Society

Rent hikes priced me out of my Toronto apartment. So I moved in with my 65-year-old aunt.

“I’m paying her some rent, but not a lot, and that’s given me the opportunity to save up for a down payment”

About a decade ago, when I was 25, I moved out of my parents’ Toronto home and started renting on my own. I was working in fashion marketing at the time, and I had little trouble finding an apartment I could afford. I lived in a studio apartment for six years, initially paying $1,100 a month. I thought I was on my way to one day purchasing my own home. 

When I was 32, I managed to save enough to move out of my old apartment and purchase a condo with my partner at the time. It was 2020, and the condo cost about $500,000. But when the relationship didn’t work out, he bought me out. The amount I received wasn’t nearly enough for a down payment on my own place, and because I had taken advantage of the first-time home buyers’ program, I had to put most of it back into my RRSP. But it was enough to help me secure a great rental unit at the height of the pandemic, and I moved into a midtown condo in November of 2020. I was paying $1,600 per month, which is unheard of for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto. I didn’t know my rent would soon skyrocket. 

READ: How Toronto’s housing market is transforming the rest of Canada

I later learned that because the unit was built after 2018, Ontario laws permitted my landlord to raise the rent as much as he wanted. A year after moving in, he told me that he would be increasing my rent to $1,800 a month. This was out of my budget, but I found a way to make it work. 

Then, in the summer of 2022, he informed me that he’d be hiking my rent by another $500 per month come November. 

Although I work three jobs—I have a day job in sports marketing, I practice Reiki, and I invented a patented nail tool called Nail Diva—I knew I couldn’t afford it. I knew how difficult it would be to find another place I could afford, but paying that exorbitant rent—$2,300—meant I’d have to give almost every penny I was making to my landlord. I would’ve been a house-poor renter with no ability to save or live my life. After much negotiation, my landlord agreed to pay me three months’ rent to vacate the unit; the new tenants are now renting that same one-bedroom apartment for $2,400 a month.

I still hadn’t found a place to live, and I was in a serious bind. Then I thought of my 65-year-old aunt, who has a spacious three-bedroom, three-bathroom house in the Dufferin and Lawrence area, northwest of downtown. She’s an empty-nester who lives alone, so I thought living together just might work. My aunt jumped on board immediately. I’m paying her some rent, but not a lot, and that’s given me the opportunity to save up for a down payment so that hopefully I can buy a property for myself one day. I’m incredibly grateful for her generosity. 

Living with my aunt has been an adjustment for us both, but we’ve found our rhythm and learned to make it work. I respect her rules, like doing laundry at specific times to save on hydro, and I also help out around the house as much as I can. I’ll wash her dishes in addition to my own, or clean up after either of our dogs if they ever have an accident. 

Before we lived together, I only saw my aunt on holidays, and it’s nice to see her more often than we used to. She’ll often keep me company when I’m cooking in the kitchen, and we’ll chat and catch each other up on our lives. But we don’t spend all that much time together since I’m working most days and nights. I like having my own space and she does too, but it’s always nice to know there’s somebody there if you ever need something, or you just want some company. 

Still, never in a million years did I think this is where I’d be at 35. I often think about how things were for my parents’ generation; it’s frustrating how unaffordable this city has become. My aunt bought this house in the ’80s (when the national average home price was just under $200,000), while I’m working three jobs and can barely afford to rent an apartment.

I know I’m more fortunate than most. I’m incredibly lucky to have a family member who offered to help when I needed it, and I’m now in a position to save money. For so many people, especially those who are single and don’t have someone to help them with a down payment, renting is a struggle and home ownership is out of reach entirely.

It’s disheartening. If you don’t have somewhere to live, you can’t prosper in other areas of your life. I’m a spiritual person, and I believe that feelings of safety and security come from within. But having a place to call home, whether it’s big or small, where I can go to stay warm or cool—I believe that should be a human right.

 

— As told to Mira Miller

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