the public purse, we'd suddenly take a chunk of those tens of thousands of (unoccupied) units and put them into the available rental supply," he says. "And that would ease some of the rental squeeze we're facing in this city."

Paul Kershaw of the University of B.C. says a combination of real estate prices and biological clocks are driving people in their 30s and 40s out of Vancouver. (Lauren Pelley/CBC)

Those ideas, along with having more purpose-built rental units, are all areas Kershaw's group wants to consider lobbying for in Toronto in the years ahead. 

And that's good news for young people like Mehzenta, who says governments need to recognize the younger generation is struggling to break into Toronto's hot housing market. But until things change, he says he'll keep on renting.

"I love the city," Mehzenta adds. "I don't really have any intention of leaving."

The No Fixed Address series

CBC Toronto is sharing your stories about Toronto's rental housing market, exploring what's driving up prices, and searching for solutions.