Friday, 27 May 2016

The 4 common myths that are hurting housing affordability

Raveena, a single mother of one, makes $55,000 a year doing administrative work at a law firm. The rent for her 2-bedroom apartment, which is just steps from the Bloor TTC subway line, is $2,100. While she is eligible for Toronto Community Housing, she has been on the waitlist for 5 years. She thinks home ownership is an unattainable dream, especially with her childcare costs.

In reality, she could be taking advantage of Toronto's Home Ownership Assistance Program (HOAP) and the efforts of non-profit condo developers to access up to $80,000 in down payment support. With that, she could comfortably carry a mortgage of $147, 316 and move into a brand new 1-bedroom + den condo home this year and start building equity.

The greatest hurdle isn't the finances, it's her mindset about what constitutes a "home". But while she saves for a townhouse or semi-detached home, the rising real estate market is outpacing her ability to save.

Many people think condos are geared towards young urban professionals, but here we try to dispel some myths around condo living and show that condos and families do indeed mix.

1. A condo is no place to raise kids. FACT: A vibrant and diverse city like Toronto is an excellent place to raise children, and condo living is the norm in cities like New York, London, Paris and Tokyo where the definition of a good home includes the greater community and access to amenities. Toronto's world famous parks, ravines, community skating rinks, swimming pools as well as culturally diverse community attractions and schools beat the backyard experience every time.

2. Too many condos. FACT: The average density of great Western cities in the world is 10,848 people per sq. km. Toronto is 2,650/sq. km. In her "Unapologetically Urban" presentation at the Canadian Urban Institute, Toronto's Chief City Planner, Jennifer Keesmat affirmed her commitment to density as one of the targets, along with better transportation and preserving the city's green canopy. Condominiums in up-and-coming areas of the city will continue to be an excellent investment.

3. Even a condo is no longer affordable. FACT: Doing away with costly amenities (such as the fitness room no one uses) and million-dollar marketing campaigns, as well as working with newer, more efficient smart-designs, not-for-profit developers such as Options for Homes can bring costs down. This way, we are able to offer condos under $195,000 in the GTA. This means less carrying costs (including mortgage and maintenance fees) as low as $1,094 per month - less than the cost of many 1-bedroom apartments.

4. "Affordable Homes" means government subsidized housing. FACT: The first 3 condos built in the Distillery District were affordable homes. Some were purchased by people who needed a down payment boost, others were purchased by double income households who could afford to live anywhere but saw the tremendous potential of the area. Twenty years later, these condos are still attractive and valuable homes. Options for Homes continues to create successful mixed income communities enjoyed by seniors and singles alike, in a mix of professions from teachers to firefighters.

The government can play a role in supporting affordable home ownership in their municipalities. Adding it to the housing mix alongside with other housing initiatives such as those that are geared to income rental can go a long way in making the city accessible to all. Also, by making land available for purchase to non-profit developers, all governments - from municipalities to provinces to the federal government - can help alleviate affordable housing pressure without direct government funding. Affordable home ownership is a way to leverage all the tools available in the private, public and non-profit sectors to help create vibrant, equitable communities that will help bridge the housing gap as quickly as possible.

As Options for Homes CEO Heather Tremain contends, "Toronto is home to all levels of income earners, so it goes without saying that everyone who works to make this a great city should also be able to live here."

With the majority of units bought by families whose average income is $53,000, we are able to help Torontonians realize the dream of home ownership in a vibrant community.