Ambitious housing goals require innovative, scalable solutions

Toronto’s housing challenges remain urgent, with COVID-19 illustrating the precarity of many people’s housing situations – particularly, in the case of essential workers.

One of those workers is Rechev, a 34-year-old full time grocery store cashier in Etobicoke. Rechev migrated to Canada from St. Vincent over 20 years ago. Though he earns above minimum wage, his income still doesn’t meet the costs of living in the Toronto region. Having lived close to work, Rechev was forced to move back in with his family in North York after struggling to meet the costs of living. This move has turned his 15-minute bike ride into a 90-minute bus ride each way.

For Rechev, the search for affordable housing is aggravated by additional systemic faced by people of colour. “I have good credit, but I never get a call back for housing. Because of people’s social background or skin colour, housing can be harder to access.”

Rechev’s story is one of many highlighted in the second, newly released report of a three-part workforce housing series, jointly developed by the Toronto Region Board of Trade and WoodGreen Community Services, sponsored by TD, Housing a Generation of Essential Workers – Modelling Solutions.

There are around 330,000 workers in Toronto earning between $40,000 and $60,000 annually – too little to afford housing in the city, but too much to apply for social housing.

To address this gap, the City of Toronto has set a target of 40,000 new rental units by 2030. We’ve seen ambitious targets and now we need bold solutions.

On addressing affordable housing, Rechev suggests that governments work to ensure the basic right of housing is being met for all Canadians. If housing affordability does not improve in the city, he fears we will see more homelessness and young people less sure of their housing and economic future.

Luckily, we discovered that we don’t need to start from scratch. Modelling Solutions analyzes several existing and emerging housing model case studies to gauge which could be scaled to meet Toronto’s workforce housing needs.

Our report serves as a guide for which solutions can be scaled, and what elements are required. This analysis identifies four trends in successful workforce housing models that should be applied, and scaled, by decision makers:

  • Utilize creative partnerships: Successful projects are often a product of collaboration between developers, financiers, governments, and service providers.
  • Leverage density for mixed-income developments: Building at the appropriate density can help maximize land use.
  • Put the needs of future residents first: Project design should be driven by the needs of essential workers and not based on assumptions.
  • Success is dependent on employer support and political will: Governments and employers alike must support project partnerships and developments to achieve effective and long-lasting success in meeting the needs of Toronto’s workforce housing.

Read the report here.

Modelling Solutions is the second of a three-part housing series, jointly developed by the Toronto Region Board of Trade and WoodGreen Community Services, sponsored by TD. The first installment, Housing a Generation of Workers, focused on the challenges associated with finding affordable housing in Toronto, and recommended best practices to accelerate the development of workforce housing. The next and final report of this series will examine what might happen to our region’s economy if we do not act on our housing challenges soon.

We were pleased to convene a discussion in December about this issue. Watch the webcast here: Essential Housing: Building Towards Toronto’s Recovery.