In some of Canada’s battleground ridings, renters are spending 50% or more of income on housing

Housing affordability is poised to be a defining ballot box issue in the upcoming federal election, with a sizeable portion of renters in some of the country’s battleground ridings spending half or more of their income on housing.

An analysis of Statistics Canada’s 2016 long-form census numbers that examined income, affordability and overcrowding across Canada’s 338 federal electoral districts reveals five of the country’s worst ridings for rental housing affordability also happen to be ones with the tightest races between the parties.

Of the top 20 ridings with the toughest affordability challenges, 11 are in Ontario, six are in British Columbia, along with one in Halifax, N.S., one in Quebec and one in Manitoba, according to the 2019 Canadian Rental Housing Index, released Tuesday.

In those ridings, a quarter or more of renters put at least 50 per cent of their income toward rent and utilities. Utilities were included in rent figures because the data didn’t allow for costs to be separated out, the organization said.

“These numbers clearly demonstrate why Canadians and housing advocates have been calling on our political leaders to take more immediate action to address the affordability challenges impacting so many families and individuals across the country,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of BC Non-Profit Housing Association in a news release.

5 swing ridings on the list

“Whichever party forms the next government will need to increase the investments into the National Housing Strategy in order to achieve its goals before this crisis gets even worse.”

Of the ridings identified in the index, Willowdale in Toronto took the title for the worst for rental affordability, with 39 per cent of renters spending half or more of their income toward rent.

Also on the list in Ontario are:

  • Thornhill
  • Richmond Hill*
  • Markham-Unionville
  • University Rosedale
  • King-Vaughan*
  • Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill*
  • Don Valley North*
  • Mississauga Centre
  • Toronto Centre
  • Waterloo

In British Columbia:

  • Vancouver Quadra
  • Richmond Centre
  • West-Vancouver-Sunshine Cost-Sea to Sky Country
  • Vancouver Centre
  • Burnaby North-Seymour*
  • Burnaby South.

Rounding out the list are Ville-Marie-Le Sud Ouest-Île-des-Soeurs in Quebec and Halifax in Nova Scotia.

Ridings listed with an asterisk (*) are ones that CBC News has identified as ridings where the election could be won or lost.

Affordability issues not lost on federal leaders

The pressure of housing affordability is an issue not lost on campaigners, with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promising last week to provide more help first first-time homebuyers living in red-hot housing markets, including Toronto and Vancouver. The plan would see the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation increase the value of a qualifying home from approximately $500,00 to $800,000.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer plans to offer his own proposal on home ownership too, according to the party’s spokesperson.

Whether the leaders will come out with campaigns specifically aimed at renters remains to be seen.

“The data clearly demonstrates that our political leaders have not been able to find or implement meaningful solutions to the affordable housing crisis, and Ontario now has the dubious honour of being harder hit than anywhere else in the country,” said Marlene Coffey, executive director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.

The index released Tuesday also paints a picture of those hardest hit by affordability challenges, including single mothers, Indigenous renters, new immigrants, seniors and Canadians under 30.

That last group is comprised largely of millenials, who are expected to make up as much as 37 per cent of the electorate in this election, according to Abacus Data.

Nearly a quarter of renters under 30 are at what the index defines as a “crisis level of spending,” with half or more of their income going to rent; while at least half of seniors who rent spent 30 per cent or more of their income on housing.

‘Vulnerable groups are bearing the brunt’

“For a long time, the conversation around rental housing affordability in Canada has focused on the population as a whole, but the numbers clearly show several key, vulnerable groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis,” said Jeff Morrison, executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.
Indigenous families were also found to be disproportionately struggling to pay for rent, with overcrowding found to be an issue in 43 per cent of Indigenous-led renter households, compared with just six per cent in non-Indigenous renter households.

Among immigrant-renter households who landed in Canada from 2011 to 2016, nearly 24 per cent of some 250,000 were found to be at a crisis level. In terms of overcrowding and overspending, the hardest hit are in the Greater Toronto Area, with 55 to 60 per cent of immigrant-led households in Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Markham spending 30 per cent or more of their income on rent.

But those suburbs still might be the more affordable option for those looking to own a home in Toronto, like new mom Jessica Botello.

Botello says she’s encouraged by Trudeau’s proposal, but thinks ultimately it’s better suited for those looking outside the city core.

“Honestly, it’s a great idea, but for $800,000, it’s not realistic for Toronto,” she told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

Botello recently put in an offer for a home in Toronto, only to find six others did too. Ultimately, the home sold for $840,000 — a price she says she simply couldn’t compete with.

“We were pre-approved for $745,000,” she told Metro Morning. “But if it’s listed for that price, they want multiple offers — and they get them.”

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