Affordable housing ideas

Stephen LaFrenie

Here is another concept that I have always been curious about. For years I lived on Queen Street West in Toronto. I lived above a store front on the second floor. One day the owner offered to sell to myself and my partner at the time the building for $100,000. We couldn't afford it so we said no. In later years while living just a few doors down I moved into the top floor above a hair salon. The young owner of the salon was going crazy trying to rent out the two apartments. We moved out and I witnessed him on many occasions quite frankly begging people to take the apartment. Most people didn't because they couldn't afford the rent he needed to charge in order to cover the mortgage on the building and run his business. My question is this. Why did these buildings have to be sold and maintained as a single unit? In many cases the utilities can be separated. So in the first example above where we were offered the building the overall asking price was $100,000. Why could he not have sold us the apartment for let's say $30,000.00 and then the business below to someone else for $70,000.00? Why did the young salon keeper have to become a landlord just to operate a hair salon? To this end I have witnessed the complete disappearance of perfectly good potentially affordable housing along Queen Street West as the result of corporations being the only viable purchasers of the land and subsequently evicting tenants and then converting the housing space for other uses. Thus Queen Street West has degraded (in my opinion) from a once vibrant arts section with alternative young business people and artist/youth tenants into a sterile corporate strip mall. A Starbucks and Pizza Pizza on every block does nothing to enhance business diversity or the economy because these are minimum wage employers. We have to think more innovatively than that.

I performed in Spain during the Universal Expo in Sevilla in 1992. I recall asking friends, as we walked along the streets, if the business owners on the ground level had anything to do with the apartments above. These friends looked at me with bewilderment and said no. Why would they? So you have in Sevilla and other European settings I'm sure, small bars, boutiques that thrive because I imagine the commercial space was affordable. So the question also relates not only to affordable housing but also to affordable small/micro businesses as well. Commercial space at the bottom of Condos is not necessarily affordable. It too is often only accessible to corporate chains and not young business people. If there are municipal laws preventing building owners from dividing the space between the residents in the apartments and the businesses below I think this needs to be revisited.

I think we also need to return to the day when a person could also live in the back of his/her store. At present in many jurisdictions this is still illegal. When I was looking for a studio in Toronto in the early days it was difficult because as an artist it was extremely difficult and next to impossible for me to maintain the rent on two spaces. I imagine it to be the same for young entrepreneurs in other fields.
Government sponsored affordable housing subsidies should always work within the 25% of annual income range. A person or family should not have to spend more than that on safe shelter. Co-operative housing will have their formulas which work well and programs to make it easier for people to buy a home will focus on making this possible. People investing in a home may choose to invest a higher percentage into their home but this is of course their private choice. Subsidies are for low income persons and families that have no access to safe housing. Shelters are for those in transition, states of turmoil etc.

This blog reflects my personal opinion.
It is not official Green Party Policy.