Renting in Toronto has served to be some type of ultimate life challenge – pushing me and my mental health to the pinnacle of all instability and unease.
It all began when my rooming house situation began to fall apart. Conflict began increasing in our living space, and blatant disrespect became some type of norm that we individually endured in some capacity on a daily basis. As a strong, feminist woman, I decided it was time for me to settle into my idea of a young professional’s home – cozy enough to light incense and play Motown all night, but spacious enough to allow my PR roommate and myself to have personal space to write, create, and breathe.
An affordable 3-storey walk-up on Queen West? With no bedbugs, perhaps?
We began our search in August – how difficult could it be? The first apartment we looked at was a dream, and in an amazing, up-and-coming district that really suits our lifestyles. The landlord loved us and told us not to worry, he would be calling us in the morning to come by and sign the lease, he just needed to save face and show the place to other tenants waiting in the foyer to view the space. We called in the morning, cheques in hand, only to receive a text saying that the current tenants had decided that they could not find any housing in Toronto that was better, and would be staying. Their decision foreshadowed 3 months of what would turn into a near impossible Toronto housing crisis.
We were crushed. We spent the entire night crying, wondering how any space could even compare. We quickly learned that none would.
We naively signed a lease for an apartment in a small building in a different, but still great neighbourhood. It was smelly and gross, but we thought it was a space we could make our own, and it was cheap enough for us to save money for a year to find something more comfortable.
The first night we moved in, we unpacked, lit some candles and incense as desired, and spent the next 2 hours watching hoards of cockroaches spill out of the radiators. Climb up my bedroom walls. Run across my dresser. Dance in circles in the middle of the living room, as though they were celebrating the potential for food and new tenants to torment.
We immediately decided we were moving out. We spoke to other tenants and discovered this was a building problem – while there were no bedbugs, the cockroaches were clearly making it known that we were impeding upon their space.
We gave our two months notice, broke our lease and began the search for a new unit. A few panic attacks later and some serious struggles with mental health, my lovely PR roommate decided she needed to seek solitude and space to figure out what she wanted, and moved back to her hometown. In the meantime, my friend Matt from our previous rooming house was staying with us until he found a bachelor apartment.
Now, Matt and I decided we would save each other and were left searching, again, for a two-bedroom apartment in Toronto. We had a little over a month. So, Matt, an early twenties freelance graphic designer, local graffiti artist, badass, cute boy; and myself, a mid twenties, queer, feminist, social worker, current tea store worker, began our search for an adequate home amidst bullshit substandard excuses for housing.
We were forced to lift our budget and began riding our bicycles around the city searching for “for rent” signs – and any glimmer that a housing god does exist. I peeled the pages of craigslist, kijiji, viewit, and padmapper all day, every day, booking appointments incessantly. I compiled our letters of employment, professional resumes, pay stubs, references, and a nice little story about how Matt and I… fell in love.
Yeah. I started to notice that acting as a straight couple searching for a “nice quiet space to settle down and begin building our careers,” was an incredibly enticing and convincing story that potential landlords really seemed to swallow. Matt hated it. Also we aren’t the greatest actors, and could not appear more platonic and sibling-y, often dressing the same and me acting as his mother.
The dynamic was something I struggled with – I struggled with using hetero-privilege as a way to attain housing. It seemed to go against every last thing I believed in – compromising my sexuality to access this seemingly unattainable privilege that is housing in Toronto. And I fucking hate to say it, but it worked.
In fact, we ended up finding a really incredible, newly renovated apartment in the West End with exposed brick, a goddamn fireplace and a balcony. And I didn’t even tell the real estate agent we were a couple. But when we went to sign the lease, our agent came to me with wise advice sent directly from his wife – “make sure you don’t fight with each other, just love.” I looked at Matt and sighed. I began to realize that once we began searching as a white, straight, young couple, looking to develop their careers, we were suddenly viewed as these “sophisticated twenty somethings” who were stable and somehow more appealing to others. When we began using this story, every landlord we interacted with offered us their unit, and some even lowered their rent, begging us to be their new tenants.
Who knows what the magical trick is in finding satisfactory housing in Toronto? I found that looking in what is deemed “off-season” (Oct, Nov, Dec) panned out to be a great alternative where nicer places were listed with less competition; however, I also acknowledge how difficult it has been as a younger person, a single person – a person who can in any way be perceived as unstable. My struggle really evoked this layered discussion within myself regarding some folks’ more inter-sectional experiences with marginalization and how this can deeply affect their search for something as fundamental as housing. The use of race, class, religion, sexuality, gender identity, experiences with the law or substances – the way all of these pieces of someone’s identity can work in a way to maintain and ingrain even deeper the layers of oppression that different populations face.
Ultimately, the search for Toronto housing has provoked this critical, intense discussion within myself regarding the ways I am so privileged, and the ways my oppressions may serve to perpetuate substandard housing. I suppose this space has been a process for me to unravel these thought processes and begin a deeper exploration of what this means for me, and others looking for seemingly unattainable housing in Toronto. So, thank you for attempting to follow my messy stream of thoughts. I welcome experiences, thoughts and criticisms.
Has this happened to you? Have you had to fake your identity in order to be taken more seriously? Do you think you would, if you were in that position? Let us know in the comments, or send in your own story to firstname.lastname@example.org
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