The Wrap Vol 2, #19 — Making Sense of Affordable Housing

Grey Swan Guild
17 min readMay 21, 2022

What does the future hold for housing in the next decade and the next quarter? Where and how will we live together?

Photo by Hannah Wright on Unsplash

GSG News Edition- Volume #2, Edition #19 | 20 May, 2022

Lead Editor: Rob Tyrie |Join us for a Live Clubhouse Event & Discussion Sunday 11am EST, 8am PST, 3pm GMT

“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. There is no place like home…” — Dorothy of Kansas, Wizard of Oz

A home and a safe place to live is not supported as a human right in most nations of the world. Although the right to adequate housing is part of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and the term ”adequate” has been broadened and clarified, those rights are not defended nor enforced, even by the richest countries in the world. Many nations do have other rights, like freedom of speech or mobility in their charters. But a safe, affordable place to live is not part of those national guarantees.

One of the graces that occurred during the height of lockdowns and controls across 2020 and 2022 occurred if you had stable housing. Whether you were in Toronto, Tokyo or Topanga Canyon, your home became a sanctuary, a nursery, a clinic, a school, an office, a factory and a jail depending on the hour of the week, the health conditions of the time and the temperament of the government and public of the city in which you lived. If you were fortunate to have a roof over your head, clean water and access to some food, your experience was otherworldly compared to the homeless, the hospitalized, the home-squeezed or the home-poor.

Among all the other limits and constraints the pandemic exposed along with negligent care of elders, busted supply chains and limits to social programs, affordable housing escalated as a top concern for families and people of all classes. Fast off the back of increases in long-term camps in city parks and migration of families in cities into suburbs and smaller cities, inflation and housing supply are on the top of people's minds. It’s like a crushing rock or a new plague.

We live in Toronto, with two of our kids in a single-family home in a nice neighbourhood a few miles and more kilometres to the downtown core. It’s a 30-minute ride on the still empty subway we Torontonians optimistically call the “Red Rocket” because of the branded colours of the Toronto Transit Commission. We have 2 other children and they all range in age from their early 20’s to their early 30s’. They mostly seem like millennials to me, but what do I know? They are young with roofs over their heads, and that's a good thing. This Wrap started with a conversation I had with my youngest, and then a conversation thread I had on facebook with some other friends.


I asked her what I asked all my children because I want to help. “What are you most worried about?”. As we all know, that's been kind of an existential question in the pandemic-depression-war years. For her, the number one issue is housing. She wants to live in Toronto and as a fine artist, that is a challenge. But it is worse. She believes that she and her cohort will never be able to afford houses in The City. As I talk to each of my children, they feel bitter and disaffected by this goal. Two of my sons, one on the west coast and one in Eastern Ontario, are close to property ownership but have held off because they are single and home or property ownership will severely change their lifestyles. They have both been through the forced savings of COVID, but they have already decided they both will not live in Toronto and will pursue their careers and lives outside of the largest city in Canada. They are fortunate to have good educations and good jobs, unlike so many others, but they are still frustrated.

Affordable housing has changed and in the arc of their lives, like the majority and they will not have a shot at property ownership. Single-salary households and those with incomes of less than $60k will not own homes in this economy in Canada, the US or Europe. In the case of Canada and the US, this is a shift of policy, economic strength, and wealth equality. If nothing changes, we will become nations of renters with few rich landlords. In 2006 35M Americans rented their homes, and now it is approaching 50M. In Canada, the 2016 Census reported that 30% of Canadians were renters. Given the conditions of supply and demand, it is likely to move to 40%, not 25%. It is a huge problem for the poor and the middle class. With home and condo prices increase 10–20% in the last few years, and rents going up more, there will be more demands on social support and more homelessness.

Here are some quotes that indicate the problem we are in and some of the solutions and demands of people in response to the lack of affordable housing. In this case, it is a group of upper-middle-class professionals but, these people are aware of the destabilization coming and the unfairness of the situation built on the backs of weak governance and uncontrolled speculation of the rich and the developers.

Brian C says,

I’m leaving Toronto as it’s a death trap for those not in the market. Everything you own will be depleted, and now, my friends with good jobs (tech department managers, professors, and more) see no future in Toronto. 7 years ago, you got a full house with a mortgage that is less than the current rate for a 1 bedroom flat. Add optional rental income, and you have other people paying for you to live free. Either option, is low living expense or living for free. Who would leave that.

I disagree with the Uni educated claim [that University Professionals can live in Toronto]. Go look up what a professor makes at the University of Toronto, etc… and you’ll see that unless you’re one of the rare tenured profs, you still don’t have great options in Toronto.

Part of the solution should also be providing better transportation links across cities, so that we can use this crisis to rebuild a more decentralized nation. Why can’t Canada have a train network like so many European nations, where the economy can prosper through healthier linkages. Our train network sucks. Can’t our politicians go on a trip to Europe, to see how we can put in place a system that will sustain massive growth without driving countless Canadian’s onto the streets. Our situation is not sustainable.

Making the smaller towns more accessible may be part of the solution.

Nick L says,

“Why can’t Canada have a train network like so many European nations”, Because mass transit must have an ROI but highways are free and paved with someone else’s gold.

Alana C says,

Toronto still has most jobs, if not Mississauga. Go Train is a pretty fast and reliable communter train. You can commute downtown from alot of places like Ajax, Burlington or even Milton. Alot of Torontonians are shocked to hear it just takes 40 min from alot of these suburbs.

Paul F, says,

How about every residential property gets a bump in property tax to 5% of assessed value bit then if you have a full time tax paying resident (owner or renter), they get the benefit of a tax offset from their income tax. So basically, vacant units get a bit property tax hit; second properties/occasional use properties get a big tax hit; and AirBnB/short term rentals get a big property tax hit. That would incentivize the more efficient use of residential real estate.

The GO Train In Winter — Slightly South of the North Pole
GO Train — The Commute from the Burbs to Toronto Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash

I hope the questions and the demand for more regulation happen. Until then we are left with big questions, and our children will be left to solve it, I hope, peacefully and with the grace of care for the homeless, the sick and their elders.

Do we migrate to the suburbs? Cities are so big, that suburban prices in Jersey City and Brampton are reaching city prices.

Do we go to the “Third cities” of 500k or less? These don't have the services?

Do we forgo ownership and plan for rental and be careful about retirement savings? This is trouble, as rental properties shift hands and become an asset class for hedge funds and private equity owners, rents will shift up and retirement support for the elders will be externalized to governments.

For now, let’s take a look at some of the great, the good, the bad, the ugly and the uncertain things in the world to do with affordable housing as we depopulate rural areas and grow the density of all the cities in the works to support the next net 2B people on Earth.

Causes of Homelessness

The Wheel of Misfortune — It’s Complicated not Immigration or laziness — Source: City of Calgary

The Great

1. Shades of the movie Cocoon. Elders create coops to buy their future and dignity. “Resident Owned Communities, (ROC-USA), a nationally active non-profit organization from New Hampshire, is actively working with the residents to help them buy The Woods. ROC-USA is teamed with California Cooperative Community Development (CCCD), which brings state affordable housing funding to the table. If successful this would be the first time ROC-USA has managed to pull off a deal in California. Nationally, ROC-USA has helped 270 mobile home communities buy their own parks, said Mike Bullard, spokesman for ROC-USA. Bullard says that ROC-USA has a strong record of helping to arrange financing for residents to buy their own park and keep rents down. Rents drop to market rate or below within five years when ROC-USA helps, said Bullard”

2.Banding together for good. Can you choose 5 friends to live with and own your biggest asset together? We hope arbitration is built into the deals. This was arranged in 2019. We would love to check in to see how they all did through the pandemic. “What might be the first arrangement of its kind allowed a half-dozen young people shut out of the prohibitively expensive market to actually own a place — and they seem to be making it work.”

The Good

1.Think Different. Unfolding the housing problem. Boxable, mixes origami and IKEA at a home size scale and can flat pack it and ship it around the world. It takes a couple of days to set it up for living assuming you have a concrete pad poured and there is a crane available at the site of your choice. This of course assumes that there is a zoning allowance for this kind of innovation.

2. Innovation winners in single-family homes. Maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. Architecture and design for living

The Bad

1.Open the Pod Bay dorms Hal. Rent in the Bay Area is unaffordable for many people, especially if they’re starting a new job or working as an intern. A new concept — sleeping in small, individual pods in a shared house — is being tried in Silicon Valley. The rent for a three-bedroom, two-bath house like this in Palo Alto could easily run from $6,000 to $8,000. The residents are paying $800 per month. While they share the kitchen and other spaces, the 14 residents sleep in pods a bit larger than a twin bed.

“Our pods are actually eight feet tall, so it gives enough room for like bigger people and like also some wiggle room, so they’re not like the Japanese capsules. They’re a bit larger,” said Brownstone Shared Housing Co-Founder Christina Lennox

2.Over Valued Oligharchish Home Porn. Analysis of Santa Clara County property show the 10 most expensive homes in 2019 — but it wasn’t simple to figure out who lived in them. Even coming up with this list required an analysis of hundreds of thousands of records from the assessor’s office. Some of the property records list LLCs and holding companies, which obscures true ownership. It’s possible higher-value properties exist, but some landowners are able to hide the true total value of their homes by splitting them into several separate parcels owned by distinct holding companies. This analysis merged those properties wherever we were able to definitively establish ownership. Let them eat cake indeed.

3. It's the zoning stupid. Cities have weak and non-inventive ways of expanding. It was clear when The East Don Lands was developed for the Pan American Games in Toronto, that there was a footprint of land the size of downtown, right beside Toronto. Of course, there was the matter of fixing the toxic waste, but it got done. We should just move away to fix things. We should allow for tiny houses in back yards, plan for smaller front yards and demand low risers of 6 to 8 stories along with things like the new subways and transitways. Skyscrapers are the answer for developers, not humans or families. We bet more than half of affordable housing can be solved at the city level by allowing people to easily rent rooms and build small structures, and just like AirBNB proved it doesn't ruin the look of a city, it would just change the economics of the city.

The Ugly

1.As of January 2020, New York had an estimated 91,271 experiencing homelessness on any given day, as reported by Continuums of Care to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Of that Total, 15,151 were family households, 1,251 were Veterans, 3,072 were unaccompanied young adults (aged 18–24), and 7,515 were individuals experiencing chronic homelessness. Public school data reported to the U.S. Department of Education during the 2018–2019 school year shows that an estimated 148,485 public school students experienced homelessness over the course of the year. Of that total, 5,460 students were unsheltered, 40,822 were in shelters, 2,989 were inhotels/motels, and 99,034 were doubled up.

2. Renters of their mobile homes are being squeezed out by professional property funds and property managers. Is this efficient? ‘Skandia residents, though, say they’ve been unfairly pinched for the last several months since Investment Property Group bought the 167-unit senior property from the Coulter Family Trust last August. IPG raised their space rents $75 a month each year for the next three years, larger rent hikes than they’ve previously seen. The company, which owns about 100 mobile home parks nationwide, has offered the residents long-term leases to sign, but many don’t feel like that’s in their best interests, either.”

3. Big Money firms buying SFR’s and renting them to people who can not afford to buy into markets. This is round 2. The first wave of this strategy of buying 10’s of thousands of homes was at the end of the housing bubble in the US. The good news is that it signalled the bottom, of that crisis. The number of single-family home renters is heading to 50M in the US and now similar growth is happening in Canada. It’s become normalized. There is a risk of magnification of wealth inequality as Private Equity Funds owned by the wealthy, control rents so much, that families can only afford to rent. Its all about controlling the cash flow.

The Uncertain

1.Canada’s New Homeless Strategy: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy is a community-based program aimed at preventing and reducing homelessness across Canada. This program provides funding to urban, Indigenous, rural and remote communities to help them address their local homelessness needs. “Reaching Home” supports the goals of the National Housing Strategy, in particular, to support the most vulnerable Canadians in maintaining safe, stable and affordable housing and to reduce chronic homelessness nationally by 50% by fiscal year 2027 to 2028. Homelessness has an impact on every community in Canada. It affects individuals, families, women fleeing violence, youth, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities. In 2016, an estimated 129,000 people experienced homelessness at an emergency shelter. This is why we have committed $2.2 billion to tackle homelessness across the country. Source: Government of Canada.

2.New Kinds of Housing for Elders. They are building a purpose-built village. But this is for grups — where are the kids? We think they need to mix these villages with a wider demographic — maybe more affordable housing for 30 somethings and a good elementary school. Think sustainable. “The more than 400,000 square-foot campus will house 160 long-term care beds and more than 180 housing units, including life-lease suites and garden homes, apartments, townhomes, affordable housing for older adults, supportive housing and co-housing. The hub of the campus is the Simcoe Village Centre, which will host essential medical and therapeutic services, a fitness and therapy pool, an auditorium, opportunities for social interaction, a restaurant and various retail offerings. Expected campus amenities — such as the restaurant and retail outlets — will serve residents and members of the wider community”

3. Planners should not be let off the hook with “do overs” However, there are seeds of ideas that should be plucked to re-evaluate how we develop cities here.

Nathan J. Robinson, editor of Current Affairs magazine, recently published what appeared to be a draft of an essay in his own publication that discussed building brand-new, government-developed cities in the California’s hinterlands. Some of his arguments don’t make sense, though. It seems whoever was supposed to edit Robinson’s piece hit “publish” prematurely.

Photo by analuisa gamboa on Unsplash

Tapestry — Not just the rug in your den

Charts of the Week

Monthly Average Rents

Flirt with a yurt?

Is it time to change our housing approach to something more portable? Considering the advances in carbon fibre fabrics they make sail racing sails from and low-cost efficient solar, this is becoming more realizable. Not just for Glampers anymore.

Photo by Yang Shuo on Unsplash

The Degrees of Homelessness — not all homelessness is the same

Souirce: City of Calgary

The UN does not have a declaration for a right to adequate housing

The section 26, chapter Two of the South African constitution establishes that ‘’everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing’’ and it is the task of the Department of Human Settlement to implement this mandate. In the United States, most of her jurisdictions have no right to shelter except in Massachusetts where just families have right to shelter. The 1999 constitution of Nigeria recognized the right to housing specifically in section 43 which states: ‘’every citizen of Nigeria shall have the right to acquire and own immovable property anywhere in Nigeria’’.[3]

Lexicon — Word of the Week:

Homeless Streaming on Netflix:

Lead Me Home — Documentary

500,000 Americans experience homelessness every night. Lead Me Home is a documentary short by Jon Shenk and Pedro Kos that captures the experience from multiple perspectives. This immersive, cinematic film personalizes the overwhelming issue by telling the real-life stories of those going through it as a first step toward challenging uninformed attitudes and outmoded policies and gives the audience a rare, in-depth look at the scale, scope and diversity of unsheltered America today.

Meme of the Week:

Home of the Week

Toronto, Canada, High Park — $3,399,000 3,600 Sq Ft. 6 Bed Rooms. Taxes $10,000

Source — Globe And Mail

The Discussion, Debate and Take your shoes off:

Join us on Clubhouse this Sunday the 22th, May, 2022 at 8am PST | 11am EST | 3pm GMT| 5pm SAST to make sense of it all, have your say and engage with your favourite Grey Swan Guild Wrap Editors: Doyle Buehler, Sylvia Gallusser, Sean Moffitt, Agustín Borrazás, Rob Tyrie, Ben Thurman, Antonia Nicols Esmee Wilcox, Louise Mowbray, Geeta Dhir, Gina Clifford, Su McVey with Clubhouse Captains Howard Fields, Scott Phares and Lindsay Fraser.

What’s Next:

Next week’s wrap edition Vol 2: Edition 20, May 29, 2022 is on ….. T+B+D.

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Making Sense of the World’s Biggest Challenges & Next Grey Swans — curating and creating knowledge through observation, informed futurism, and analysis🦢