Today’s edition of The Grid features an excellent article by Micah Toub about the escalating costs of rental housing in Toronto and its detrimental consequences.

To summarize:

– Renting a single bedroom unit in Toronto for $3000/month is common. Between 2010 and 2012, the price of renting doubled.
– Toronto has become a “landlord’s market”: landlords call the shots and can be painfully selective about who they want to rent to, and how much the unit will be
– Since Ontario’s Condo Act in 1967, Condos have been constructed instead of purpose built rental properties, as they are more profitable for investors. They are more expensive and less secure for tenants.
– 1997’s Tenant Protection Act threw out provisions that limited rent increases to reflect the inflation rate
– Other cities, like Boston and Montreal, are better at ensuring affordable units’ inclusion in new builds. As of 2010, Toronto’s condo boom contributed zero affordable units to the market. Legislated provision of affordable units in Toronto is based on area rather than number of units, and can be easily traded for other “community benefits” like public art, which make for a much less risky investment.
– A city without modestly priced rental units leads to exacerbated inequality, social unrest and straight up dullness.

Though my experience of finding rentals in Toronto is limited, I have been witness to a wealth of friends’ experiences who confirm the above unfortunate realities. Transit accessible, centrally located rental units are scarce. When they are available, they are too expensive or are dirty and dark basement apartments. When they aren’t too expensive or dirty, dark basement apartments, there are hundreds of hopeful applicants, and chances are slim that you will be the lucky chosen one.

It is in these situation that one of the most egregious, disdainful events occur, something that makes me mourn for the lack of soul and decency in Toronto: the rental unit bidding war.

I understand why it happens — how do you stand out amongst a sea of undifferentiated hopeful renters? Money talks, especially in this town. But in doing so, you are contributing to the rapidly soaring price of living in Toronto.  Total self interest stands over the well being of the entire city. One’s comfort is more important than an affordable, inclusive city.

Rental bidding wars inevitably happen. There are no mechanisms to keep rent down in Ontario, and when people get a chance, they look out for themselves. When I hear of rental bidding wars, it confirms my suspicions that Toronto is an overwhelming private place, where there is little sense of a wider civic-identity. A place where money is more important than vibrancy, care and community.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Next time you are looking for a place in Toronto, avoid rental bidding wars! Tell all the good people who come see the apartment to refrain from this behaviour. Tell them that collectively, we can keep Toronto affordable.

Wishful thinking, maybe. But the introduction of this thought has the ability to change the culture of renting and living in Toronto. It could lead to pressure for more tenants rights, and the public demanding more affordable housing in this city. There are effective urban planning mechanisms that ensure low cost housing, that have failed to do this in Toronto. But this is content for another post.