While Toronto’s housing crisis deepens, investors are playing the real estate game. Using land and buildings as a means to extract profits, the game enriches some while it impoverishes others. Its rules deepen class divides, erase Indigenous treaties, perpetuate racialized systems of inequality, and maintain precarious territory.
Encampments may be the most visible manifestation of Toronto’s housing crisis, the consequences of the real estate game in plain sight, built into the landscape. This map draws on local examples to illustrate the complex and interconnected issues that comprise Toronto’s housing crisis and the movements working to change it.
Illustrated by Daniel Rotsztain. Web coding by @clawtros. Content through ESN Explainers (firstname.lastname@example.org)
47% of the City of Toronto’s residential neighbourhoods (an area known as the ‘Yellowbelt’) are subject to exclusionary or hierarchical zoning policy that effectively prevents new apartment buildings from being built. This policy imposes restrictions on building height and housing type, and requires that any new buildings stay true to the ‘neighbourhood character,’ essentially limiting construction to single- and semi-detached houses that typically sell for well over one million dollars. As a result, the Yellowbelt lacks high- and low-rise purpose-built rental buildings.
Current upzoning policy cautiously and incrementally allows for ‘gentle density’ in certain neighbourhoods through laneway housing or secondary suites, which usually means dividing houses into separate units or hiding tiny houses out back. However, this alone is unlikely to create new decent, affordable housing units without decommodification strategies.
Rooming houses are rented out by the room, including common areas like kitchens and bathrooms. One of the least expensive forms of housing available in the City of Toronto, rooming houses are not permitted in most residential zones. Although the Ontario Human Rights Code prevents cities from ‘zoning for people’—that is, cities cannot determine who is allowed to live where—the City has continually delayed legalizing rooming houses, stalling action by sending proposals for multiple rounds of public consultation. As a result, many of Toronto’s rooming houses operate outside municipal law, and aren’t kept to fire safety code, putting residents at risk. Rooming house fires have killed a number of people over the past decade.
Ontario has a partial rent control policy for units built before November 2018. While a tenant remains, their landlord can only raise the rent by the rate of inflation each year, plus an additional amount to cover building improvements. For longer-term tenants, rent control has helped maintain affordability. When that tenant leaves, the landlord can raise the rent to any price. This policy incentivizes landlords to profit from greater tenant churn by forcing tenants out, and conversely, pressures tenants to stay put even if they want to move.
Above guideline rent increases (AGIs) are meant to allow landlords to recoup costs for building improvements. However, corporate and financialized landlords are aggressively using AGIs as an investment strategy to get around rent control.
Rent control would be even more effective if it applied to all units, regardless of tenant movement, and protected against predatory above guideline increases.
As the market rate of rent rises it creates an incentive for landlords to evict current tenants and re-rent their property at a higher rate. The eviction rate in Toronto is rising, over 20,500 formal evictions were filed in 2018, 75 percent of which were linked to late- or non-payment of rent. Evictions fray social networks, seriously impact people’s health, and are disproportionately experienced by people with lower incomes, single parents, newcomers, racialized and Indigenous people, and people living alone.According to the 2018 Street Needs Assessment, evictions were one of the three primary causes of homelessness in Toronto.
There are two major loopholes that landlords use to evict tenants in good standing. Landlord’s Own Use evictions (N12) allow evictions when a family member of the landlord wants to move in, but proof that the landlord has actually rented to a family member is not required until after the eviction, at which point the tenant has already been forced out of their home. The burden of proof also falls on the tenant, who must monitor rental listings and catch the landlord attempting to rent the unit out to someone else before the matter can be brought before the LTB.
‘Renovictions’ (N13) allow evictions for the purpose of renovating the unit. Landlords will also sometimes opt to avoid repairs until tenants are forced to seek better accommodation.
Though the pandemic has temporarily paused eviction enforcement, an eviction blitz continues online.
A short-term rental is when all or part of a dwelling is rented out for less than 28 consecutive days in exchange for payment. Websites like Airbnb connect visitors with homes to rent for a short time. Short term rentals may be more profitable for landlords and homeowners than keeping a unit as a home for a long-term tenant. The proliferation of short-term rentals in Toronto has contributed to a city-wide shortage in available long-term rental housing.
Commercially-run units that host large numbers of visitors, known as ‘ghost hotels’, generate the majority of Airbnb’s revenue. Toronto recently cracked down on ghost hotels by requiring Airbnb hosts to register with the city and limiting short-term rentals to principal properties only, but enforcement has been challenging and Airbnb has not been cooperative.
Shelters provide people experiencing homelessness with a place to stay overnight. At minimum, shelters should provide storage and harm reduction programs, allow partners and pets, and ensure personal safety and social distancing during COVID. Many shelters do not, and some also impose curfews and surveillance, and/or don’t allow people to stay during the day.
Shelters are not meant to be permanent residences, but with market rents so high and almost no decommodified housing available, they have become a long-term reality for many. Shelters in Toronto do not have the capacity available to meet the need, a problem which is exacerbated by restrictions on where shelters can be located. Opposition from neighbours can add further complications. While shelters have been mandated not to exceed 90% capacity, they consistently operate at 100% capacity.
Shelters are more expensive to run than supportive housing and have become more so in the pandemic. It is estimated that moving 3,000 people out of shelters into permanent supportive housing would save up to $15 million per month during the pandemic.
Respites were introduced in the winter of 2015 after a series of deaths compelled the City to move two warming centres into 24-hour operations. Respite centres have become default overnight shelters despite not being designed for this purpose. For the first few years, respites had no standards. Reports from visitors to these centres have documented overcrowding, exposure to disease, unsafe conditions, extreme cold temperatures, and people being forced to sleep on floors or chairs due to a shortage of cots.
As a response to reduced shelter capacity during the pandemic, the City of Toronto opened 40 new temporary shelter sites to accommodate physical distancing, many of them repurposed hotel and motel rooms, representing about 250 beds. While shelter hotels are located throughout 13 city wards, their rare vacancies are often found in the outer reaches of the city, far from people’s chosen communities and support services. Residents’ experiences in shelter hotels have been mixed. Some are happy to have regular meals, a roof, warmth and some level of privacy, while others return to living in encampments after demeaning and restrictive experiences. Outside guests are not permitted at hotel shelters and all residents (regardless of drug use) are subjected to hourly room checks 24/7 for overdose prevention, which many feel is a violation of their safety and privacy. The City claims that all of its shelter hotels provide wrap-around supports for residents, but it’s been found that some staff have little to no experience in harm reduction practices and there has been a dramatic increase in overdose deaths in the shelter system since the start of the pandemic.
Although the most visible group of people experiencing homelessness are those who live in public spaces, in 2019 people living outside made up only 6% of the total homeless population. Most people without homes are living in shelters, or with others in temporary situations like couchsurfing.
The top three reported causes of homelessness in Toronto are migration, inability to afford rent, and eviction, and the most effective fixes are increased income and lower housing costs. Indigenous people (38%) and LGBTQ2S-identified people (11%) are disproportionately represented among those experiencing homelessness. Most people experiencing homelessness in Toronto want permanent housing.
High rise apartment buildings — mostly found located in the inner suburbs — are home to many newcomers, racialized people and households with lower incomes. Research shows that families living in these buildings are at greater risk of hidden homelessness. These buildings are often crowded due to economic inequality and in disrepair due to landlord neglect. Apartment neighbourhoods are home to 19% of people in the City of Toronto and stand on just 3% of its land, underscoring the spatial inequality experienced by these neighbourhoods. Despite usually being situated in car-centric neighbourhoods with slow and crowded bus service, high rise renters are more likely to take transit to work (26%) compared to homeowners (12%). A city-sponsored Tower Renewal program is underway to improve the energy efficiency of these buildings, but with no requirement to pass on the savings to lower rents. The affordability of these homes are increasingly at risk from financialized investors.
Much of the city’s rental housing is found on the ‘secondary rental market’: that is, not in apartment buildings. Units on the secondary rental market are rented out by homeowners and can be found in condo buildings and houses divided into multiple apartments. These units are often converted into apartments and rented out in order for homeowners to subsidize their mortgages, despite the fact that these spaces were not designed for people to live in. Tenants of secondary rental housing are more vulnerable to discrimination, harassment and eviction at the hands of their landlords, and organizing across these scattered ‘subterranean slums’ is difficult. The bulk or rental units added in the past decade have been secondary rentals rather than purpose-built.
Toronto has a policy requiring that anyone wishing to demolish and redevelop existing market rental buildings of more than 6 units must replace the units at the same rents for the same tenants. This has effectively protected existing apartment buildings from redevelopment or from conversion to condo ownership. The City is considering extending this protection to dwelling rooms lost through redevelopment.
Link to: apartment neighbourhoods
Toronto Community Housing is home to 110,000 people living in more than 350 high- and low-rise buildings on public land across Toronto. About 93% of Toronto Community Housing buildings are Rent-Geared-to-Income (RGI): that is, residents pay no more than 30% of their income on rent. The wait list for public housing has grown over 50% in the past decade, from 72,876 households in the first quarter of 2010 to 110,677 in the second quarter of 2019. Many people wait as long as fifteen years to access this housing. Despite the great demand for this form of affordable housing, there have been few new units added over the past few decades. In 2019, the federal government put some resources towards addressing the backlog of capital repairs needed in existing units. Toronto’s strategy relies on for-profit developers to add new market rate condos on public land in order to fund the rebuilding of existing public housing units, in communities including Regent Park, Alexandra Park, and Lawrence Heights. Unlike other Canadian provinces like Quebec and BC, over the last several decades Ontario has not added significantly to public housing, and even seen a net loss. Quebec’s Groupes de Ressources Techniques which connect community groups to government programs, have facilitated the development of over 80,000 community housing units.
Where public land is available, the City of Toronto has often given it away or sold it to developers, allowing them to build market rate housing in exchange for some concessions like a certain number of rental or affordable units. Once it is sold, this land is lost to the public. There are alternatives that allow public land to remain public, while hosting decommodified housing: land trusts, long term leases, co-op housing, public and nonprofit housing.
There are a number of public agencies that have facilitated the sale of public lands to private corporations in Toronto, including CreateTO and Waterfront Toronto. Waterfront Toronto specifically oversees the development of the Toronto Waterfront Port Lands, a large area of primarily public land which—despite large public investments in infrastructure—is set to be sold for condo development. In 2017, some of this land was handed over to Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs to build a high-tech “smart city”. When Google’s plan to profit from public investment and data collection came to light in 2020, there was considerable public backlash and resistance, contributing to Sidewalk Labs cancelling its plan to build the proposed neighbourhood. However, the plan for the Port Lands still assumes mostly market-rate condo development, and a large transfer of public land to private ownership.
Modular housing is prefabricated: built off-site and assembled on location. It can be a fast and flexible way to increase the supply of supportive and affordable housing available for those experiencing homelessness. Toronto has committed to assembling modular supportive housing units on City-owned land, including 250 modular supportive housing units by Spring 2021, with two more projects underway. These 100-unit, three-story buildings share a common room, dining room and program space. It is estimated each 300 sq ft unit will cost roughly half of what it costs for a bed in a shelter.
A lack of purpose-built rental units has created a market where condos are the de facto rental unit supplier. Since the 1990s, most new residential units in Toronto have been condos. Between 1998 and 2018, condos represented 77% of all housing built in the city. 71,000 new condo units were created in 2019 alone. Many condos are pre-sold to investors and rented out at high rates; in 2019 one-third of condos in the GTA were rented out.
There are a number of problems that arise within a rental market increasingly dominated by condominiums rented out by the owner. Renters don’t have access to the condo board which governs the building, they can be unilaterally evicted by the owner, and most units are too small to accommodate families with children or group living. For a number of reasons, from the age of construction to the need to cover the mortgage, condo rents tend to be higher than purpose-built rental.
High rise condo buildings have been built mostly in extremely high-density clusters downtown and along major corridors, raising concerns about a lack of neighbourhood amenities and social infrastructure, including parks, schools, and libraries.
The concept of home ownership as a nest egg and retirement fund is reinforced through culture, banking practices, and policy. It is sometimes called asset-based welfare, because this practice allows governments to divest from public welfare such as pensions and robust social safety nets. The expectation that housing prices should and will continue to rise has influenced buyers to purchase properties as an investment. However, the demand for housing as an investment competes with housing as a basic need; in the case of the homeowner, these competing goals are united. It is estimated that 1 in 5 homeowners in Vancouver and Toronto own multiple homes.
As house prices increase, the difference between owning and renting drives wealth inequality. Indeed, some of the most affordable housing in the Toronto metropolitan region is owned by long-term homeowners. In 2016, 73% of owners paid less than 30% of their income on housing, paying less than $1,500 a month. 37% of owners have paid off their mortgage. In the City of Toronto in 2019, a quarter of renters (those with the lowest incomes) spent an average of 88% of their income on housing.
Homeownership as a social policy manifests through government support for interest-free down payments, tax incentives for homeownership, and a general reluctance on the part of governments to take measures that would reduce home values, such as taxing homeownership windfall gains as investments. At the same time, it encourages people to take on more debt in order to buy into the ‘real estate ladder’. Ironically, economic policies such as low interest rates and public mortgage debt guarantees, meant to make homeownership more affordable, have contributed to higher housing costs. This positive feedback loop has negative social outcomes. As house prices rise, homeownership becomes unattainable for more people, resulting in a growing constituency of renters.
Re-investment in low-density residential neighbourhoods often takes the form of renovations. Homeowners have an incentive to renovate their homes by adding new kitchens, basement rec rooms or extra bathrooms, because these kinds of projects can increase the value of their home when they eventually sell it. In recent years, homeowners have seen massive growth in the value of their homes as house prices have risen. A significant number of homeowners have tapped into this extra value in their home to take out loans in order to make their home bigger by adding additions at the top or the back, or by digging out and finishing their basements. Because of zoning limitations and homeowner preferences, new rental units are generally added as secondary unit ‘mortgage helpers’ by renovating existing houses rather than as multi-unit apartment buildings in these neighbourhoods. These additions greatly increase the price of a property and can place Toronto’s low-rise housing out of reach for both renters and first-time homebuyers. Since 2001, the yearly number of homeowners adding extra rooms or floors onto their home has doubled.
As the rent potential— the gap between real rents and possible rents— grows, apartment buildings become the target for new forms of investment. Corporate financial firms buy buildings as investments, and manage them to provide regular returns to investors. Sometimes called ‘financialized landlords,’ these firms include Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), pension funds, insurance companies, private equity funds, and similar investment vehicles. In order to deliver high profits to investors, a key business strategy of these firms is to raise revenues by increasing costs for tenants. They systematically raise rents and other fees (parking, storage, laundry, etc.), and apply for Above-Guideline Increases (AGIs). In addition, they see “turnovers”—where an existing tenant moves out and is replaced by someone who can pay higher rent—as a way to make more money. Sometimes turnover is achieved through harassment, neglect, or refusal to maintain apartment upkeep, which pushes people out. Over time and across the city (and country), systematic attempts to extract maximum value from apartments are making rental housing less affordable, displacing long-standing renter communities, and contributing to gentrification. Canada’s biggest financialized landlords include Starlight Investments (sometimes partnered with Kingsett Capital), CAPREIT, Killam REIT, Timbercreek (now called Hazelview), Boardwalk REIT, Realstar, Mainstreet, Minto REIT, and Quadreal.
Property financialization drives housing prices upwards, and tenant activism is one of the only counterweights to this pressure. While these trends are global, they manifest differently in each city.
Increases in real estate value generate wealth for landowners and homeowners. A windfall tax is derived from these profits, recognizing that real estate is a type of investment and taxing it as such: private wealth gains from housing rely on public resources like city infrastructure, people, culture, social value and amenities. Currently, real estate gains are not taxed as investment capital gains. A windfall tax, such as a capital gains tax or home equity tax, would remove some of the incentive for the government to invest in housing, but it would also result in a housing price correction. This would not displace anyone, could fund decommodified housing, and would work towards balancing wealth inequality between owners and renters. Even researching this idea is controversial in government, because it represents a major shift away from decades of policy encouraging real estate as investment.
Many homes sit empty in Toronto. In the 2016 census, Statistics Canada counted 99,236 unoccupied dwellings—vacant units—in the Toronto metropolitan area. This is 4% of the City’s total housing supply double the 2% vacancy rate of units available to rent. There are many more vacant units than there are homeless people. The West Harbour City Condos have a 13% vacancy rate, and the building sits just down the street from an encampment in a nearby park. In December 2020, the city agreed to tax vacant homes beginning in 2022.
Some people experiencing homelessness live in public spaces, under freeway overpasses, on vacant lots and in parks. These encampments are not new but some have become more visible during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to skyrocketing eviction rates, over-capacity shelters and a lack of housing alternatives. Encampment clearance contravenes international protocol, Canada’s National Housing Strategy Act, park inclusion policies, and the City’s own working group. The human right to adequate housing comes with certain freedoms, including protection against forced evictions and the arbitrary destruction and demolition of one’s home. Unfortunately, these freedoms are not always taken as seriously as civil and political rights. The issues associated with encampments are often the responsibility of municipal authorities via bylaws specific to policing, fire and safety, sanitation, and social services; creating a pattern across Canada where “municipal governments deploy bylaws, local police, and zoning policies that displace people in encampments.” We live through and witness this pattern in Toronto.
Housing activism can take many forms, ranging from advocacy and education to direct action, and is generally most effective when a diversity of tactics is employed in order to achieve clearly-defined goals. High-risk undertakings such as squats and rent strikes are well-known tactics for applying direct pressure. These strategies are often deployed after building a critical mass of other activities such as disseminating information on tenant rights, contesting landlord applications at the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB), petitioning landlords and politicians, setting up mutual aid networks, holding demonstrations, and moving demonstrations to landlords’ and politicians’ private residences. All of these endeavours help to create the collective capacity necessary to attempt bolder, extra-legal approaches. Squats are when a group of people occupy one or more buildings or units that have been left vacant for a variety of reasons, including public asset mismanagement and private capital speculation, for the purpose of capturing and using those spaces as housing. A rent strike is when a group of tenants withhold rent as leverage to extract concessions on housing issues. Typical issues include excessive rent increases, poor maintenance, and tenant safety. Successful rent strikes in Toronto have reversed eviction attempts, prevented above-guideline rent increases, and held landlords accountable to do needed repairs. Tenant activism is a vital counterweight to contest the influence of real estate investment interests in housing.
Inclusionary zoning is a policy that requires housing developers to offer some affordable units in exchange for higher density allowances; they get to build more, if a fraction of them are less profitable. The Ontario government has limited the scope of IZ in Toronto, and the City has structured developer profit into these calculations. As a result, IZ results in the city effectively paying developers - through allowing even higher buildings - to build near-market rate housing. Toronto’s proposed inclusionary zoning policy requires that a small percentage of newly built units in high rise buildings near transit stations be moderately affordable. As proposed, this policy would result in 2.5-5% of the floor area of new apartment buildings and 5-10% of the floor area of new condos becoming available to moderate income households at slightly below average market rent for 99 years. In Ontario, inclusionary zoning can apply only to large new buildings of more than 100 units near transit stations downtown, or more than 140 units near transit stations outside of downtown. This policy builds in minimum profit expectations for both landowners and developers, despite demands by housing activists for more affordable units, making the provision of deep and permanent affordable housing difficult. The policy is currently being reassessed due to the declining condo market in COVID and will not apply until 2022, after which development will wait on station-by-station plans and site-by-site rezoning applications.
Link to: defining affordable
Non-profit co-operatives are homes that are protected from profit-driven investment. Home to more than 45,000 people living in 160 different buildings across the Toronto region, this form of housing was largely established in the 1970s through partnerships between community groups and government programs. The St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood is an example of an entire neighbourhood planned using the co-op model. Co-ops support greater economic diversity within neighbourhoods and allow cross-subsidization of housing costs based on need. Demand for co-op housing far outstrips the current supply, and waiting lists across the city are full.
Land trusts legally separate land—collectively held in trust—from buildings, which can be rented or owned. Community land trusts promote community ownership and democratic control of land. Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, started in 2010, acquired a 15-unit rooming house in 2019 and recently partnered with VanCity Community Investment Bank to assemble more buildings and land. Toronto Island is an example of a public land trust, where residents own houses on public land, and have limited equity when they sell, with buildings appraised at their cost of replacement rather than market value. This contract was built on the concept of ‘no profit from public land’. Vancouver Land Trust is an example of a hybrid public and community land trust, with nonprofit housing on public land.
From the Toronto Purchase to the current housing crisis, the erasure of Indigenous people, relations and treaties from urban space and policy create the fiction of Terra Nullius, or empty land, necessary for a profit-driven approach to land and housing. The process of gentrification has been compared to a frontier mentality that echoes the original colonial process of land taking and displacement. Resistance to real-estate based capitalist-colonial extraction opens up alternatives for land, tenure, planning, conflict resolution and environmental justice, building and reviving practices that can help us negotiate things otherwise.
Expropriation is the non-consensual acquisition of privately-owned property by the state in exchange for financial compensation. Expropriation has been used as a tool for securing land for infrastructure such as highways and for urban renewal projects, which disproportionately impact lower-income, racialized and marginalized communities. Toronto City Hall, Regent Park and the Yonge-Dundas Square revitalization are examples of this. However, there is also a growing movement considering the possibility of expropriation for securing affordable and/or social housing. Possibilities include expropriating buildings owned by landlords with repeated health and safety violations, unpaid back taxes, absentee landowners and abandoned or vacant buildings. Edmond Place in Parkdale became supportive housing run by PARC after it was expropriated by the city. ESN has asked the city to expropriate the WE Charity Building at 339 Queen St. E for affordable housing. OCAP is campaigning to have empty lots at 214-230 Sherbourne expropriated for social housing, where rooming houses once operated for decades.
Supportive housing in Toronto refers to affordable housing, typically Rent-Geared-to-Income (RGI), that is also linked to various programs designed to support residents who need assistance in order to live independently. Support can range from boarding homes, where meals are provided and homes are staffed 24/7, to independent market rent units that offer support in the form of rent subsidies. There are different waitlists for people with different needs, such as Acquired Brain Injury housing, Developmental Services Housing, and housing for people living with physical disabilities and seniors. One of the larger supportive housing types in Toronto is mental health supportive housing, which is managed by The Access Point and the Toronto Mental Health and Addiction Supportive Housing. While The Access Point’s waitlist is shorter than Housing Connections, the wait for an independent 1-bedroom apartment—the most commonly demanded type of unit—is still 3 to 7 years. In a recent two year period, over 4000 new applicants applied, while only 600 people were matched to housing. In 2018, over half (52%) of the applicants for supportive mental health housing were actively experiencing homelessness and 16% (of the total applicants) listed no fixed address. Many large landlord corporations in Toronto have begun to blacklist supportive housing agencies, making it difficult to grow the supportive housing stock in the private market.
Affordable housing is designed to be made affordable for mid to low-earning households and is typically secured through the private market, with the City providing land and financial incentives to developers to create new affordable rental units. Affordability has been historically defined by the housing market, with affordable rents set at or below average market rents (AMR). This differs from subsidized housing (aka Rent Geared to Income Housing or RGI), which works on the premise that 30% of one’s income should be spent on housing. Many advocates argue that the RGI definition should be the same one used to define affordable housing, because, as housing and rent prices continue to rise, market rents are out of reach for the average Torontonian. Toronto has recently amended the definition of affordable housing, attempting to take household income into account. However, the new definition still allows developers to set rental prices at the maximum of a predefined range. Under this definition developers could charge $1,081 for a one-bedroom unit in 2020, which is $300 below the average market rent and would only be affordable for someone earning over $43,000 per year. The median one-person renter household income in 2020 was roughly $32,000/ year.
Public space - including road rights of way, squares and parks - is not necessarily common space, and this is reflected in the many ways it is governed and policed. Laws and statutes aimed at restricting and criminalizing public homelessness make dwelling in parks and public rights of way subject to enforcement and policing. The Safe Streets Act (SSA), introduced in 1999, criminalizes panhandling and other forms of solicitation that could cause someone to “fear for their safety and security”. It has historically been used to remove and criminalize homeless people who occupy public space. People experiencing homelessness are also subject to greater surveillance and have more encounters with police, private security, and TTC security. Policing practices such as carding have demonstrated patterns of anti-Black racism, and make public space dangerous for those targeted. Sexual and gender-based violence is also present in public space.
Business Improvements Areas (BIAs) are made up of commercial property owners and tenants who work with the city to attract shoppers, diners, and new businesses to an area. Visible homelessness is often seen as a threat to these goals, and there have been cases of BIAs hiring private security guards to patrol neighborhoods harassing people who they believe to be unhoused and banning them from public spaces.
Defensive or hostile architecture is the design of urban space to intentionally limit or restrict its use, usually in the name of safety. Hostile design strategies often target unhoused people and youth, and have unintended consequences for the elderly and people with disabilities. Common examples include park benches with dividers that prevent people from lying down, video surveillance, anti-skateboarding ledges, spikes and other deterrents that make surfaces impossible to use. While defensive architecture is not new, increasingly it is being used in public spaces that are meant to be accessible and inclusive. Toronto has a plethora of defensive architecture.
Whether through mortgages or rent, our housing market is premised on a layer of land-based extraction that flows to banks, landlords and landowners. Although this is not new, it has intensified in the neoliberal era as real estate and housing have become even more central to economic growth. This layer of extraction through rents has increased disproportionately to real incomes and people’s ability to pay in recent decades. New homeowners take on larger and larger debts and renters pay more. This dependence of our economy on rent is a highly unproductive use of capital, draining resources that could be spent instead on a flourishing life and restoring our ecology and communities. It relies on a coercive economic system that compels people to take on unsuitable and exploitative work, forcing people out of cities and neighbourhoods they love, restricting collective freedom and the capacity to meet challenges together.
Protecting our housing market from excessive rents can be achieved through forms of decommodified housing and land, such as land trusts, co-ops, social and public housing, as well as through forging alternative land relations. Speculation and profit in housing markets can also be limited towards affordability by tax and policy such as rent control, rental protection and capital gains tax.