Demovictions are on the rise in Toronto. Some fear they'll make the rental market worse for everyone
Tenants at risk of being displaced marched through downtown Toronto Monday
As Toronto renters feel the squeeze of a competitive market with prices that won't stop climbing, some in the city are sounding the alarm about a practice they say is displacing them while temporarily taking affordable units off the market: demovictions.
A demoviction, or demolition driven eviction, is when a landlord evicts tenants from a building so that it can be demolished and redeveloped into new apartments or condos.
Megan Kee, an organizer with the advocacy group No Demovictions facing demoviction herself from her rent-controlled midtown apartment, says taking prospective renters out of affordable units and adding them to Toronto's market is not what the city needs.
"Demolishing this very limited part of the housing system is going to displace a huge number of renters who have nowhere else to go, especially because we have historically low rental vacancy rates," she said. "Thousands of tenants displaced by demovictions will now be competing for housing in an already tight rental market, [which] will impact affordability for everybody."
On Monday, No Demovictions held a protest downtown attended by about 100 people who called for demovictions to be stopped. Since 2017, there have been 81 apartment buildings approved for demolition and replacement in Toronto, according to data from the city's website. Those buildings included 3,225 rental homes and 1,757 affordable units. During those years, 2022 saw the most approvals with 23, after eight approvals in 2021 and 11 in 2020.
The city and province say displaced tenants have the right to return to their units at similar prices once redevelopment is complete, and renters are offered financial assistance to pay market rents in the meantime. But those living in buildings that are at risk are still worried about being priced out of their neighbourhoods and frustrated by the forced disruption in their lives.
"I'm finally at a place in my life where I'm ready to start a family and the fact that the uncertainty of where I'm going to live has put a hold on that is really discouraging and really disheartening," Kee said.
What are tenants entitled to when they get demovicted?
Both the province and city have protections for tenants when they get demovicted.
According to provincial legislation, if a tenant is being evicted from a building with five or more units, the developer needs to give them three months' rent or offer them another unit that the tenant is OK with.
The city says tenants need to be paid a rent gap payment that covers the difference between their previous rent and market rent while they're displaced.
Initially, that might sound like an okay deal, said No Demovictions member Lindsay Blackwell, whose family is facing demoviction from their apartment in the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood.
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But Blackwell takes issue with how the gap payment is calculated. The city uses the most recent average rent from Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to calculate the gap. Blackwell says that data is low compared to other aggregates.
For condo rentals, which Blackwell says is becoming the most likely housing options for many downtown tenants who might be displaced, average rent reports released by the CMHC and Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) in January 2023 provide different figures.
For a two bedroom rental, the CMHC pegged the average at $2,671, while TRREB had it at $3,178. According to Rentals.ca, the average price of a two bedroom in Toronto went up to $3,433 in August.
"You're being put into a market where there's a lot of competition, there's a lot of volatility," she said. "We're already putting way too much of our monthly income into rental housing."
The city uses CMHC data because it's "objective, reliable and publicly-accessible," a spokesperson said in an email. The city also indexes the data upwardly to reflect changes in the rental market after the CMHC survey is done, the spokesperson said.
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The city also says developers who demolish units with affordable rents need to replace them with the same number of units that are similarly priced for at least 10 years.
What that practically means is if a tenant returns to their affordable unit, it will stay affordable forever, according to Geordie Dent, executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants Association. But if a new tenant moves in, the unit will be affordable for 10 years and then can be subject to a rent increase.
'Housing stock is depleting rapidly'
Demovictions are commonly intertwined with the intensification of cities, according to Andrew Crosby, a postdoctoral researcher at Carleton University.
Building up housing density in urban areas is something a provincial task force recommended in February 2022 to help fight the housing crisis, but Crosby says demovictions don't help without sufficient tenant protections.
"Even though more supply is being added, the actually existing affordable units — that housing stock is depleting rapidly. And it's because of these types of initiatives by developers to demolish existing buildings," he said.
Government regulation is necessary to ensure affordable housing remains, he said.
"Developers are not going to, out of the goodness of their hearts, include affordable units within those builds."
A spokesperson for the provincial ministry of municipal affairs and housing reiterated the province gives tenants the right to move back into their units, which they said encourages the revitalization of deteriorating buildings while increasing rental units in Ontario.
With files from Lamia Abozaid