With rents soaring and affordable housing in short supply, one Toronto man has found a unique place to live: a yurt in his friend’s backyard.
Matt, who CBC News has chosen not to name because of questions surrounding the legality of his living situation, has been living in the yurt in the city’s west end since November. For $400 a month, the seasonal worker gets to erect his $3,000 yurt, while also availing himself of the utilities in his friend’s home.
“Friends and family definitely express a little concern on cold winter nights, but they just didn’t understand how warm and toasty the yurt can be,” Matt said.
“Now I get to enjoy $400-a-month rent rather than a lot more.”
The yurt is a round, squat-style structure that is set up to be about eight feet long by seven feet wide, and stands around six feet tall. It rests on an insulated platform, and contains a heater Matt leaves on at night while sleeping.
Half of the main sleeping area contains a wool rug, and underneath lies mattress foam toppers. The structure also contains milk crates and circular shelving for storage.
In a statement, Elizabeth Glibbery, interim director of Toronto’s municipal licensing and standards division, said the city has minimum requirements for dwellings, including the provision of heat, plumbing and electricity, as well as minimum room sizes and exterior treatments to keep out moisture.
“Depending on how and where this yurt is built, this may create some compliance issues,” she said.
Matt told CBC News he got a taste for living outside during a four-year cycling stint in North and Central America. He then tried living outside in Toronto one summer in a tent in the backyard of a home in the Annex that his friends were renting.
It’s a lifestyle that suits him, he said.
“I love the notion of being able to just take off in the winter and ride my bike south, or volunteer down south, and enjoy the tropical climate,” he said. “My housemate, the homeowner, he’s fine to just not charge me rent [while he’s travelling] because it’s an unused space in the backyard,” he said.
Geordie Dent, the executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, said he is seeing alternative living situations like this more and more in Toronto, and “it’s really depressing.
“People will find a way, but the conditions keep getting smaller, more dangerous and more unique,” he said.
“Even if [this instance is] a choice, that amount of money for what he’s getting would have been ridiculous 10 years ago. Ten years ago you’d find a room in a house for $400.”
Dent also noted there are homeless encampments all over the city, filled with people who don’t have any other choice.
“People have nowhere to go,” he said.
According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s 2020 Rental Market Report, the average monthly rate in the Greater Toronto Area shot up 6.8 per cent this year to $1,452.
The average vacancy rate remained low in 2019, sitting at 1.5 per cent.
“Tight rental market conditions allowed landlords to charge new tenants higher rents and in turn, average rent growth in the GTA significantly exceeded the provincial guideline of 1.8% for 2019,” the report reads.
Matt said Toronto’s housing market is emblematic of a culture that is built on taking more than it needs to.
“We have a species that wishes for life to be a little too easy, and doesn’t care to go the harder route to do things in a better, more ethical way.”