Renting

Toronto’s high cost of living has me doubting I’ll ever return again

By: Sinead Mulhern on December 28, 2018

I felt a strong push to leave Toronto for months before I actually did, and by the time I loaded my last box into the U-Haul truck, it was as if the city was shoving me through its front door and slamming it firmly behind me. It was a chilly day in late January, and as we pulled away, I watched my Ossington home fade in the rearview mirror. This was the third time I had packed up an apartment in the city, but this time around, I wasn’t carting my heap of junk off to another T.O. address: I was on my way to South America. On the car ride, I had a strong notion that I’d be returning to the city. Now, I’m seriously doubtful of that prospect.

For many, myself included, Toronto is becoming an unlivable city. I moved there when I was 19 to study journalism downtown, and honestly, I dreamt of staying forever. I wanted a career to be proud of, and a comfortable (but modest) place to call home and recharge from hustling in the big city, day after day. That was the picture that I imagined for myself.

I can’t pinpoint when exactly that changed, but I can assure you that it did. Toronto is many things, but affordable is not one of them. By the time I was in my early twenties and nearly finished my degree, I was living with two roommates in my Ossington apartment and I clung to that place with a kung fu grip — because rent was rising at alarming rates, because jobs in Canadian media were vanishing and because when I did check rental listings for other places to live, I saw “for rent” spaces that made Harry Potter’s closet under the staircase look luxurious. 

On the car ride, I had a strong notion that I’d be returning to the city. Now, I’m seriously doubtful of that prospect

In the years that followed, I watched friends of mine — working professionals with multiple degrees and years of experience — move back home with their parents, rely on credit cards to make ends meet, borrow money from their families, and abstain from all social events because they couldn’t afford life in Toronto. There’s a large group of people in Toronto who show up for the nine-to-five grind every day, yet barely scrape enough money together to stay in the city.

Then there are those whose situations may not be so dire — but just because someone isn’t living paycheque to paycheque doesn’t mean that they’re thriving, either. A lack of sheer struggle doesn’t necessarily indicate financial (or emotional) wellbeing. In Toronto, there are many, many young working professionals who can’t afford a standard of living that matches  their current place in life. Towards the end of my time in the city, I observed a single thirty-something wage war against hoards of ideal tenants all battling for the same thing: a one-bedroom apartment in a decent enough area that was… well… liveable, and that didn’t swallow up the paycheque (not all of it anyway). He eventually found what he was looking for: a space that was basic, but cozy and comfortable — but I never ever could have afforded it. A look at rental listings and the swapping of apartment hunting anecdotes proved that this had become the norm in Toronto.

As for me, at 26, my lifestyle was fine — but I didn’t want to live like a student forever. I knew that in the next couple of years, I would want a lifestyle upgrade and likely a place of my own. For someone approaching her thirties, I didn’t think that that was too much to hope for. I knew that I’d eventually want my own space but a quick run of the numbers told me this wasn’t going to happen — not in this city anyway. For context, while thinking about this, I had been working full-time in my field with regular freelance gigs on the side for the better part of four years, and I’m not someone whose tastes slant towards extravagance.

In the years that followed, I watched friends of mine move back home with their parents, rely on credit cards to make ends meet, borrow money from their families, and abstain from all social events

The cost of living numbers are daunting at best, but looking back now  — as someone who has gladly left Toronto — they seem nothing less than absolutely ridiculous. Right now, the average price of a one-bedroom apartment is just over $2,000, but for years now, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation has strongly suggested spending less than 30% of your before-tax income on rent. (I suspect Torontonians across the city are laughing hard at that notion.) According to reports based on numbers by the Wellesley Institute last year, a Torontonian in the 25 to 40 age group would have to make $46,186 to $55,432 (after taxes) to live in the city.

No matter which stat and study I read, before or since leaving Toronto, I came up short every single time. And if you don’t make the cut, your housing options could very well include a healthy-sized cockroach colony, complimentary mushrooms growing from your ceiling (I know someone to whom this actually happened), forests of mold in your bathroom and/or/probably Ratatouille’s full family tree. It shouldn’t be this way.

I was earning less than $40,000 before tax and the job market is only getting tougher. I considered leaving jobs and looking for something with a significant pay increase but even then, with rent averages and my line of work, it still wasn’t looking great. Simply put, I was being ousted and no matter which way I cut it, it didn’t make sense to continue living in the city. So I left. I told myself it would be for one year. I told my friends I was coming back. Now I don’t think I am.

Nine months later, I look at the city,  which I do love, and I feel that I’d be stupid to return. I don’t see a future for myself in Toronto where I wouldn’t be impossibly stressed out and spread thin. In many ways, the decision has been made for me. The city just isn’t for people like me.

Your housing options could very well include a healthy-sized cockroach colony, complimentary mushrooms growing from your ceiling, forests of mold in your bathroom and/or/probably Ratatouille’s full family tree

Major Canadian media outlets have reported that millennials are leaving Toronto and Vancouver in masses. Contrary to what many may think, my generation is not stupid. We’ve already given up hopes of owning property like our parents did and now we’re giving up our Toronto addresses and retreating to other corners of the country or outside of Canada entirely to find the next best thing. Personally, I’m really glad I cut the cord.

There are other options. There are places where life down the road doesn’t look like a financial crisis. I live in Ecuador right now. My life now is totally different than what I had pictured for myself but I want nothing to do with Toronto’s cash-grabbing landlords and ghastly house prices. So I won’t. Making myself into the middleman whose purpose is to work hard everyday so I can siphon my base-level salary straight towards someone else’s mortgage is not a good option for me or my existence.

High rents and housing prices are a major factor but there are other frivolous Toronto cash grabs that I don’t miss either: paying for cocktails that cost thrice what they should just because the restaurant has an Instagrammable pink door; lining up for tiny brunches on Sundays; handing over six bucks for a vegan cupcake free of gluten, hazardous waste and joy; contemplating taking a second job so I that twice a week some woman named Skye can lead me through a basic stretch sequence while I wear my $350 athleisure and spend $12 on a kale ginger smoothie afterwards. It has all just gotten so out of hand.

I lied to myself when I decided to get out. In order to come to terms with leaving the city that became home, I told myself it was only for a year. I could have gone on paying thousands of dollars unnecessarily to stay within walking distance of the people I love and the spots that made my weeks so bright. It’s unfortunate but true that comfort zones come with a price tag and in Toronto, mine was about to become too damn high. 

 

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