In some battleground ridings, renters spend 50% or more of income on housing

Housing affordability is poised to be a major ballot box issue in the upcoming federal election, with a sizeable portion of renters in some of the country’s battleground ridings spending half or more of their income on housing.

An analysis of the numbers in Statistics Canada’s 2016 long-form census that examined income, affordability and overcrowding across Canada’s 338 federal electoral districts shows that five of the country’s worst ridings for rental housing affordability also happen to be among the ridings with the tightest races between the parties.

Of the 20 ridings with the toughest affordability challenges, 11 are in Ontario and six are in British Columbia, with Nova Scotia, Quebec and Manitoba rounding out the list with one riding each, according to the 2019 Canadian Rental Housing Index, released Tuesday.

In those ridings, a quarter or more of renters reported spending at least 50 per cent of their income on rent and utilities. (Utilities were included in rent figures because the data didn’t allow for costs to be separated out, according to the index.)

“These numbers clearly demonstrate why Canadians and housing advocates have been calling on our political leaders to take more immediate action to address the affordability challenges impacting so many families and individuals across the country,” said Jill Atkey, CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association, in a news release.

“Whichever party forms the next government will need to increase the investments into the National Housing Strategy in order to achieve its goals before this crisis gets even worse.”

5 swing ridings on the list

Of the ridings identified in the index, Willowdale in Toronto was the worst for rental affordability; 39 per cent of renters there reported spending half or more of their income toward rent.

CBC News has identified five swing ridings on StatsCanada’s top-20 list for costly housing: Richmond Hill, King-Vaughan, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill and Don Valley North in Ontario; and Burnaby North-Seymour in B.C.

The other Ontario ridings on the list are:

  • Thornhill
  • Markham-Unionville
  • University Rosedale
  • Mississauga Centre
  • Toronto Centre
  • Waterloo

In British Columbia:

  • Vancouver Quadra
  • Richmond Centre
  • West-Vancouver-Sunshine Cost-Sea to Sky Country
  • Vancouver Centre
  • Burnaby South. 

Rounding out the list are Ville-Marie-Le Sud Ouest-Île-des-Soeurs in Quebec, Halifax in Nova Scotia and Winnipeg South in Manitoba. 

Affordability issues not lost on federal leaders

The crisis of affordability in some markets hasn’t been lost on campaigning party leaders. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau promised last week to provide more help to first first-time homebuyers living in red-hot housing markets, including Toronto and Vancouver.

The Liberal plan would expand the number of first-time buyers eligible under the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s shared-equity program by increasing the value of a qualifying home from approximately $500,000 to nearly $800,000.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer plans to offer his own proposal on home ownership, according to the party’s spokesperson. 

The data clearly demonstrates that our political leaders have not been able to find or implement meaningful solutions to the affordable housing crisis.– Jeff Morrison, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association

Whether the leaders will come out with campaign commitments specifically aimed at renters remains to be seen.

“The data clearly demonstrates that our political leaders have not been able to find or implement meaningful solutions to the affordable housing crisis, and Ontario now has the dubious honour of being harder hit than anywhere else in the country,” said Marlene Coffey, executive director of the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.

The index released Tuesday also paints a picture of those hardest hit by affordability challenges: single mothers, Indigenous renters, new immigrants, seniors and Canadians under 30.

That last group is comprised largely of millennials, who are expected to make up as much as 37 per cent of the electorate in this election, according to Abacus Data.

Nearly a quarter of renters under 30 are at what the index defines as a “crisis level of spending,” with half or more of their income going to rent — while at least half of seniors who rent spent 30 per cent or more of their income on housing.

‘Vulnerable groups are bearing the brunt’

“For a long time, the conversation around rental housing affordability in Canada has focused on the population as a whole, but the numbers clearly show several key, vulnerable groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis,” said Jeff Morrison, executive director of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association.

A disproportionate share of Indigenous families were also found to be struggling to pay rent, and overcrowding was found to be an issue in 43 per cent of Indigenous-led renter households, compared with just six per cent in non-Indigenous renter households.

Among immigrants now renting shelter who landed in Canada from 2011 to 2016, nearly 24 per cent were found to be at a crisis level in terms of the percentage of household income spent on shelter. In terms of overcrowding and overspending, the hardest hit immigrant-led households are in the Greater Toronto Area, with 55 to 60 per cent of those households in Richmond Hill, Vaughan and Markham spending 30 per cent or more of their income on rent.

But those suburbs still might be the more affordable option for those looking to own a home in Toronto — people like new mom Jessica Botello.

Botello said she’s encouraged by Trudeau’s housing proposal but thinks ultimately it’s better suited to those looking outside the city core.

“Honestly, it’s a great idea, but for $800,000, it’s not realistic for Toronto,” she told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

Botello recently put in an offer for a home in Toronto, only to find six others did as well. Ultimately, the home sold for $840,000 — a price she said she simply couldn’t compete with.

“We were pre-approved for $745,000,” she told Metro Morning. “But if it’s listed for that price, they want multiple offers — and they get them.”

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