The housing boom that has engulfed the Greater Toronto Region is resulting in an influx of new unlikely residents- immigrants and families living below the poverty line who are moving into million-dollar homes. The more expensive neighborhoods are more likely to have the highest number of low income residents. These residents who are tenants have calling cards listing million and even two million dollar homes as their mailing addresses. These families aren’t getting into these homes via the front door, but increasingly through the garage or a side and even backdoor on their way to their basement apartments. Forget about rich and poor co-existing in harmony next to each other, they live in the same house, often separated by drywall.
Recently Peter Wixson, executive director of the Vaughan Food Bank, identified the problem.
“They see the beautiful homes in Vaughan and say, ‘There’s no problem here,'” said Wixson.
A recent report called “Measuring What Matters” indicated the number of low-income residents increased by 61 per cent between 2000 and 2012.
“We registered six new clients in one day — 15 in the last month,” he said. “We do have a lot of seniors, immigrant seniors, they don’t have the kind of pension people have. Some go without food and they’re brought in here.”
There is ample evidence to suggest that large single family dwellings actually house the growing legion of working poor.
Here’s the thing, most status-conscious residents living in neighborhoods where the average price of a home in a million dollar plus would resist any low-income housing development in their backyard fearing it would affect their property value. There’s a sense of irony in this because what they are really doing is literally offering low-income residents part of their home. Some beautiful mansions now have driveways filled with old and shabby looking vehicles and many of the tenants clearly look out of place.
In recent times investors have snapped up large homes with finished basements with the intention of renting them out to two or even three families. In some cases first-time home buyers decide on buying more house than they need or can afford as a matter of prestige, they wouldn’t afford a $700,000 detached in cities like Mississauga or anywhere for that matter are heavily reliant on having a tenant help with their large mortgage. There are cases where the owners have moved into the basement and are renting out the rest of the house.
It is not only the city of Vaughan that is seeing a troubling spike in the number of food bank users, other cities are as well leading some to conclude that many of the users who provide home addresses in pricey neighborhoods are either renters or in some cases the actual owner.
It should not come as a surprise as the boom in housing prices may have actually contributed to poverty. There are plenty of house poor individuals who have very little grocery money left over after their house-related expenses. This may be forcing some of these owners to send their elderly parents to food banks as a way of supplementing their groceries or visiting it themselves, pride be damned.
In the years to come the poor and working poor could make up half of an exclusive neighborhoods’ residents. And it could end up causing resentment among residents who live in spacious detached homes with no renters lurking in their basement or rooms against those who have invited in renters who clearly don’t belong in the neighborhood. In some neighborhoods even the new owners look like they don’t belong, it’s hard to tell the difference between the owner and the renter.
Maybe if a majority of home owners are now helping out the city by creating affordable housing for the economically vulnerable, cities won’t be under so much pressure to provide affordable housing. In any case builders resent having to set aside land to build affordable housing and home owners cringe at the thought of having low-income residents as their neighbors. It’s okay if they live in their basements and help them pay the mortgage! The tenant may actually have more disposable income than the actual owner of the house and might even be driving a better car.