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The Divides of the Housing Affordability Crisis

The racial, geographic and economic divides of Toronto's housing affordability crisis.

Rental housing building in downtown Toronto

Published on November 23, 2020

COVID-19 has shed light on what many community organizations and housing advocates have always known — that there are racial, social and geographic divides to the City of Toronto’s housing crisis.  

Communities of colour, newcomers and refugees are harder hit by housing affordability need and often live in unsuitable housing. These are dynamics that can be mapped out across the city’s neighbourhoods, showing the spatial exclusion these communities face.  

That’s just what professors Naomi Lightman, Luann Good Gingrich and policy researcher Beth Wilson have done in their Social Planning Toronto study, Spaces and Places of Exclusion: Mapping Rental Housing Disparities for Toronto’s Racialized and Immigrant Communities. They’ll be answering questions about their findings during “Spaces and Places of Exclusion: Live Q&A,” at Future Cities Canada: #UnexpectedSolutions.  

Below, we speak with Lightman and Ene Underwood, CEO of Habitat for Humanity GTA. The two share their thoughts about housing affordability need and what can be done to address it. 

Deeper Data 

Looking at broad housing affordability trends can hide specific stories. According to Lightman and Social Planning Toronto's research, 41% and 43% of racialized and non-racialized renter households struggle with housing affordability, respectively. But 45% of racialized renter households live in unsuitable housing, compared to just 16% of non-racialized households. 

“Perhaps our biggest finding in our research wasn’t the affordable housing need, it was unsuitable housing, people living in overcrowded households,” says Lightman. 

The story also changes from community to community — over 50% of renter households identifying as Korean, West Asian, Arab or Chinese struggle with housing affordability.  

“We live in a region in which the inequality gap is widening at a rapid pace – particularly for racialized citizens. This dynamic reduces human potential and threatens to undermine the livability of the region for everyone,” says Underwood. 

Mapping the Story 

Lightman’s research maps the data across the City of Toronto’s wards, showing that the city’s inner suburbs experience much higher rates of housing affordability need and unsuitable housing than those in its downtown core. 

“When we began this research, we decided to map the data right away,” says Lightman. “We wanted a very visual portrait, to show how things play out differently in different areas of the city.” 

She adds that the City’s downtown core, with its small units and high rents, pushes larger families into the outer wards. The study aims to show this spatial exclusion with a range of maps, while drilling down into housing issues by race and immigration status. 

“We can’t draw trends within a city using a wide brush. Descriptive data that addresses the intersections of race and immigrant status — that’s essential to both seeing what is going on within a city and in addressing these problems,” she says. 

Possible Solutions 

As for what addressing these problems looks like, Lightman believes both targeted and universal measures are needed. 

“Broader measures that affirm that housing is a human right are necessary,” she says. “But targeted solutions will also be needed — the same thing isn’t going to work for different groups in different parts of the city.”  

For her part, Underwood believes that solutions must exist across the continuum from housing those experiencing homelessness to supporting affordable homeownership. 

“We must ensure there is an opportunity for citizens to experience positive housing mobility so we can free up shelter and rental options and ensure the cost of housing meets the needs of the people fueling our region,” she says. 

Hear more at #UnexpectedSolutions 

Listen to a range of sessions around housing affordability at Future Cities Canada: #UnexpectedSolutions, six weeks of free virtual programming available to watch on demand until November 27. Hear Lightman discuss her research on November 24, during “Spaces and Places of Exclusion: Live Q&A,” along with fellow researchers Beth Wilson, Luann Good Gingrich and moderator Amanuel Melles.