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How much more does living in Toronto cost now compared to the ’90s?

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By Sylvia Lorico

There are two things my older relatives love to talk to me about: the five-mile treks through 40 feet of snow they had to make to get to school, and how expensive it is to live in Toronto now, compared to the 1990s.

Maybe it’s my own fault that I can’t afford to live on my own. I’ve chosen to go to a university where, for the low price of about $8,000 a year, I get to move my laptop from classroom to classroom and lose outrageous amounts of sleep.

I like living.

I like being able to wake up in a house with furniture, unlimited WiFi and food. With my minimum-wage job, I would have to work about 39 hours per week to afford the average rent in Toronto. That doesn’t take into consideration additional costs, like food and transportation.

So, I stay home with my parents.

I’m not alone. According to the 2015 Statistics Canada census, 42.3 per cent of people in their 20s lived at home in 2011. That’s up from 32.1 per cent in 1991.

I always wondered how expensive it really is to exist now versus 20 years ago, so I decided to write about it.

Tuition and OSAP


According to research from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives conducted in 2013, tuition in the 1990-1991 academic year was $1,464. In 2017 dollars, that’s about $2,300.

Post-secondary students had access to Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) loans and grants at the time. Like the current system, these were given based on financial need. But there were no discounts on tuition or breaks for lower-income families.

In 1990, 66 per cent of university funding was from the government. Twenty-five per cent of university funding was from students.


By 2009, the gap between this number had decreased, with 41 per cent of funding coming from students and 46 per cent from the government.

According to Statistics Canada, tuition across the country during the 2016-2017 year was an average of $6,317. 

Currently, the Ryerson admissions website lists tuition ranges for the 2015-2016 academic year from $6,942 to $10,660 for Canadian citizens or permanent citizens, depending on the program. For international students, tuition ranges from $22,133 to $25,399.

Katie Maitland is a first-year English student at the University of Toronto Scarborough. For her program, tuition averages at about $8,000.

“Not having a job makes me feel really anxious.”

This year, she took out a loan for about $5,000 in order to pay for tuition. To pay for the rest, she used money she put aside, as well an entrance scholarship she received for her academic average in high school.

She said she thinks current tuition rates are “doable” for her, but they can be too much for other people.

Maitland avoids extra costs by buying used textbooks and using Amazon trials for free shipping. She also sells her old books on Kijiji.

Maitland is hopeful she will be able to pay off her OSAP loans soon after she graduates—she plans to go to teacher’s college to become a French and drama teacher. 

On Feb. 25, 2016, the Ontario government announced students whose families have an income of $50,000 or less will receive free tuition by the 2017-2018 year.

The plan also implemented a new grant system, which will start in the 2017-2018 school year. Fifty per cent of students from families that make $83,000 or less annually will receive non-repayable grants and the program debt level will be capped at $10,000 annually for higher-income families.

In the 2016 Federal Budget, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made changes to financial aid, allowing low-income graduates to defer their student loan payments until they make more than $25,000 a year, and providing a 50-per-cent increase to federal grants to $3,000 from $2,000 for low-income students.



In October 1997, economist Kevin B. Kerr examined youth unemployment trends from 1976 to 1996. He determined that the average youth unemployment rate for people ages 15 to 24 was 27 per cent in 1996.

The same study also examined data from a National Graduate Survey, which concluded that real median full-time earnings of 1990 graduates with a bachelor’s degree was about $27,000 annually two years after graduation. In today’s money, that’s about $46,000.


According to Statistics Canada, the youth unemployment rate in Canada was 13 per cent in 2016.

Maitland is one of many students who can’t find a part-time job. She has sent in several applications to various locations in Scarborough since she started university, but hasn’t yet been successful.

“I had to make my own job because no one wants to hire me,” she said.

Maitland started her own business as a party entertainer in November. So far, she has had one request to entertain at a relative’s birthday party.

“I feel pretty crappy because no one will hire me,” she said. “Not having a job makes me feel really anxious.”

Some of those who graduate from undergraduate programs, however, are seeing some success.

A survey conducted in 2015 by the Council of Ontario Universities found that six months after graduation, the average annual salary for graduates of all university undergraduate degree programs was $41,839. After two years, the average annual salary was $49,170.

The lowest salary was for those with fine and applied arts degrees, who make on average about $28,119 six months after graduation. The highest was for graduates of pharmacy programs, who made around $79,867.

The survey also found that on average, six months after graduation, the rate of employment for graduates of undergraduate programs was 87 per cent. Two years after graduation, this number rose to about 93 per cent.

Two years after graduation, 77.9 per cent of graduates employed full time said they considered their work closely or somewhat related to the subject of the program they graduated from.

Transit Costs


TTC cash fare in 1996 would have been about $2.95 in 2017 dollars. Adjusted to the rate of inflation, the average cost of a monthly adult Metropass in January 1996 was about $114.83.

Post-secondary Metropasses were not introduced until November 2009, when the RSU and other Toronto student unions banded together with the Canadian Federation of Students to lobby for their creation. Post-secondary Metropass sales began in 2010.


A monthly TTC adult Metropass currently sells for $146.25 and a post-secondary pass sells for $116.75. It costs an additional $5.25 annually for a post-secondary ID card, which is required for student passholders.

Presto users pay more for their trip, depending on where they commute from. Those who commute in Toronto pay a flat rate of $3.00 per trip versus the standard adult cash fare of $3.25.

In the fall of 2015, StudentMoveTO, a collaborative effort between four universities (including Ryerson), studied post-secondary transit usage. They conducted a survey on the modes of transportation to and from campus and the motivating factors behind commuting.

The survey, which over 2,900 Ryerson students participated in, found 54 per cent of Ryerson students use local transit, while an additional 23 per cent use regional transit to commute to university.

For riders traveling outside Toronto on GO Transit, fares cost a flat rate of $5.30 for each one-way trip, with additional charges depending on which zones users travel through.

The more one-way trips a user makes, the cheaper the cost of fare. Over 40 one-way trips per month will cost post-secondary students anywhere from $200-$300 each month.

The 2017 federal budget includes a cut to the public transit tax credit for riders of the TTC and GO transit.  Prior to the implementation of the budget, students could receive tax credits of 15 per cent, for purchasing a pass or using electronic fare cards.

Eliminating the tax credit will cost $210.14 per year for TTC users buying post-secondary Metropasses. For Presto users, this depends on how many trips were made over a given month.

The federal government is expecting to save $200 million per year by eliminating this tax credit.

Hydro Rates


Since 2006, the price Ontarians pay for off-peak electricity has gone from 3.5 to 8.7 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), an increase of almost 150 per cent.

Mid-peak and on-peak usage also saw some increases, with prices going up by 80 per cent and 70 per cent from 2006.


The majority of users in Ontario are under time-of-use prices. There are three time-of-use periods: off-peak, mid-peak and on-peak. When demand for electricity is low (off-peak) owners are charged a cheaper rate. When demand for energy is high, owners are charged a higher rate.

To date, hydro rates are the highest they have been since 2006. Adjusted to inflation, users pay 8.7 cents per kWh during off-times, 13.2 cents per kWh in mid-peak  and 18 cents per kWh during on-peak times.

In 2015, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced a plan to sell 60 per cent of the government’s shares of Hydro One in order to have $4 billion to use on infrastructure plans.

On Nov. 19, 2016, Wynne spoke at the Liberal party annual general meeting where she cited the rising hydro costs  as her “mistake.”

More recently, on March 16, the National Post reported on citizens turning to churches for help paying their hydro bills.

Pastor Brian Horrobin of First Baptist Church in Wallaceburg, Ont., told the Post that his church’s benevolent funds have been in deficit three times over the last two years because people are asking for help on their hydro bills.

“There’s definitely been a marked increase in people coming for help,” Horrobin said in the article.

Horrobin said his church has helped people pay outstanding hydro bills or given them pre-paid grocery cards when they can’t afford both.

In order to fix the problem, Wynne offered a 25 per cent cut on hydro rates earlier this year, but owners will face an additional $25 billion in interest charges over the next 30 years.

The government said the rate will apply to families and about 500,000 farms and small businesses.



The Toronto Real Estate Board lists average home prices historically from 1970 to 2014. In 1990, the average annual price of a home was $255,020. That’s about $428,000 in 2017 dollars.

The last “housing bubble” in the city of Toronto occurred in 1989. Between 1985 and 1989, the prices increased by  about $258,000 in today’s money.

But an economic recession in the early 1990s meant housing prices in Toronto collapsed. Between 1989 and 1996 average price of a home in GTA declined by about $195,000.


The Toronto Real Estate Board reported in February 2017 that the average selling price of a home was $875,983— that’s nearly 28 per cent more than than it was a year ago. 

In a March talk at Ryerson University, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he advocated for the federal government’s infrastructure plans to invest $11.2 billion in several years for housing, calling Toronto the “single biggest recipient.”

“With respect to housing—of course I’m concerned. How could you not be?” Tory said at the time, emphasizing that the high cost of living could potentially make housing inaccessible. 

“The danger that lurks in prices that get to very high levels is that you start to exclude people from even having the option to live in the City of Toronto,” Tory said.

Some buyers are unable to pay for the full cost of a home, so they make arrangements with other homeowners to make it more affordable.

Toronto Life reported several cases of individuals coming together to purchase housing in a pricey housing market. One of these purchases was made by a group of three friends for a five-bedroom, two-bathroom semi at College and Dovercourt, listed at $1.54 million.

They set up a joint bank account to cover property taxes, home insurance and bills.

Rent Control


Under the Residential Tenancies Act of 2006, units that were built or occupied prior to Nov. 1, 1991 are subject to rent control, or the government controlling how much should be charged for rent.


Buildings constructed or converted after Nov. 1, 1991 are not subject to rent control under the act. There is no limit on rent increases for modern buildings.

Under the act, rent cannot increase by more than 2.5 per cent a year unless tenants get a three month warning.

On April 4, the Toronto Star reported that tenants in two west-end buildings were notified their rent would double from $1,650 to $3,300 on July 1.

New Democrat MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) introduced a private bill on March 20, aiming to close the “loophole” that exempts landlords of buildings constructed after 1991 from rent control rules. 

“During a town hall meeting I recently hosted in my riding, I met a couple who told me they were living on a seniors’ pension of $1,400 per month. Their rent is $1,000.” said Tabuns during question period at Queen’s Park on March 30.

Toronto City Council recently passed new tenant protection bylaws. The new bylaws set out clear guidelines covering issues including maintenance, security, waste management, cleanliness,  repairs, and pest control.

Landlords will also be required to keep detailed records of repairs, services, and tenant requests, with the 24-month logs.


  1. Great research, thank you for the work well done and for all the sources, gave great perspective.

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