“Studio $1400/Month, No Pets, No Guests, No Kitchen”: The Absurdity of Toronto Housing

Karina Lafayette – November 20th 2022

I walked into the tiny studio for rent, in shock at what this couple thought was a great option for real estate. It was no bigger than a bedroom and had a bed, with a hot plate for a stove, a toaster oven, but hey, at least the fridge was decent. And there was a bathroom. All for the bargain of $1400. Been there, done that.

And quite literally. Before my current apartment, I spent a few months in a studio, but at least it was twice the size and resembled a mini loft. This however, this was a joke. Just like the housing market has become a joke. I didn’t have to think twice about saying “no” and sighed. At this point, it’s hardly breadcrumbs, it’s actual trash.

Ask anyone in Toronto, or any big city really, and they’ll tell you the same thing. Between an epidemic of wannabe landlords who think their basement can pass for an illegal apartment, and the lack of rent control, the housing crisis isn’t as bad as you think- it’s worse.

Now I might only be thirty, but I’ve been around the block a few times when it comes to housing. So far in my life, I’ve moved about 17 times. Growing up, my mom and I could get a new apartment with all of our minimum requirements (and within our budget) and we were set, and it didn’t take much either. The first time I set out into the adult world at age 22, I moved into a house on Nun’s Island with four other roommates. My room was around $350 a month and though it was kind of small, we lived ten minutes from the river, and our house had two floors with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a basement, with the total rent being around $1900. It was a dream.

Six months after, I got a temporary studio before moving into my first real apartment. It was in a basement, yet it had a large master bedroom, appliances and utilities included, the perfect apartment for me and my dog. All for a grand total of… $500 a month.

You’d think apartments worth $500 only existed back in the nineties, but no, I got that place in 2015. Now, 2015 seems like lifetimes away with the average one-bedroom in Toronto or Montreal starting at $1300, and that’s only if you’re willing to take transit to work. If you’re determined for a short commute, you may need to settle on an apartment that’s at minimum $1500, and with that, you’re lucky if the place even includes a washer and dryer, let alone proper storage. And just when they can’t milk you enough, they add coin laundry as a bonus, because imagine the shame that would come to a landlord that lets tenants do laundry for free.

The best part is that the studio with the hot plate isn’t even the worst option available. Many times, you’ll come across apartments that don’t even meet fire safety, with tiny windows and low ceilings barely accommodating a short gal like me at 5’3. To say that many landlords don’t care is an understatement: they are laughing to the bank. Why? Because while some of us with decent jobs can afford to be picky, others can’t. Sometimes you don’t have a choice but to settle on a studio because it can be safer than having roommates. And don’t get me started on roommates.

Either way, here it goes. Having a roommate is hardly the Golden Girls fantasy it’s hyped up to be, despite it making things more affordable. I’ve had roommates who were noticeably bitter toward me either a) because they were men and I didn’t want to sleep with them, or b) I simply didn’t want to be friends. I didn’t bother taking part in their movie nights or hangouts because you know, adult priorities. Like sorry, Lisa, but some of us just want a decent place to live before we can afford our own- we’re not all trying to revive the sorority. If not careful with who you pick, roommates can make your life a living hell, hence the reason most people who co-habitate want nothing to do with each other.

On one hand, of course, it can be easier to cohabitate because at least you have someone to share the financial burdens, but when it’s at the cost of your emotional and sometimes physical safety, I’ll keep having my own place, thanks. I really don’t think most people realize how difficult they can be to live with, especially when it comes to having different schedules, different tastes in decorating, lifestyles, and sometimes political beliefs. Most people want others to fit into their world but can’t be bothered with accepting the differences they bring. They can’t be bothered with acknowledging that others don’t live the way they do. And if you think this level of closemindedness only happens with relationships or roommate situations, think again.

Did you know that there’s a trend of landlords who want to rent to people, but will refuse to rent to someone unless they’re vegetarian, don’t have pets, guests, or even cook? I can’t tell you how many times I responded to a listing and was asked whether I cook regularly. Listen, unless we’re sharing a damn kitchen, it’s none of your concern, and if you can’t handle having a building where people so much as eat differently than you, then reconsider even being a landlord in the first place.

Most landlords care about two things: reasonable behavior and money. Why do you care whether I make dinner at 5pm, am having amazing sex all day, or if I own four pets? If my lifestyle isn’t disruptive, it really isn’t a concern to you. Sign your name at the bank like nature intended and let me do me, because it’s not like your apartments are selling at their worth in the first place.

You already know many people are desperate to rent, just be grateful it’s with you.

Aside from how tricky it is to rent, people also have to be on the lookout for fake rentals. One time, I came across an ad for a rental that seemed a bit too goof to be true, but I messaged out of curiosity for the heck of it. Long story short, the person claimed to be out of the country and apparently needed someone to watch their apartment. The best part, after a quick reverse image search, the pictures were found on an AirBnB website where it was clear the person in charge had no idea their pictures were bring used that way. So aside from already picky landlords, roommates, and a flawed system, we have these types to sift through on top of all else.

But if you sit down and really think about it, isn’t there something corrupt about encouraging the idea that only people with money deserve to have a roof, food, clothing and education, in the first place? Aren’t we basically saying that if someone doesn’t have money, they don’t have value as a human being?

Because that’s exactly what we’re saying to each other. See, in order to rent, in order to rent, you’re mostly also expected to have the credit score of a rich white man and it gets even harder if you happen to be on welfare or disability.

And as someone who’s a former respite worker and who already lived in the shelter system, I can confirm it’s not the average person who’s to blame. A good majority of people I’ve met from all walks of life work, and even those who can’t, are still putting in the effort to do better, and that still isn’t enough. I’ve had clients in the respite who worked as construction workers and all kinds of jobs imaginable, some either getting sober or who already were, and that still isn’t enough. I even know people who work multiple jobs and who are getting by just barely with their own places, it still isn’t enough. We get it- we’re supposed to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. Yeah, not gonna happen. A collective effort is what’s needed.

If this keeps up, people like me will exile to other areas. We no longer care about your cute coffee shops and hipster stores, especially considering most of us can’t afford to shop there anyway. Sooner or later, big cities will all be condos and Starbucks, and most of us will rent in nearby boroughs, counting down the days till the next recession where rich people will cry whilst entitled Millennials like me finally get the houses we always wanted. By then, we’ll be the new bosses and those who profited from us can spend their remaining years in a retirement home, only wishing they had a family who cared enough to visit.

Before rent control comes back in style, the least we can do is call out these types of behaviors. By not setting boundaries, we’re giving permission for problems to continue. It’s not enough to sign petitions, complain to the government, and write blogs like mine. Housing needs to be organized by people who have other’s best interest at heart, but as long as greed remains the top priority, that won’t be the case. And as long as condo building is put before proper housing, the rich will continue to lead the narrative. I’m not one of these people who thinks everything in life should be free, but our basic needs should at least be accessible, not to mention affordable, and for everyone.

Karina


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