True confessions from Toronto’s housing hell

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By Abbey Kelly

This is a combination piece from our Fun Issue, The Darkest Timeline. Life has become such a clusterfuck that it’s hard to tell the difference between reality and satire. While this story contains research and reported voices, some stories are true and some aren’t. Have fun guessing!

The previous tenants’ garbage greeted Jay Dittburner from the lawn as they walked up to their new place. Their bedroom is an extended closet with a barred-window view to the outdoor laundry suite. The landlord left the washer and dryer sitting outside the apartment. The ceiling of their bedroom is slanted. 

Dittburner, now a second-year masters of philosophy student, has a list of different nightmarish places they have lived in—and the list is long. “I’ve stayed in some places that were just filthy, completely illegal, massive fire hazards.” 

Toronto’s population is the second fastest growing metropolitan area in Canada, according to a 2018 U.S. census. But due to the housing crisis, this presents major issues for finding affordable and good quality housing in the city—particularly for students. Because of high demand, even the lowest quality of places are overvalued.

“More and more people are going to be paying higher rent for whatever accommodation they can afford,” said Frank Clayton, senior researcher at the Centre for Urban Research and Land Development, who studied the census. “Something has to give. You only have so much money to spend.”

To alleviate some of these issues, some individuals rent out rooms or areas of their house to students so they can produce more of an income, Clayton said. 

This is similar to a place Dittburner stayed for a year. He lived with two others on the main floor while the owners lived upstairs.

The family had rules—they didn’t want anyone to come home after 10 p.m., no guests and no candles. There were also ‘severe limits’ on the type of food they would let their tenants cook because they allegedly didn’t want anything to “smell up their house.”

Dittburner isn’t the only student with bad living experiences. Check out the horror stories below for more housing hell.

Answer key on the next slide.

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