Housing in Toronto is expensive. The average cost of a detached house in the city is hovering just under the million dollar mark.
Photos indicate the kind of house a million dollars buys in Toronto is no palace with solid gold plumbing and a bowling alley in the basement, just an ordinary house with a couple of bedrooms and enough yard for some rose bushes and a couple of lawn chairs – the kind of dwelling that would be described around here as a “starter.” There are stories about a “fixer-upper” that sold for what would buy you the fanciest mansion in this community.
What this means is most of the people attracted to the city by employment opportunities and high wages, have to look outside the city for housing – sprawling suburbs, long commutes… unfortunately, the list goes on.
Despite attempts to sell city dwellers on the benefits of living close to their work, most people earning high salaries have expectations that do not include raising a couple of kids in a rented two bedroom apartment.
When they are making triple what their parents earned, they want a house at least as nice as what they grew up in.
As long as the jobs people want are in Toronto, and the housing they want (affordable detached) is not, there will be steadily expanding suburbs, rush hour gridlock and cries for the provincial government to fund better roads and public transit upgrades.
Meanwhile, north of the 401, people are complaining about government strangling the life out of small, rural towns.
The recently unveiled update of the Provincial Policy Statement, the document that governs land use in Ontario, has precious little to stop the drain of people from rural areas to cities.
Keeping our best agricultural land in agriculture may be the goal, but farms and the people that operate them do not exist in a vacuum, a point that seems lost on provincial officials.
Farmers need businesses from which to purchase supplies. They need the roads and bridges that allow them to get what they produce to market. They also need social amenities that include churches, schools, hospitals, grocery stores and recreation. Off-farm jobs are a given with agriculture in the new millennium.
And there is always the hope that local career opportunities for their children might encourage some of them to stick around and keep their communities viable. Unfortunately, the reality is veering towards ghost towns surrounded by massive farm operations.
Some provision for limited industrial and commercial growth in agricultural areas as well as easing of regulations that severely limit severances of surplus farm dwellings and creation of small farm lots, would help stabilize rural populations (and municipal tax rates).
We have the communications technology to allow many businesses to operate anywhere.
The benefit to having them all jammed into one big crowded city plagued with monumental traffic jams and unaffordable houses is diminishing. To get some of them into smaller communities would seem to be a win for everyone.
This will not happen if our smaller communities dwindle into ghost towns. Business owners will be looking for certain amenities, not the least of which is quality of life for themselves and their staff
Right now, we have plenty to offer – high speed internet, top notch theatre and art, first rate health care, good schools that include some post-secondary opportunities, sports for all age groups, retail that includes everything from unique craft shops to large stores with competitive prices, and best of all, affordable houses. But there are a few too many empty storefronts for comfort.
We are edging closer to a downwards spiral that cannot be stopped. Toronto is edging closer to becoming a city with no middle class neighbourhoods, just a few residential enclaves for the ultra-rich, a lot of office towers and miles of asphalt.
We need help from the province in the form of policies that keep both our rural communities and our big cities viable. That way, everyone wins.
Special to The Banner