Housing and Affordability: Perspectives from the GTA

Despite the controversy surrounding housing and affordability in the GTA and across Canada, the latest Focus GTA data sends one message loud and clear: GTA residents are past the point of simply being concerned about housing affordability.
Focus GTA, a semi-annual syndicated study of residents of the GTA has been tracking perspectives on municipal issues and governments for over 40 years. With each wave of research, Environics focuses on issues that are top of mind for residents. Unsurprisingly, housing and affordability have been key areas of focus for the last few iterations of the study.

What are we seeing in the data?

Some affordability concerns have eased since 2022. GTA residents now express less worry about grocery and gas prices, and about inflation overall. Concerns about housing affordability have intensified, however, with 89% of GTA residents saying this is one of the most critical problems in their municipality, up from 85% in 2022. Likewise, concerns about rent have jumped five points in the last year (from 77% in 2022 to 82% in 2023). Concern has especially spiked among downtown Toronto residents and newcomers; in both groups, 90% believe rent prices are a problem.

Residents are not only concerned about these issues in the abstract – they’re feeling the impact. Two in three GTA residents say they’ve been affected by recent changes in housing affordability, and about half say they have been affected by rental prices. Rental prices have had a particular impact on newcomers, among whom almost nine in ten say they have been heavily impacted. This finding is perhaps not surprising, given that newcomers are more likely than others to be renters (65% of newcomers vs. 35% of all GTA residents rent their dwellings).


How are residents changing their habits to protect themselves from inflation?

Overall, residents are most likely to report cutting back on experiences they consider luxuries (such as going to the movies or dining at restaurants) and reducing their shopping for non-essential items. Younger people and newcomers are more likely than others to report changing their transportation patterns or modifying their housing situation to adapt to the current economy. Specifically, these groups report walking to more of their destinations, carpooling, living with roommates or parents, and using more public transit to offset the impacts felt from inflation.


What do residents want from governments?

On housing affordability specifically, there is broad agreement among GTA residents about policy changes they would like to see in their local municipalities. Four in five GTA residents want governments to provide more support for community housing initiatives. A similar share want officials to speed up the process of permit applications to allow housing initiatives to be completed more quickly. GTA residents do not believe the status quo is working; when we ask residents for their assessments of regional services, almost half say they are dissatisfied with both social housing and social welfare assistance services. Notably, support for every listed policy solution was higher among young residents (ages 18-34) than among any other age group. Toronto residents were most likely to support changing zoning laws to make more land available for residential housing.


Our latest wave of data shows that residents are actively looking for solutions, large and small. Not only is this signified by a lifestyle shift, especially among those groups most acutely impacted by housing prices, but it is also signified by a high level of open-mindedness towards policy solutions offered by their governments. This tense environment will present both opportunities and challenges to regional decision makers in 2024 as they navigate the housing crisis.

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