SHIFTER’s Kevin Bourne writes about why finding a place to rent in Toronto feels harder than ever, especially for Black renters.
My wife and I recently decided to move back to Toronto after many years in Ottawa to raise our children closer to our extended family. After putting all our things in storage, we started the arduous process of trying to find a home in the Greater Toronto Area.
Contrary to what many would believe, the most challenging part of the process wasn’t the rental prices; it was being Black. After having trouble finding a place to live, and in some cases not even being allowed to see places, we decided to find a real estate agent. After continuing to experience challenges, our agent gave us the honest truth―one of the reasons we were having trouble is that we’re Black and many property owners don’t want to rent to people like us. She told us stories about presenting multiple solid candidates to property owners only to have them turned down. The only logical reason was the colour of their skin.
This brought me back to a conversation I had earlier this year with my godfather who was an activist here in Toronto in the early 70’s. He recalled that when he immigrated to Toronto from Barbados, it was common to see “No dogs. No niggers” signs on some buildings. It was common in those days as a Black person to be told a rental was no longer available, only to send a white friend to inquire about the same apartment which was suddenly available. Now in 2022, it appears that although the “No niggers” signs have come down, things may not have changed as much as we think (Well, most property owners are now okay with dogs).
Fifty years later, Black people in Ontario are still using the same tactics when trying to rent a property. During our search, my wife was tempted to send in a white friend to see if landlords that weren’t responding to our calls and emails would suddenly respond. A few years ago, when we were looking to move within Ottawa, we caught a few landlords in racist behaviour by enlisting the help of white friends.
The difference between now and the 1970’s is that back then it was white Canadians not wanting to rent to Black people. Today, it’s other people of colour, who should know better, who are not wanting to rent to us. Somehow they feel they’re higher up in the pecking order.
Adding to the struggle is that many of the property owners don’t want large families (we’re a family of five with three children), and as full-time business owners/entrepreneurs our income was good but less consistent than potential tenants with a full-time, 9 to 5 job.
After inquiring or looking at 130 rentals in the west end of the GTA and finding another real estate agent that believed in us, we finally found a house to rent in good old Black-friendly Scarborough.
One of the most shocking parts of the process, aside from the apparent discrimination, was how much the rental process now mimics the home sale process with bidding wars and talks of putting down an offer. Renting was once the go-to for immigrants and young families who weren’t yet in a position to own, but depending on where you’re from that is no longer the case.
If you take a quick glance at recent news headlines, multiple news outlets are reporting that the average residential rent in Ontario rose to $2,332 a month in July based on a report by Rentals.ca and Bullpen Research and Consulting. That’s a 3.1% monthly increase and a 15.2% increase since the same time last year. Here in Toronto, that’s a 24% year-over-year increase in July.
So whether your skin is too dark, your family is too big, or your income is too unstable, there are a number of strikes against certain renters today.