Affordable Housing Urban Challenge


Our vision is of city where everyone can find housing options that best meet their needs in an affordable way, with a series of different housing arrangements, models, and tenures that provide real choice.

Our vision is of a city where trying to find affordable housing is not a full-time job, one that scares people away from the city and the region. Instead, appropriate housing should be so easy to find it is never a worry or a stress.

Our vision is of a city that welcomes young and old, with a housing system that meets the needs of seniors, children and youth, solo parents, immigrants and refugees, students, persons with disabilities, diverse families, and others; a housing system that allows people to remain in place even when they age, change their family structure, retire, or suffer unforeseen life events.

Our vision is of a city where people are not displaced from where they live because land values have gone up, or because a land owner realizes they can profit from flipping or converting long-term rental units to different uses. Our vision is of a city where rental housing is seen as a positive resource for all of us to help us realize our dreams.

Our vision is of a city in which housing is not something that separates and segregates us, but instead brings us together. The current housing system separates people by income, by gender and family structure, by age, and through racialization. Our current housing crisis is causing undue competition, stress, and trauma for those who need it the most. A proper functioning and affordable housing system mixes people, brings them together, gives them a safe, healthy and secure foundation and provides them a say in how their city is run.

Our vision is of a city in which housing is seen as a human right. one that makes us all better for it, one that we protect because it is the right thing to do.

Our vision is of a city in which housing is a key ingredient in making people feel like they belong. You – we – all belong here.

The University of Toronto School of Cities is uniquely poised to conduct research that can help realize this vision. The University of Toronto has over 750 urban researchers across a multitude of disciplines whose areas of expertise are necessary to provide a wholistic, multi-faceted solution to achieving affordability.

We at the Affordable Housing Challenge Project would like to express our solidarity with those currently struggling with housing challenges in the midst of this ongoing global pandemic. As we continue our critical work around housing, we would like to underline some of our emerging concerns as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread in our community. In Toronto’s case, unaffordable rents, housing precarity, and homelessness have already been pushing residents to the brink. Yet, widespread calls for people to “stay home” highlight how access to housing might be the key “frontline defense” against the virus and thus necessary to our collective health and wellbeing. But what is being done to help those living in homes that are precarious, overcrowded, poorly maintained, or emotionally and/or physically unsafe? The framing of housing as a safeguard against disease, and the inherent assumption that everyone has a home to stay in, ignores serious inequities, vulnerabilities, and gaps in housing. What measures are being taken to ensure people the access to housing among these vulnerable groups?

As current health and containment measures are likely to be in place for some time, we urge policy-makers to consider how these very serious and pressing housing issues will require long-term and sustainable measures to keep us all safe. If shelters in Toronto are already stretched to capacity, what is the fate of the city’s homeless population under the emerging circumstances? Will money for homeless shelters and shelters for persons fleeing domestic violence be sustained beyond short-term emergency funding? With respect to rental housing, how will the eviction moratorium be enforced and how will it apply across the wide range of different rental arrangements, including short-term and vacation rentals? How are strained landlord-tenant relations to be mediated in the absence of the Landlord Tenant Board? What happens to people after the moratorium is lifted? What will be the long-term consequences of not paying rent? How will affordable units be protected for the long-term? These are just some of the emerging issues that need to be explicitly addressed as we collectively work through this crisis. 

All this being said, at the AHCP we have taken steps to conduct our work in a way that ensures the safety of our team and those engaged with our work. As such, we have postponed all events until further notice. In the meantime, we are trying to find ways to direct our energies towards helping those currently facing housing challenges. Thank you for continuing to follow our work, and please stay safe!

As we head into colder months and a second heightened wave of the pandemic, the AHCP collective are adding our voices to the rounds of housing advocates, activists and city residents calling upon all levels of government to immediately prioritize the protection of tenants and finding safe housing solutions for people who have been unhoused. In the city of Toronto, the combined force of months of insufficient support for tenants, the cancellation of the eviction moratorium, the return to Landlord Tenant Board hearings and evictions, and the City of Toronto’s program of encampment removal, are pushing residents into a dire situation. Strong action is urgently needed around these issues. We stand with tenants and with encampment residents facing the uncertainty of the months ahead, and join the call to end the forced removal of people from their homes.

Loren March and Jeremy Withers on behalf of the Affordable Housing Challenge Collective

The Affordable Housing Challenge Project Collective stands in solidarity with carpenter Khaleel Seivwright and the increasing number of groups speaking out against the dismantling or removal of shelters in public spaces in the city.


The City of Toronto views the presence of structures in our public parks as ‘illegal,’ and has taken taking a law-and-order approach to the issue of temporary emergency ‘tiny shelters’ in parks, taking legal action to prevent more from being provided to those sleeping outside and forcefully removing some. Many people who have used the tiny shelters have spoken out against the recent court injunction against Seivwright. Encampment residents have described the police enforcement practices as violent and involving high levels of harassment and destruction of tents and survival equipment. They have also described the City’s response as inadequate and not meeting the specific needs of many unhoused people. Many have made the difficult decision to stay outside through the coldest months of winter because the City’s formal shelter system presents a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 (including new variants), because options presented remove people from their existing support networks, and because of the policing of residents in formal shelter spaces. Many have sought refuge in shelters only to be turned away due to shelters regularly being over capacity – a problem that existed before COVID-19.


We believe other responses to the ongoing crisis are both needed and possible. We would like to use this as an opportunity to highlight the recommendations of the Office of the Chief Coroner in the 2018 Faulkner inquest, which encouraged, among other things, that the City of Toronto review its existing policies around the provision of survival gear to unhoused residents, and the expansion of harm reductions principles and services in the existing formal shelter system. We also would like to highlight other cities, such as Ulm in Germany, which have taken more supportive approaches to the provision of emergency shelters and sleeping pods. We encourage the City to see this example as an inspiration for what a different approach might look like. If the City deems tiny shelters to be unsafe, they have an immediate responsibility to find safer accommodations for those sleeping in them. With many of the City’s shelters being regularly over capacity, this means temporarily ensuring that those forced to sleep outside are provided with means of doing so more safely and more comfortably. Ultimately, no one should be put in a position where they need to choose between risking freezing, burning, or exposing themselves to COVID-19. The fact that many hundreds of Toronto residents feel they have no other choice is a direct consequence of decades of underfunding and underregulating of housing in Toronto. If this controversy shows anything, it is the utter inadequacy and inequity of the existing housing system, and the need to radically rethink how we address housing needs across the city.


We know that shelters like sleeping pods and tiny shelters are no replacement for secure, long-term housing solutions, but in an emergency situation they are a necessary tool. We urge the City to immediately drop legal action against Khaleel Seivwright, and to stop removing shelters from public spaces.


The Affordable Housing Blog 

May 22, 2020

Toronto's Quiet Streets Initiative brings up important questions of public-private binaries in COVID-19 times and beyond. Loren March asks what is a home, exactly. And if ‘staying home’ has been deemed a primary point of defense against the spread of COVID-19, what does that mean for the homeless?

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June 17, 2020

A recent wave of police brutality in North American cities, including the killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor, and most recently Rayshard Brooks, has ignited what we might consider a global uprising against anti-Black racism and police brutality. Loren March examines how white supremacy is deeply entangled with housing in the Canadian context, and how can we move towards an anti-racist housing agenda. 

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October 6, 2020

Despite public calls for social unity during COVID-19, the fragmented reality of the housing crisis in Toronto has been further exposed and stark housing inequalities have become more visible as people struggle to pay rent, retain their housing, and secure healthy and safe places to stay during the pandemic. Loren March reflects on the meaning of home and the precarity of renting during the pandemic. 

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Working Papers


Youth are on the street in large part because they can’t afford housing in or around Toronto.

It is estimated that there are between 850-2000 youth experiencing homelessness on any given night in Toronto (City of Toronto, 2018; Gaetz & O'Grady, 2002). When COVID-19 hit the city early in 2020, the already over extended emergency shelter system was further stressed (Perri, Dosani, & Hwang, 2020). There is a lack of focused services to support youth under 25 who are experiencing homelessness to find secure, long term housing (Gaetz & Dej, 2017). We outline the need for the City of Toronto to adopt a Housing First for Youth (HF4Y) approach that is targeted at key populations of youth experiencing homelessness and provides intersectional supports for transitioning out of homelessness into long term, safe, and affordable housing.

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