The following is part one of a two part feature on the Canadian housing crisis.
Nikolaus Petrogiani moved back to Toronto in May after five years in Australia, settling into a downtown condominium rental with his mom and brother until he found a place of his own.
However, not only has his search been unfruitful, their landlord sold the condo and informed them just around Christmas they have until March to move out. Although Petrogiani is looking to move into an apartment alone, that’s proving difficult, so he and a friend are looking for a place they can share as roommates.
“We’re talking to a realtor who’s helping us find a place. We told him what we want and our budget, and we’ve gone to some viewings,” Petrogiani said, adding that they have put offers in and been “ghosted” by landlords spoiled for choice.
“It’s going down the wire and, personally, I’m sure I’ll be able to stay with someone in the city who could take me in, who would let me stay on their couch until I find a place. Not everyone’s as fortunate as I am to have supportive family. It can be very tough and scary. Maybe you eventually have to cave and live in a basement where your head’s hitting the ceiling, and with no windows, for $2,000. I’m staying positive but it is worrisome.
“It’s out of my budget to live alone. It’s too hard.”
Petrogiani’s struggle isn’t unique.
The Greater Toronto Area has a paucity of purpose-built rental units, making investor-owned condos crucial. However, the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB) reported there were 13,366 condo rental transactions in the third quarter of last year, decreasing by 17.3% from same quarter in 2021.
Moreover, listings dropped by 25.6% during the period, causing one- and two-bedroom rentals to increase in price by 20.4% and 14.5% to $2,481 and $3,184, respectively.
“This means that it became more difficult for renters to find a unit to meet their housing needs compared to a year ago,” TRREB wrote in late October.
Known as quantitative easing (QE), the Bank of Canada responded to the pandemic by purchasing open-market securities and plunging its overnight lending rate to 0.25% while also printing more money. But in essentially making borrowed money free, asset owners leveraged commodities like housing to buy additional properties, which they’d rent out, and drove up prices.
And as housing prices increased, so did the rents carrying landlords’ mortgages.
“Quantitative easing has priced a lot of people out, particularly people who don’t already have assets,” housing market analyst and realtor Steve Saretsky said. “QE is ultimately designed to help support lower interest rates and boost asset prices, and those who benefit are those who already own assets, and if you already own a house or real estate, you do well. QE has been beneficial for your balance sheet but those who don’t have assets are those who have fallen behind. Now you see increases in wealth inequality and QE has played a part in that.”
Housing supply in the GTA has long been outstripped by excessive demand, partly owing to confounding government policies that have exacerbated the latter, but QE created a housing rush that was arguably more frenzied than before the pandemic.
The central bank’s QE regime began in April 2020 and concluded by December 2021, but by November 2020 it was reported that Canadian households were hoarding $90 billion of cash, a number which grew in excess of $200 billion by the following April, elucidating just how healthy the economy actually was.
“Prolonging it for as long as we did suppressed mortgage rates, which ultimately stoked a housing bubble and now we’re dealing with the cleanup, which is excess inflation and higher interest rates on people’s debts,” Saretsky said. “A lot of the blame ultimately belongs on the federal government, as well. They were the ones stimulating. The Bank of Canada was effectively monetizing the federal government’s deficits, so I think a lot of this is to blame on the federal government.
“The monetary base expanded by 20 to 25% at one point and house prices were up 30% too, so there’s no question when you run massive deficits and the central bank finances it, you get what we got, which is currency devaluation.”
Part two of this feature explores how Canadian housing policies have made people serfs in what’s becoming a neo-feudal society.