High rent could make Toronto a 'generational ghost town'

Young people across the income spectrum who would like to build lives in Toronto are choosing to leave rather than pay the city’s ever-increasing rents.

Toronto loses out when young people can’t stay, experts warn

At 78 storeys, the Aura condo building at Yonge and College streets is one of the tallest residential towers in Canada. Increasingly, young people are finding rents in the GTA so pricey they're moving elsewhere. (Google)

Young people across the income spectrum who would like to build lives in Toronto are choosing to leave rather than pay the city's ever-increasing rents.

For 27-year-old Arthur Gallant, that's meant moving from Etobicoke, to Burlington, to Hamilton in search of an affordable apartment for himself and his mother.

"You can only move so far west until you hit water and there's nowhere left to live," he said in an interview with CBC Toronto.

Gallant is one of hundreds of people who reached out to CBC Toronto as part of our No Fixed Address series, which explores the city's rental housing market.

Among the stories that have poured in, many are from native Torontonians like him, who would like to live in Toronto but find that apartments cost more than they are willing or able to pay.

"It's a code-red, sirens-blaring kind of issue because we need to recognize the degree to which the standard of living is in free fall for younger demographics," said Paul Kershaw, a University of British Columbia professor and the founder of Generation Squeeze, a campaign that raises awareness about the economic pressure faced by younger Canadians.

"Housing prices are squeezing younger people out."

'Simply not realistic' to be in Toronto

Gallant said that between his retail income and his mother's disability pension, the pair is barely able to afford their current home, an $850 two-bedroom apartment in Hamilton.

Arthur Gallant and his mother, here on vacation, have moved farther and farther west in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond in an effort to avoid rising Toronto rents. (Arthur Gallant)

"My mom is currently having health issues, with a life expectancy of five to 10 years, and I'd love to move back [to Toronto]," wrote Gallant in an email. "At this point in time, that's simply not realistic."

Though their rent in Hamilton is doable for now, Gallant is deeply concerned about how he will get by once he is alone.

"It's something I legitimately think about every day … where am I going to end up, where am I going to live," he said.

Kershaw, who is preparing a report on housing issues in the Greater Toronto Area and how they affect young people, said the statistics are disheartening.

"In Hamilton, since 2003, it takes an extra month of full-time work to pay the rent on an average three-bedroom apartment," he said.

UBC Professor and founder of Generation Squeeze, Paul Kershaw calls into question the generational inequality for housing in Canada. (Genevieve Milord/CBC)

He says Gallant's efforts to save money by working six or seven days a week in his retail job — most of which goes immediately to rent — is a trend being played out across the country.

"The economy for younger Canadians is an escalator moving down so fast that no matter how hard you try to compensate, you can't get back up."

Problem not limited to lower-income young people

The same issues that affect Gallant — despite two college diplomas and hundreds of resumes sent out, he continues to work in retail — are also wreaking havoc on more financially secure young Torontonians.

"You can be a well-educated young adult who has landed a decent-paying job, but making a home for yourself [is impossible]," said Kershaw.

That was the case for Derek Dibblee, a 26-year-old who was born in Oakville and who moved to Toronto in 2014 to work as an Android developer. He lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Liberty Village for $1,650 a month with his girlfriend.

Two years later, he was earning more working at a bank and had moved to North York, where he paid $1,250 a month for a one-bedroom.

Derek Dibblee grew up in Oakville and would have loved to stay in Toronto, but ended up moving to Montreal, where he can live closer to downtown in a more spacious apartment. (Derek Dibblee)

But between car payments, utilities, parking, and TTC costs, he found he was unable to save for the future.

"It was crazy and I found my bank account shrinking and shrinking month-to-month. It was at this point that I realized that $65K was not enough to live on my own in Toronto," he wrote in an email.

Now Dibblee pays less than his North York rent for a three-bedroom condo close to downtown Montreal, where he works for the same salary, but says his quality of life has vastly improved.

Kayla Hurst, 26, who works in communications, told a similar story.

Born in Scarborough, and dreaming of living near family in the GTA for a few years, she found herself on a months-long search for an affordable apartment. Finally, she and her boyfriend found a place in Pickering.

Kayla Hurst and her boyfriend now call Thunder Bay - a whopping 17-hour drive from Toronto - home. (Kayla Hurst)

"But based on commuting costs to Toronto … we did some research and figured that Thunder Bay was more affordable," she said.

The pair isn't unhappy with the change of scenery, but they now live a 17-hour drive away from their families and friends.

"It's going from seeing families on Sunday nights to maybe a few times a year," said Hurst. 

What's the cost for Toronto?

Cherise Burda, executive director of the Ryerson City Building Institute, said that young people opting to leave Toronto over rent prices is a bad sign for the city.

"It's not good for the city to lose diversity, otherwise we just hollow out the city," she said. "Right now is a really unaffordable time — we are in a peak of housing costs."

Ryerson City Building Institute’s executive director Cherise Burda says rising rents are driving out young people and 'hollowing out' the city, cauing it to lose valuable diversity. (Ryerson City Building Institute/Dominic Ali)

Burda said that she's most concerned about young people who would otherwise start families in the city being funnelled to far-away communities in order to afford to live.

"We can't just keep sprawling out. That just creates more environmental problems, more congestion. And for the families and the individuals themselves, those are huge social costs and huge environmental costs."

Kershaw agrees, pointing to the Metro Vancouver Area as a "canary in the coal mine" for what happens when a city's young people can't stay.

"Right now, in Vancouver — and soon it will be replicated in Toronto — it's hard for companies to recruit talent," he said, giving the example of a tech employee offered a job in his city.   

"Why would you come to do it in Vancouver when the salary [you're offered] doesn't get you into a single detached home?"

He argues that the rise in housing costs can have dire implications, and hopes that a federal housing strategy could take on the problem nationally. 

"Metro Vancouver is becoming a generational ghost town," he said. "If Toronto is not careful, it is not that far off now."

The No Fixed Address series

This week, CBC Toronto will bring you stories about Toronto's rental housing market and its implications. We'll tell your stories about searching for affordable housing, look at what's driving up prices, and search for solutions.


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