Transcript: Ep. 3 - The ripple effect of Toronto's housing market | Mar 03, 2020

ERIN: We had, you know,
a decent household income
and we were saving as
aggressively as we could
and we were kind of doing
all the right things
but we just couldn't anymore.
You can't save. Like, the income
is just not enough
to pay for your rent and
to also save to be able to
one day escape
that situation, so.
Welcome, everybody,
to the #onpoli podcast.
I'm Steve Paikin.
And I'm John Michael McGrath.
John Michael, we sure know that
Toronto is an expensive city,
but a new survey has found it's
now the third most expensive
in the western hemisphere,
trailing only Vancouver
and Los Angeles.
So, today on the podcast we're
going to take a look
at how Toronto's affordability
problem is rippling out
to other parts of the province
and how one organisation is
taking a new approach
to try to solve it.
So let's get to it.

Steve, why does this problem
seem to be on the radar
at every level of government,
including Ontario's?
Well, mostly 'cause
it has to be,
and we know from
public opinion surveys,
we know from certainly
the overwhelmingly reported back
subject matter of the last
federal election,
that affordability is still
a big deal for people,
being able to afford the things
in life that they think
a typical middleclass lifestyle
ought to include is huge.
You know, of course,
the Ontario government's
completing its pre-budget
the budget comes out
every spring.
I know Stan Cho who's
a Toronto MPP,
the Parliamentary Assistant to
the Minister of Finance,
says that affordability had been
one of the main things
that he keeps hearing
as he does his pre-budget
consultations as well,
so it's all there.
And the Minister of Municipal
Affairs and Housing
has a housing supply
action plan.
We want to make sure that
everyone has a place
that they can call home at
a price that they can afford.
This really has been, you know,
aside from transit and
this I think has been really one
of the core pillars
of the Ford government so far.
And politics keeps coming back
to this theme
because we hear it repeated
so often.
John Michael, we both know some
people who've had to
make some really hard decisions
as it relates to Toronto's
expensive housing situation.
So, our producer,
Katie O'Connor,
took to the streets with
tape recorder in hand.
She talked to Erin Pebbler.
Erin's a mum of two
and five years ago she and
her husband left Toronto,
as so many others have,
and she moved to Burlington.
So, I'm what we consider
an "old millennial"
in that I was born '84,
I'm 35.
I had my first child
when I was 26,
which is a little on
the early side.
So, by the time I was 28,
my husband, same age as me,
we had two kids,
and so we were getting pushed
out of the rental market
in terms of the size we needed
and the size we wanted,
but even so, if we had moved to
a slightly bigger apartment,
rents had skyrocketed so much
that even the rental market was
becoming really difficult to
so it just wasn't reasonable for
us to stay downtown anymore.
Burlington now is so expensive,
the house that I'm in now, um,
I mean, without going into
too much detail,
it was something where we
used to joke about
we couldn't buy a house in
'cause we didn't have
a million dollars.
The house I bought five years
ago has now appreciated
so much in value that it's
over a million dollar home.
My budget for buying a house
would never be
a million dollars.
Like, I can't afford to buy
my house today.
I can afford to live in it
because my mortgage is on what
it was five-six years ago,
but it's crazy to me that
if we were shopping now
our house wouldn't even
come up,
it wouldn't even be in
the searches we were looking at.
John Michael, we also spoke to
a woman named Ruth Maddeaux.
She is 37 years old,
she's a PhD student,
she's going to school here
in Toronto,
and once again,
because of the situation here,
she was faced with a dilemma:
Live with some roommates or
leave the city altogether.
And so guess what?
She up and moved to Hamilton,
which is not a terrible idea
as you would know
I would say.
I'm a grad student at
the University of Toronto
and when entered the program I
was part of two income household
and then that changed.
That meant I was living alone
on a grad student income
which is extremely low,
in Toronto anyway.
Well, everywhere.
And then that meant I was
renting basement apartments
in Toronto,
small ones in not very
convenient parts of the city.
The most recent one that
I was living in sold
and this was in--
this was last year, 2019,
halfway through the year,
and that meant I needed to move.
And so I was looking around
for apartments,
you know, feeling really
stressed about
where I was going to end up.
I went to go look at some
and one day I looked at
a bachelor basement apartment
that would have been more than
an hour's commute from school.
And it was renting for
1,400 a month.
After I went and
saw that apartment,
I went to a coffee shop and
cried for a little bit,
and then I thought,
"Okay, I need to do something
different here."
"I have some big decisions
to make."
I also felt really conflicted
I feel like now I'm part of
the problem in Hamilton, right?
Because this problem of people
from Toronto moving here
and doing that commuting is
you know, rent is increasing in
Hamilton like crazy now
as a result of
sort of people like me.
Usually people with more income
than me, but still.
So, you know, I'm part of
the problem,
and just knowing that I'm
contributing to
affordable housing crises
in other places outside Toronto
does not feel good.
Okay, tell me this,
are people who leave Toronto
having an impact on other cities
in the province
as Ruth just said?
The short answer is yes.
We wanted to dig into this
a little
so we spoke with Mike Moffatt.
He's an economist and
Senior Director of Policy and
Innovation at
the Smart Prosperity Institute.
We should also mention that he's
an economic advisor to
Kate Graham,
one of the people running for
the Liberal leadership race,
but we're not talking politics
No, not today.

Mike Moffatt,
welcome back to the podcast.
Well, thank you for having me.
The housing crisis that
we're facing in Toronto
is acute enough,
but you have in recent weeks
been looking at
how people are moving across
the province,
not just in the GTA.
For starters, why did you start
by looking at these numbers?
I looked at them when
they came out last year
and we had updated numbers from
Statistics Canada.
My interest in this came about
three years ago
when I sold my house in
London, Ontario
and there was
a large bidding war
and all of that families that
were bidding on the house
were all from Toronto,
and all in fact worked in
So we had this very strange
phenomena in London
where not much was going on
in the local economy,
our job numbers were terrible,
it was a little-- bleak times,
but housing prices are going up
10, 15, 20%.
So as an economist I'm thinking,
"What on earth is
going on here?"
And sure enough it was
families moving from Toronto,
which has always, you know,
on some level occurred,
but people are having to drive
out farther and farther now
to find houses they can afford,
you know,
which in the case of London is
a good two hours or more away
from downtown Toronto.
Yeah, no, I've done that drive
and it's not what I would call
a commuting distance.
Yeah, and that's
entirely the problem.
You know, this phenomenon of
people sort of moving
to suburban areas is not new.
You know, 40 or 50 years ago
people were
moving out to Etobicoke or
Scarborough, or so on,
and even 20 years ago they might
have moved to Mississauga,
Brampton, Milton,
that kind of thing.
Which is, you know,
it's further away from downtown
but it's at least in
commuting distance,
you know, you can get downtown
within, you know,
30-45 minutes depending on
how far you're going out.
So that's all kind of normal,
but what is new is the fact that
people are moving
to communities like London,
like Woodstock,
you know,
if you start going east,
like Barrie and Kingston even,
you know, that shows you,
you know,
how much the lack of housing is
starting to
ripple across the province and
creating, you know,
creating issues across
the province where again,
you're seeing house prices go up
10-15% a year
in places like London
which had a rough 15 years
after the manufacturing crises.
Can we talk about
some of the numbers like,
that you found?
I mean,
you've posted these online
and we'll see if we can find
a way to link people to those,
but I mean,
some of these numbers are
pretty surprising even for me,
somebody who's been paying
attention to this for a while.
I think the most
surprising one is that
over the last 13 years,
between the city of Toronto and
the Peel region,
we've seen 500,000 people,
on net,
move to other parts
of the province.
We look at 13 years because
that's all the data
that's available.
So that's a massive,
massive number.
And we should keep in mind that
Toronto and Peel
are still growing,
you know,
we're still seeing lots of
there's still babies being born,
we see a big boom in
international students,
so Toronto and Peel
are still growing
but what we're seeing is this
exodus out of these places
and it's largely driven by
young families.
The most common age for someone
to move away from Toronto
is zero.
You know, babies between,
you know,
under 12 months,
that's the most common age for
someone to move away.
So it's pretty clear what's
going on:
that a couple will live in
live in Mississauga,
live in Brampton,
have their first baby and say,
"Oh, you know,
we need more space."
Or, "We can't afford
childcare here."
So they do something--
what's known as
"drive until you qualify,"
so you just keep going as
far away as you can
from Toronto until you can
get a mortgage,
that one of the big five banks
will give you a mortgage.
So, again, and that's not
a new phenomenon
but it used to be
"drive until you qualify",
put you at Etobicoke or
now it's, you know, it could be
putting you as far away as
There was a specific number
that you found about
school-aged children in
the city of Toronto
and when-- even as somebody who
pays attention to
Toronto numbers,
that one blew my mind.
Tell me about that one.
Yeah. So over the last,
again, 13 years,
the population of Toronto has
gone up by about
400,000 people.
You know, so it's this big boom,
lots of births, lots of
migration to Toronto,
but despite all of that,
the number of kids,
you know, the number of people
under the age of 18,
has declined by 20,000.
So you're seeing this
big change in
the demographic profile
of Toronto
where there's a lot more
20-somethings and 30-somethings
then there used to be,
but there's fewer kids.
And again, this kind of creates
a spiral effect because
you get the kind of thing where
schools start closing,
families start--
can't find daycare
just because daycare places are
shutting down
'cause there's fewer kids,
and that just feeds on itself,
it becomes-- it becomes a sort
of self-fulfilling spiral,
and that's what I worry about,
that again, we're creating--
We've got this fantastic,
dynamic city in Toronto
but you can't live there if
you're part of a family,
you know, unless you're making
in the mid-six figures.
I think that's a real problem.
We need to be able to have a
situation where kids can live
in our most dynamic cities.
Some of these places are really
far out, I mean,
well outside of the Greenbelt
that was supposed to, you know,
constrain sprawl in the GTA.
Are these cities and towns,
are they able to accept
that growth?
And again, I think that's
the surprising thing,
like, it wouldn't surprise
people if people were
moving out of downtown Toronto
and moving to Newmarket or
we're certainly seeing that.
I mean, that's still occurring,
but I think that's the part that
shocks people,
when-- you're right,
it's well out of the Greenbelt.
When, again, you're going to
like a-- like,
like Woodstock,
like a Stratford,
like a London.
And for those communities it's
a bit of a double-edged sword,
that on the one hand it's great
to get this influx of families,
it's really helping
the construction industry,
you know, it's creating jobs and
education and healthcare
in a bunch of communities that
have really struggled
since about 2004 because of
the decline in manufacturing.
But it's also causing some
strain because
now you get those families in
who have jobs in London,
who can no longer afford there,
so it's kind of rippling out.
So, you know, the London
families are now moving to
Chatham-Kent or Sarnia,
so, you know,
we're even starting to see
Windsor pick up people,
so it's really sort of echoing
across the province
where you know,
house prices are going up
and people are having to move to
somewhere they can afford.
Just to clarify this a bit,
I mean, it's not just that
people are, you know,
working in Toronto and
moving to London,
though some of that is probably
rather I mean what we're
seeing is, you know,
a person who used to live and
work in Toronto
is now working in downtown
Toronto but
they might be commuting in from
a place like Hamilton,
and they're raising
the housing prices there
and people in Hamilton are
getting pushed out,
and then they are just
all across the province,
a much larger area than just
the city of Toronto itself.
Yeah. And again, that's
a relatively new phenomena,
it's only been in about
the last five years
that it's sort of echoed across
the rest of the province
and hasn't been sort of
to the sort of Toronto,
K-W type region.
So-- and what we don't know
in fact is that commuting data.
So of all of those Toronto
families coming to London,
how many are driving back to
Toronto every day,
or taking VIA?
Or, you know, how many are
working in London?
We don't know that.
We'll have a better idea when
the next census comes out
in 2021,
but that's an unanswered
question of, you know,
how many people are commuting?
We know some are
and that's going to cause
all kinds of difficulties.
You know, there's more traffic.
'Cause we don't have the kind of
transportation systems
set up for that, you know,
GO only goes to K-W,
it's not going to Woodstock,
so you have all these people--
you have all these people who
are driving into Toronto,
which obviously has put
strain on our infrastructure,
has all kinds of environmental
and also just isn't good
for families,
you know, to have mom or dad
spend, you know,
90 minutes or more each way,
commuting to work,
that doesn't create
healthy families.
No. I saw a report once that
one of the better predictors for
divorce was
commuting time actually.
Yeah, and we've seen that.
I mean, I think anecdotally
we know a lot of people in
I'm thinking of a few couples
right now, that,
you know, one of them ended up
working in Toronto
and put real strains on
the marriage,
in some cases there were
So I think that's the concern
that I have
is that you are putting these
big strains on families,
and the environment as well,
you know, a time where we're
trying to hit our
parish commitment,
we're trying to go to net zero
by 2050,
and yet we're pushing people out
of Toronto to again,
places like Woodstock,
and Stratford,
and London,
and St. Catherine's,
and asking them to drive 150
kilometres each way every day.
So we want politicians to
fix stuff like this,
what do they do next?
Well, it's a difficult problem
and not one that's unique
to us.
We see the same thing in
London, England.
You know, Silicon Valley has
been dealing with this
for 20 to 30 years,
but was can put the policy
solutions I would say
into three broad buckets.
So the first, and I think
the most important,
is just create more housing.
You know, get more houses build
in Toronto,
Mississauga, Brampton.
Obviously that's going to be
You know, changing zoning laws
like we've seen in Edmonton,
we've seen in Minneapolis and
so on,
to be able to get different
housing types
like three-story walk-ups and
that kind of thing.
I think that's by far the most
important thing you can do.
You know, build more housing of
all sorts of price points.
It's not just affordable
but it's also housing that's
and I kind of put those as
two distinct things.
The second thing is make it
easier and
more environmentally friendly
to live in one place and
commute to another,
so that's building more
particularly more rail.
Doesn't necessarily have to be
more high-speed rail,
but just more rail and
bus connections between the two.
And then the third thing is
sort of place based policies
to actually create more jobs,
'cause that's the other
you know, people could just
work in London and Woodstock.
So you and I have discussed
before this idea of,
you know, expanding universities
and community colleges
in these places in order to
create employment there.
You know, maybe making it easier
for people to telecommute,
but either you've got to
let people--
get people to where the jobs are
or get the jobs to where
the people are.
I mean, that's, you know,
it's not rocket science,
you've got to move one
to the other.
Mike Moffatt, thank you so much
for your time today.
Thank you for having me.
Okay, that's Mike Moffatt,
economist and Senior Director of
Policy and Innovation
at the Smart Prosperity
John Michael, what happens when
people such as,
well, let's make a bit of
a list here:
Nurses, fire fighters,
personal support workers,
people that you could argue are
really vital
to keeping a city functioning,
what happens when
they can't afford to
live in that city anymore?
That's a really pressing
question in Toronto right now
and so I spoke with
Michelle German,
she's the Vice President of
Policy and Strategy
at WoodGreen Community Services
and she's been looking at
a concept called
Workforce Housing.
And, you know, to try to answer
this question of
how do we make sure the people
who the city needs
can actually afford to live
in the city?

Michelle German,
welcome to the podcast.
Thanks, John, for having me.
So, you recently
co-wrote a report for
the Toronto Board of Trade
about Workforce Housing
and what is Workforce Housing
and why is that an answer for
what Toronto faces with
the housing crises?
Workforce Housing for us
is really about housing that's
available for people
who are kind of integral parts
of our city.
So when you think about
our nurses,
our teachers,
our personal support workers,
people who are
middle to low income
and who really make up
the richness of what
a city has to offer.
So we looked at the issue
sort of from the future
and said, "What would our city
look like if people were
priced out and we no longer
could afford
to live in the city of Toronto?"
What would that do to
our community?
What would that do to
our economy?
And what would that do to
our culture?
To give a sense of
the scale of the problem here,
we're not talking,
you know,
obviously there's a low income
affordability crisis
in this city,
but the affordability problem is
going up and up
and higher into
the income ladder,
and now we're talking about
people with, you know,
maybe not quite six figure
but higher incomes than
you would expect,
like you know, reasonably well
compensated public servants
who can't afford to live
in the city
and are facing long commutes.
That's exactly right.
What really moved us to
write this report
is the realisation that unless
you're making six figures,
and even six figures isn't even
that much anymore,
which is bananas.
If you think of, you know,
what the Sunshine List used to
represent in our culture,
you're basically stuck,
you don't have a lot of choice
about where you can live
and what your commute looks like
and what your life looks like.
The way I like to think about it
is the concept of "churn".
So if you're sort of a moderate
income to low income,
you're just stuck
where you're living.
So if you just bought a house
in Hamilton
and you get your dream job
in Toronto,
maybe 20 years ago you would
have uprooted your family
so that you can live and
work in the same community,
but nowadays, you kind
of have to stay put
and just bear with
the commutes.
And this is a problem
that's really toxic
to the communities
that we live in.
How is the issue
of workforce housing
different than simply
building more social housing?
Mm. That's a
really great question.
So, from where we're sitting,
we see that there's, within
the "housing crisis"--
as it gets referred to-- there
is different tranches of it.
There's a crisis
around people who are homeless
or could become homeless,
unable to find
either a shelter,
a safe place to live, or
a subsidized place to live.
So, that's part
of the piece.
There's also a piece
around affordable housing.
So, that's sort of a
low-to-moderate income
where they might
not need a subsidy,
but, you know, they just can't
afford what market rent is.
And then there's
attainable housing,
and that's kind of
where we're looking at:
what's about market rent,
maybe what's just
10 or 20 percent below,
what's average market
rent in the city.
And that's really the
part of the problem
that we wanted to
tease out here.
We're certainly not saying
that any part of the problem
is more important
than the other parts.
In fact, I
really believe
that in order for us
to have a healthy society,
we need a really healthy
housing ecosystem
where all parts of
the housing system--
the shelters, the
supportive housing,
the subsidized housing,
and market and up--
all have a nice
plenty availability,
so that whoever you are
and whatever you're going
through in your life,
you have a choice,
and you can find a safe,
suitable place to live.
the Board of Trade report,
you looked at
specific case studies
of where workforce
housing has been used
in both Canada
and the US.
Can you tell me about
some of these examples,
these real-world cases?
For sure. So, I mean, as always,
we in Toronto
like to look outside and say,
"Who's done this before?
Who's been here?
And how can we learn
so that we can be better
or at least catch up?"
So, one thing that was quite
staggering was that we found
that while creating
a record number
of well-paying jobs in
Silicon Valley--
reaching the highest
wages worldwide in 2019--
they also saw homelessness
rise by 17 percent
and the loss of one
fifth of all teachers
in school districts
each year.
So, we saw that
the high cost of housing
in San Francisco and the
surrounding area has meant
that a $15-an-hour
minimum-wage restaurant staff
can't afford to live near
where they work.
Some restaurants are doing
away with table service.
Others are turning
to automation.
We even learned that at
a restaurant called Creator
in San Francisco's financial
district, burgers are made
by a giant robot that
slices the brioche bun,
grates the cheese,
and cuts the tomatoes.
And the end result
is a $6 burger.
So, these are
the stories
that we were hoping
to learn from.
Do we want robots
making our hamburgers?
I mean, the eight-year-old me
kind of likes the idea
of the burger robot,
but I understand
the problem. (Laughing)
Exactly. I mean, it's
not that robots are bad
and that $6
burgers are bad.
But this is part of the future
that we have to really start
to sink our teeth into
and to get used to
if we continue to go
on the path that we're on.
One of the cases you looked at--
Well, there was both a
community college, I believe,
and also a
school board.
And I was struck
by one of the quotes
you had in there,
the school board
official saying, like,
"This was not
our plan.
Like, we didn't
actually want
to get into the job
of providing housing.
But it has
become impossible
to hang on to teachers
unless we can provide
this for them."
You know, that's
why we wrote this report
from a WoodGreen Community
Service perspective.
So, we're a
community agency.
We've been around
for 80 years,
and really, what we do
is provide a basket
of services to people.
We don't necessarily want
to be in the housing business,
but because it's such a
core part of what would make
our communities' lives
a happy, healthier place,
it's the reason that
we're sort of calling attention
to this issue. And it's
the reason that we're
actively developing new housing
in the city of Toronto.
So, like the school board,
we looked at
the world around us,
and we looked
at our mission,
which is to improve the world
and help people to thrive.
And we said, "What
do people need?"
And what
we're seeing--
and this is no surprise
to any listener--
is that they need an
affordable place to live.
So like the school board,
we're interested
in being a partner
and seeing ourselves--
And we hope
other employers
and other, you know,
unlikely suspects
will see themselves
as part of the solution,
because this is a
really complex problem,
and if we don't
get all hands on deck,
we're going to come out
with the same result.
One of the other things
that you did mention
in the report
that I really want to spend
just a little bit of time on
is the ethical
questions of this.
And obviously, we want
to provide affordable housing
to people who need it,
but it could also become
the kind of benefit
that an employer could
take away from a worker,
depending on
how you do it.
You know, a person who
loses their job
could also be out
of their home as well.
And I'm wondering,
you know,
did you see cases of
how that is implemented
that make you less concerned
about these ethical questions?
You know, this
kept us up at night,
a lot about writing
this report,
because we didn't want
the message to be
that it's an
employee benefit
in order to
live where you wanted.
We wanted
the message to be,
"There's a direct
tie, you know,
when you look at the social
determinants of health,
between work
and between housing
and living and working
where you live
and play."
So, I think our
takeaway is,
one, we need to
do some more work
to figure out what a
made-in-Toronto looks like.
There are a number
of models--
for example, in San Francisco
and the school board--
where they didn't tie
it directly to the employee.
It's more of a,
"It became available."
And there's actually
a made-in-Toronto example
with the Local 75
hospitality workers.
About 10 years ago,
they formed a new
housing co-op.
And it was really
out of a need
that their hospitality workers
were doing long commutes,
you know, working
low-to-moderate-wage jobs,
and really struggling
to make ends meet.
So what they did is,
they offered
the spots within
the co-op,
which is sort of market or
just below market rates,
to their
workers first.
Now, over the life cycle
of who lived there,
people cycled
in and out,
but really, those spots went to
hospitality workers first
and weren't tied
to the employment.
So, if I had
a crystal ball,
I would say that
there's something there
that we can learn from,
and it's actually
that we are looking
to test in the spring.
So, at WoodGreen,
we have an
employment program
called Homeward Bound
where we work with a
cohort of single mothers
over a four-year period.
So, they come
into the program,
and they receive housing,
childcare, education,
coaching, psychology
and counselling.
And at the end of
the program,
they come out with a
moderate-to-high-paying job.
And after about 10 or 15
years of doing this program,
we're seeing that
these families
are settling into a
community quite well.
And then once they graduate
out of the four years,
they can't find a house or an
apartment that they can afford,
even when they're making, you
know, $60,000 to $80,000 a year.
So we're thinking of the concept
of workforce housing around,
"How do we
create new units
for people, like, coming
out of this program?"
But then not to tie it directly
to where they're working.
Just more about sort of,
"How can we create things
that are affordable
and within the communities that
they're already settled in?"
Michelle German,
thank you so much
for being on the
podcast today.
Thanks so much for having me.
That's Michelle German,
vice-president of
policy and strategy
at WoodGreen
Community Services.
Okay, dear listeners.
Tell us what you thought
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I'm @spaikin.
That's S-P-A-I-K-I-N.
And I'm @j_mcgrath.
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Today's episode was produced
by myself, John McGrath,
and Katie O'Connor.
You said "John McGrath,"
you know.
Yes, I suppose I did.
STEVE: You forgot
to say "Michael."
Now, everybody's going to think
your father produced this show.
It's going to cause chaos.
(Both laughing)
STEVE: Well, just in
case you were curious,
John Michael McGrath, yes,
produced this program,
not his father,
John McGrath,
and Katie
O'Connor as well,
who is also
the series producer.
Audio and editing
by Matthew O'Mara.
support coordinators
are Jonathan Halliwell
and Nikki Ashworth.
The executive producer
for digital is Kathy Vey.
Thanks for listening.

Watch: Ep. 3 - The ripple effect of Toronto's housing market