When it comes to finding housing in Toronto, the struggle isn’t just for those buying and dealing with the cost of purchasing a house, exasperated by this year’s altered mortgage laws. It’s also for those looking to rent.

The rental shortage in Toronto is nothing new, and like so many other problems experienced by a city, residents are looking for someone to blame.  Amidst attempts by council to improve rental circumstances through rent registries and altered tenant laws, there is still an underlying tendency to blame investors for the rental shortage within the city.

Investors purchase property in the city and then do not rent it out or else use it for their personal use as owner-occupied housing instead of for rental housing. And while many may be quick to blame, recent work by professors at Ryerson University shows it may not be that simple.

Toronto fails to segment its rental housing when calculating rental shortage, not accounting appropriately for rental housing split up into “purpose-built rental units, publicly owned subsidized rental units and rental housing held by private households, such as condominiums and other low-rise dwellings.”

Their work showed that because of improper segmentation and not digging deeply enough into the demographics and their housing circumstances, the estimates by the city of owner-occupied dwellings versus rental units were inaccurate.  With further investigation, courtesy of Census Canada, the professors were able to find that a higher percentage of the housing was owner-occupied than proposed. In other words, more housing is owned and lived in by the owners than the city estimated, hence accounting for the appearance of less housing available to rent.

What this shows, is not that investors are taking the land and building properties that they are failing to rent out, but rather that the housing is being occupied differently than what is publicly indicated.

Through this work, the professors hope to “dispel some of the myths that have fuelled disdain for the investors who make renting possible for a large segment of the population.” And as they also remind us, it’s important to understand the data and interpret it appropriately when it comes to creating housing policies and that maybe the focus shouldn’t be on worrying about creating more housing, but rather making what we have more affordable.



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