For Boomers, Toronto has lived up to its reputation as one of the world’s most livable cities.
For their kids, the Millennials, it’s anything but.
Driven by astronomical housing prices and living costs that spiral ever higher, Generation Y is being driven from the city as never before.
Simply put, for those starting out now, Toronto has become an impossible dream. Unlike their parents, who managed to get jobs, buy houses and raise families more or less as desired, those who came of age in the 21st century find themselves shut out.
Houses that sold for $100,000 in the 1970s and ‘80s now routinely fetch upwards of $1.5 to $2 million.
To make things worse, many Millennials have already been crippled by debt by the time they graduate from university. The average student debt in Canada has reached almost $35,000.
If that weren’t enough, climate crisis has cast such a pall over their future that a growing number of young couples are deciding against having children. Those who do want kids must deal with a daycare system that can run more than $500 a week, over $24,000 annually.
Toronto can’t be blamed for all these ills, but the city has had a hard time coping with these problems, many of which are born of its success. Increased demand for urban life pushes up prices. Even the advent of the condo towers and the 600-square-foot apartment has not benefited families appreciably.
Of course, affordable housing isn’t just a Toronto problem; cities around the world face the same dilemma. But this city’s failure to provide adequate public housing stands out.
In Vienna, for instance, more than 60 percent of residents live in some form of social housing.
Here, by contrast, where home ownership is a civic and, indeed, a national obsession, social housing is seen as a measure of last resort. Toronto Community Housing Corporation, created in 2002 after the province dumped its portfolio on the city, is generally associated with crumbling buildings and crime-ridden communities.
That’s changing: revitalization plans in Regent Park and Lawrence Heights are remaking those neighbourhoods from top to bottom. In the former, middle-class buyers are moving in and sharing new amenities with low-income residents next door.
But TCHC, which has a decade-long waiting list, can’t keep up.
This means that Toronto’s future doesn’t look nearly as rosy as its past. Perhaps that’s not surprising in a city where leadership is resolved to resist change. A small yet telling example of our misguided civic priorities came in April when city council voted – against staff recommendations – to ban a second front door on houses with an apartment. The justification was the need to preserve “neighbourhood character.” Despite being under direct attack by Ontario Premier Doug Ford at the time, this is how city politicians spent last spring.
Interesting, too, that even a quick tour through Toronto neighbourhoods reveals countless houses whose appearance has been mutilated by front yard parking pads, yet another example of how civic leadership remains deeply entrenched in car culture.
Though under attack in cities from New York to London and Paris, vehicular pre-eminence still rules at council. No one expects Toronto will be the new Copenhagen, but its resistance to other forms of mobility including public transit is baffling. In fact, it defies logic. Certainly, it flies in the face of what cities are doing around the world, including many in the U.S.
For the time being, Torontonians seem content with the official doctrine of stasis. But that will change as conditions change and the need to reduce our car-dependence grows harder to deny and avoid.
Even without the climate crisis, congestion is estimated to cost the Greater Toronto Area between $6 and $9 billion annually. And as Transport Canada report pointed out in 2009, “Motorists do not perceive themselves as a cause of congestion; motorists perceive themselves as the victims of congestion.”
But if the fault always belongs to someone else, we are never to blame. That sort of thinking – personally and politically – has not served Toronto well.
Little wonder Millennials are moving ever farther afield to live, raise a family and even to work. And when they leave the city they take with them bit of our future.
Our loss will be our rivals’ gain. Abandoning Toronto to the rich is a recipe for disaster; without the young, the recently arrived, the hungry, Toronto is set to become an enclave of the old, the satisfied, the deeply pocketed, and those happy with the past.