Canada’s Housing Crisis: Renting versus Owning


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By Joyce Wayne

Rents have skyrocketed in parts of Canada. While I was aware they were high, it wasn’t until I read Gary Mason’s Globe and Mail article “Canada’s housing crisis is leaving many seniors out in the cold – literally” that I came to comprehend how high they actually are. Mason writes, “The housing crisis we hear so much about focuses mostly on the need for affordable places for young families to live. What we hear about less is the effect that skyrocketing rents are having on our senior population.”

This is a far cry from the bygone days of the 1980s when “Freedom 55” advertisements suggested that enjoying the golden years of retirement could begin at age 55. I knew a few folks who retired at age 55 and who started collecting their defined benefit pension plans, believing they would live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Yet, those days are long gone. Mason says, “Like many things of yesteryear, the notion of retiring early for many in this country is a preposterous fantasy. Even the idea of enjoying your ‘golden years’ without the worry of, say, wondering where you’ll lay your head down at night, is increasingly difficult if not impossible.”

For Canadians 65 and older relying on the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), the monthly payment from January to March 2024 is $1,065.47. If you are single, widowed or divorced, this sum falls short of covering even half the rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto. Simultaneously, my concern grows for younger individuals struggling to accumulate enough funds to qualify for a first-time home mortgage. Without parental assistance or two well-paying jobs, this goal is often unattainable.

While Canada’s older population struggles with the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto at $2,594, younger individuals face difficulties saving for a down payment on their first house. The situation is worse in Vancouver, where the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in December was $2,866.

Owning a Home

I present these facts and figures not to frighten, but to indicate the privilege we have if we own our own homes. Achieving this comes down to hard work, good planning, and a bit of good fortune to be able to be comfortable in our private homes. Such circumstances should not be taken for granted.

There was a time in the early 2000s when I seriously considered selling my home in Oakville to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto. Some advised me it was a good plan to throw off the burdens of home ownership, paying municipal taxes and caring for a lawn and garden as a single mother. Still, I didn’t do it, partially because I enjoy owning my own home. My first real estate purchase was in the Bloor West Village neighbourhood at the west end of Toronto. It was an adorable two-story semi with three small bedrooms, a small kitchen, living room, dining room, screened porch and garden. There was a tiny garage and one parking spot for my car. In 1980, I paid $60,000 for this home, putting $10,000 down.

Back then, I believed it was an excessive amount of money, and as interest rates hit the roof in the 1980s, my monthly payments skyrocketed. The average mortgage rate in 1981 ranged from around 18 percent to 22 percent. Yet, it wasn’t long before these rates returned to normal, and holding onto my house through that difficult period was the best financial decision I’ve ever made. Over the last 50 years, home ownership has paid off repeatedly, both in the rising value of the different homes I bought when I moved for work and the larger houses I’ve become accustomed to. I’ve lived in the country, in big cities and small towns and now in Oakville, where the value of my homes, over time, has increased.

If I had rented back in 2000, I would have sold my house for about a quarter of its current value, and I’d be renting an apartment for an exorbitant price, considering the cost of renting has risen more than 100 percent during the last two decades. In 2001, the average price of a home in Toronto was around $275,000. By 2021, the average price of a Toronto home was around $1.1-million. This data on rental and prices is provided by the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

So, take care of your home, enjoy the luxury of living where no one can raise your rent or evict you, and where your investment offers the security of aging in place.    

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