Consultation finds big differences in private rental housing across the Toronto Region

by J David Hulchanski, Professor, University of Toronto; Principal Investigator, Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership

The tenants in private-sector rental housing experience different problems and different opportunities according to where they live in the Greater Toronto Area, according to a consultation conducted by Social Planning Toronto.

Full report:  Private-Sector Rental Housing in Greater Toronto: Towards a Research Agenda, A Community Consultation, by Israt Ahmed, Mohammad Araf, and Beth Wilson. A joint Social Planning Toronto & Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, February 2016, 26 pages.

Tenants in York Region, where the shortage of affordable housing is most acute, are mainly housed in second-suite basement apartments, many of which are illegal. This makes tenant organizing and education work especially difficult. Not surprisingly, York Region has no tenant associations. Moreover, landlords, even of legal units, may be renting as a sideline to other work, and may not know or follow the requirements for accepting tenants or collecting rent. As one housing worker put it, “Some landlords, they treat it as a hobby, not as a professional business. They don’t treat tenants professionally.”

In Peel Region, where there are more multi-family residential buildings and a few tenant associations, the problems have more to do with the need for better regulation and bylaws to protect tenants, better enforcement, and a central advocacy group to advocate for affordable housing. One participant pointed out, “There aren’t the resources to enforce the bylaws. The City [of Mississauga] introduced a second suites bylaw but no new resources or new staff to enforce the bylaw.”

Toronto tenants were concerned about discrimination in rental housing and ineffective enforcement of laws and bylaws. Even within the city, the issues differed by neighbourhood. In central Scarborough, hidden homelessness is a problem, along with rooming house regulation. In the Rexdale and Jane-Finch area, credit checks have been used to exclude social assistance recipients from accessing housing.

Some problems are more universal, from cockroach infestations to harassment by landlords.

The consultation was not all about problems. The leaders heard about responsible landlords, community organizing efforts, public-sector and non-profit initiatives to create or upgrade affordable private rental housing, and even areas in Toronto in which people can get “a new start” because landlords in these areas are less likely to use reference and credit checks.

The findings are drawn from five community consultations organized and facilitated by Social Planning Toronto with service providers, housing advocates, and tenant leaders in Toronto, York, and Peel.

The term “private-sector rental housing” covers an astonishingly diverse range of types of accommodation. There are low-, medium- and high-rises, basement apartments or second suites in homes, rooming houses, apartments over stores and in converted storefronts, motels, houses and condo units for rent, shared housing situations, private seniors’ homes, and mobile homes. Some rental housing takes the form of dormitory-like accommodation, whereby people pay for a small space in a shared room where single beds are lined up on a basement floor similar to a hospital ward.

Each form has its own cluster of issues, and efforts to understand and improve this type of housing need to acknowledge the diversity of the housing forms.

When asked to make recommendations for improvement, participants in the consultations agreed that tenants need more and better information on their rights. One housing worker noted, for example, “Newcomers ask me, ‘If I go to Landlord-Tenant Board, I’m going to court. Am I going to have a criminal record?’ [I say], ‘No, you’re not,’ but they don’t know.” However, no amount of tenant education will help if regulations and rulings are not enforced and there is no requirement for landlords to maintain their properties. As one person noted, “It’s also the accountability, how to hold the landlords more accountable…you’re paying but you’re not actually getting the service.”

Another recommendation that many participants endorsed was a detailed study of the workings of the Landlord Tenant Board with a view to making the system more transparent, ensuring that members have appropriate training, and enforcing meaningful penalties on landlords who break the law.

Participants also wanted to see a more proactive form of regulation rather than the current complaints-based approach. This would involve hiring more inspectors to check on rental housing regularly.

Perhaps the most difficult problem to solve is the public perception that renting is somehow inferior to owning and that renters are unreliable or untrustworthy transients. As one participant put it, “[In York Region,] there is a split in the community. The owners are the ‘good’ people and the renters are the ‘bad’ ones. Lots of people don’t realize the [rental housing] situation. There’s lots of judgment and stigma. People have no choice about their living conditions. They want to live in better conditions. They can’t afford it.” These attitudes may be harder to address than simply problems with the physical conditions of rental housing.


Social Planning Toronto (SPT) is a community non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life of Toronto residents. SPT is a partner with the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership. The report was written by Israt Ahmed, Mohammad Araf, and Beth Wilson.

Full report: Private-Sector Rental Housing in Toronto

David Hulchanski,  @Hulchanski




It is better not to know than to know: The 2011 and 2016 National Household Survey (NHS)

by David Hulchanski, Professor, Principal Investigator, Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership, University of Toronto, 18 April 2014

It now seems that the 2016 census will be similar to 2011 when the traditional mandatory census long form was replaced by the Harper government with a voluntary survey, the National Household Survey (NHS).

The conclusion of a recent op-ed by four of us who extensively use census data:

“The income data in the National Household Survey is not valid. It should not be used or cited. It should be withdrawn. The 2016 census should be restored to the non-politicized, non-partisan scientific methodology that existed prior to the flawed 2011 National Household Survey.”

The voluntary nature of the NHS was controversial from the start due to one overarching question:  Can a voluntary survey ever substitute for a mandatory census? As the head of Statistics Canada, Munir Sheikh, who was appointed to that position in 2008 by Mr. Harper, answered with his resignation in June 2010: “It can not.”

This question was not asked or directly addressed in any fashion in a Statistics Canada study released in 2012, Final Report on 2016 Census Options: Proposed Content Determination Framework and Methodology Options. The Statistics Canada authors mention the word “voluntary” 47 times and “mandatory” 45 times in the 33,000 word 75 page study. The objective “was to study options and deliver a recommendation to the federal government on the methodology of the 2016 Census Program.”

The report skates around the central issue for the 2016 Census, whether the long form would be mandatory or voluntary.

An option is to have no census at all and to rely on existing administrative and other data was not recommended because other existing data sources in Canada are not extensive enough to do away with the census. “The only viable approach for 2016 is a traditional Census Program.”

The “traditional” census program for many decades has been the mandatory 20% sample for the long form.

The report only hints at a number of fatal flaws in the NHS. For example, the problem of response rates:

“The move from the mandatory census long form in 2006 to the voluntary NHS in 2011 was expected to significantly impact the response rates. With lower response rates comes the risk of increasing the non-response bias. p. 23

The report also confirms that no studies were carried out prior to the switch to a voluntary survey:

“No tests to predict these impacts had ever been done on a survey in Canada that has both this magnitude and self-enumeration as the main collection mode.” p.23

We are told that more people who responded to the NHS did not answer as many of the questions as was the case with the mandatory long form:

“For households that chose to respond to the NHS, preliminary analysis of response rates to NHS questions seems to show that rates for the first modules of the NHS questionnaire up to the education module are not very different from the rates for the same modules in the 2006 long form. However, the differences are more important starting with the labour market activity module.” p.28

Why not? The NHS, even though more expensive than the traditional census, had no follow-up mechanism:

“The main reasons of the differences compared to 2006 could have to do with the absence of a follow-up for partial non-response to NHS questions and to the voluntary nature of the questionnaire, which may have had an impact on the perseverance of respondents.” P.28

Serious, actually fatal, problems with non-response rates are occasionally mentioned in passing:

“Of concern as well is that cooperation with a voluntary survey may be unevenly spread within the population, leading to non-response bias that may be difficult to fully correct. Further information on this will only become available as the NHS data are processed and analyzed.” P.45


“Statistics Canada must consider, however, the implications of collecting information on a voluntary basis rather than a mandatory basis, particularly for estimates for low geographic areas and small population groups, since the former does not achieve the same type of cooperation from the public.” P.47

But to this day, as in so many areas of federal scientific research, professionals are either silenced or write reports that are so heavily edited that they read like Conservative Party of Canada position papers.

The end of reliable detailed census data fits nicely with the transition from a society with a market mechanism to a market society. One of the more common quotes from Michael Sandel’s recent book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets,

“The most fateful change that unfolded in the last three decades was not an increase in greed. It was the expansion of markets, and of market values, into spheres of life where they don’t belong.”

In a market society, where only market transactions matter, large private corporations can collect the information they need internally and privately. There is little need for public provision of information.

For some who believe they already have all the answers, facts don’t matter. They get in the way. In addition to the desire to starve government of funds, there are many today who want to starve voters of information.



Neighbourhood Trends in Divided Cities: Income Inequality, Social Polarization & Spatial Segregation. An Annotated Bibliography

The focus of this bibliography is on the way in which Western cities (i.e.,generally the OECD countries) are internally divided (or partitioned) on the basis of socio-economic and ethno-cultural status, and the reasons why these divisions exist and the ways in which they are changing. The focus is:

  • the socio-economic and spatial impacts of the gentrification and related neighbourhood change processes
  • the impact of macro level contexts such as globalization and neoliberal policies on urban outcomes and neighbourhoods;
  • changes in the nature, extent and impact of discrimination and segregation oncities and neighbourhoods; and
  • the changing location of wealthy and poor neighbourhoods, and the changing nature and extent of income inequality and income polarization within and among neighbourhoods in a city.

This bibliography is partially annotated with the original summaries (abstracts) as provided by the author or publisher. It was complied as part of the Neighbourhood Change Community University Reseach Alliance. Though large, by searching with keywords, this bibliography should help researchers build upon the existing literature.

Disappearing Middle Class, CBC The Current, national radio panel discussion

CBC radio’s The Current hosted a panel discussion on the findings of the Three Cities research. “For the purposes of the study, David Hulchanski has defined the middle class in economic terms. But for a lot of people, the idea of middle class extends much more broadly than that. For their thoughts on what it means to be middle class and what role the idea of middle class plays in our society, we were joined by three people. Frank Cunningham is a professor emeritus of philosophy and political science at the University of Toronto’s Cities Centre; Linda Gerber is a Sociology professor at the University of Guelph. And John Ralston Saul is … well, John Ralston Everything. Philosopher, essayist, activist and novelist. He is also the president of International PEN, co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, and author whose latest book is a biography of Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin.

TVO Interview on Toronto’s Three Cities

Watch the TVO interview with David Hulchanski discussing his research team’s extensive research on Toronto’s Three Cities.

Three Cities, video 3, Possible Solutions

A five minute review of how to begin to reverse the long term trends creating an increasingly divided city.

Three Cities, video 2, The Forces Dividing the City

A five minute explanation of the forces dividing the city, resulting in significant socio-spatial polarization in Toronto.

Three Cities, video 1, The Trends

A five minute explanation of the trends in socio-economic polarization in Toronto.

The Three Cities Within Toronto: Income Polarization Among Toronto’s Neighbourhoods, 1970-2005

Research Report, Cites Centre, December 2010, 32 pages.

The City of Toronto is becoming increasingly divided by income and socio-economic status. No longer a city of neighbourhoods, modern-day Toronto is a city of disparities. In fact, Toronto is now so polarized it could be described as three geographically distinct cities. This study analyzed income and other data from the 1971 to the 2006 censuses, and grouped the city’s neighbourhoods based on whether average income in each one had increased, decreased, or stayed the same over that 35-year period. It found that the city’s neighbourhoods have become polarized by income and ethno-cultural characteristics and that wealth and poverty are increasingly concentrated.