We’re a group advocating for greater housing availability and affordability in Toronto. Started in 2017 as a purely volunteer-based organization, Housing Matters seeks to energize and mobilize Torontonians to fight back against the anti-development, anti-growth, anti-progress, and overall anti-change forces of nimbyism.
We take groups to planning meetings, organize meetups and debates, and are now working on original research and social media outreach.
We want more housing being built in Toronto. We believe that the current crisis in housing affordability and availability stems from the fact that not enough new homes are being built to meet demand.
We think Toronto is a great city, with world-class opportunities in technology, health care, finance, law, construction, gastronomy, education, sports, culture, and entertainment. and should be accessible to more people.
More people mean more neighbours, more human capital, more opportunities for making personal connections, and more opportunities for everyone to contribute and benefit from the opportunities provided by our great city.
However, restrictions on providing new housing is restricting our city’s ability to grow. That means we can serve fewer people, employ fewer people, and provide livable places for fewer people.
YIMBY is an acronym for “Yes In My BackYard.” It is best understood as a response to NIMBY, an acronym for “Not In My BackYard.”
NIMBY has grown to be an epithet to describe people who resist any and all changes in their community. To be a nimby is to be pessimistic when it comes to the benefits of new neighbours, new businesses, and new community amenities.
The YIMBY movement, in contrast, welcomes new development. Especially with respect to housing. To be a yimby is to be optimistic about all newcomers, new businesses, and other signs of economic growth.
When it comes to supply and demand of housing, we believe a lot of the answers can be found in basic economics. Specifically, there are only two reasons why prices increase—either supply is destroyed while demand is staying the same or increasing; or demand is increasing while supply stays the same or increasing more slowly.
While in both cases it’s possible to remedy the problem of high prices by eliminating demand, we think that allowing people to move to and visit Toronto is a good thing that will bring us more jobs, innovation, culture, and global prominence.
For that reason, we believe the problem with housing affordability has a simple solution: build more housing. We think that there is genuine demand for more housing from consumers and investors, and that developers want to build this housing to meet the demand.
So that raises a new question: why isn’t housing supply increasing to meet the demand?
The answer is that various supply constraints—land use rules in particular—are largely responsible for the rapid housing price increases we've been experiencing in Toronto. We're simply not building enough new housing to accommodate our population growth and new household formation.
We don't think that increasing the supply of housing will solve all of our problems. But it is a vital (and often overlooked) first step.
Only 15% of the city is currently zoned for mid-rise and high-rise condos and apartments: most of that concentrated in the downtown core, within very narrow bands along major thoroughfares like Yonge Street, and areas near transit stations and large freeway exits.
As it happens, that’s where most people work and commute to. So it is very easy to see the growth in these areas.
But there is an unseen phenomena that is happening despite the tremendous growth in population in the GTA: in 52% of Toronto’s landmass, the population is actually decreasing.
Because as it happens, Toronto’s Official Plan calls for any new development in residential areas known as Neighbourhoods to “reflect and reinforce the existing physical character” of the existing (mostly low-density, detached and semi-detached) housing. This area, which represents over 70% of Toronto’s land mass, is known as the Yellowbelt.
Currently, the Yellowbelt is becoming more and more prohibitive to move to for downsizers, upgraders, and newcomers. So this leaves the downtown, avenues, and major transit centres (if not the rest of the GTA) as where people are forced to move to.
In short, the reason we’re noticing so many mid-rise and high-rise condos go up is because of two reasons: first, most of them are being built where most people either work, or along their commutes; and second, it is legally difficult or impossible to build so-called missing middle housing types in a large swath of the city.
A neighbourhood is defined by two characteristics: the personal character of its residents, and the architectural character of its built form. Neither of these characteristics are unchanging over time.
The personal characters change as marriages happen, babies are born, residents die, fads and fashions sweep the area, or residents seek other neighbourhoods for different employment, cultural, or geographic opportunities. The architectural characters change as well, as normal wear and tear, catastrophic natural events, accidents, and technological improvements require upgrades and other changes.
So it is natural that the personal and physical characters of neighbourhoods should change over time. The notion of “stable” neighbourhoods is a myth.
This is an appealing argument, but it misses some nuance. Even if all the new housing construction are luxury condos, that still creates enough competition to put downward pressure on prices.
There are, broadly speaking, three groups who purchase or rent newly built housing: downsizers (those looking to move from a bigger home to a smaller home—like older people whose children don't live with them anymore), upgraders (those looking to move from a smaller home to a bigger home—like working age people who got a new promotion), and newcomers (those looking to buy or rent for the first time—like immigrants, or children moving out on their own, etc.).
When new housing is not built, fewer downsizers downsize, fewer upgraders upgrade, and fewer newcomers show up. Those who do work to bid up our existing stock. That is definition gentrification.
The more available units of housing there are, regardless of quality, the more choices everyone will have when finding a home.
It’s true that an increase in foreign (and domestic) speculators will increase home prices—at least in the short term.
But what speculators are betting on is that future supply will be restricted. The best way to countering this bet is by building more housing.
Nimbys who bought their homes as “investments” are speculators, too. The difference is that they were able to speculate in a time of relative abundance and ease of buying a home. Now, they are trying to use the power of government (through legal restrictions on building—like zoning) to limit their competition and protect their profits.
Making a profit is not immoral. It is what makes the economy work. But using the government to protect your profit from fair competition—hurting current and future residents in the meanwhile—is what we decry as nimbyism.
Moreover, very few people who are sophisticated enough to be able to afford a home in Toronto are willing to just let it sit empty. It is more profitable to rent it out, in order to increase their properties’ cashflow.
By renting out their homes, speculators are contributing to the supply of rental housing. By increasing the supply of rental housing, then by the same logic we derived above, speculators actually drive the price of renting in the city down.
Thus, while speculation makes buying a home more expensive, it makes renting a home more affordable.
If homeowners have children and grandchildren who they would like to see live and work close by, they should support our organization. If homeowners want to see Toronto attracting the best employers and talent from around the world, they should support our organization.
If homeowners want to continue to enjoy the benefits that come with a rich, growing cosmopolitan community, then they should support our community.
We believe that Toronto can be a world-class city without sky-high rents. We believe that it’s possible to have housing quality go up while remaining affordable. We believe that Toronto can be a place for everyone to live—not just the lucky few who bought into the market before a house cost more than 9 times the median income; or the ultra-rich and those who won the community housing lottery.
No. We are a grassroots organization that cares deeply about housing availability and affordability, and we understand that increasing the supply of housing is a necessary, if not sufficient, response to our housing crisis. That said, we also understand that the there is an industry that would just love to deliver that supply: the development industry.
To the extent that developers buy into our mission, we do accept their donations, capped as a matter of policy to no more than ⅓ of our annual budget. This is to ensure our long term integrity and independence. The remaining ⅔ of our funding is provided by (mostly tech) companies and individuals that are not associated with the real estate industry.