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Suburban neighbourhoods around Toronto are facing the worst rental affordability in Canada, with a new national report showing more than 30 per cent of renters in many parts of the Greater Toronto Area spend at least half their income on rent.

A report released Tuesday by a coalition of groups concerned with affordable housing issues shows the north Toronto electoral riding of Willowdale has the worst rental affordability of any of the 338 federal ridings in Canada, with 39 per cent of renters spending more than half their total household income on rent and utilities, while 59 per cent spend at least 30 per cent of their income on rental costs.

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The top five federal ridings where tenants spend more than half their incomes on rent are all in the Toronto region, and 11 of the 20 worst ridings for rental affordability are in Ontario, the report shows. The ridings of Thornhill, Richmond Hill, Markham-Unionville and University-Rosedale follow just behind Willowdale.

Six of the 20 ridings with least affordable rents are in British Columbia, including Vancouver Quadra, Richmond Centre and Vancouver Centre.

Jill Atkey, chief executive officer of the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, said her group crunched affordability data numbers this year based on federal riding divisions to highlight Canada’s rental challenges during the current federal election campaign.

“We are in the midst of a rental housing crisis, and in some ways it feels like we are in the eye of the storm," she said in an interview. “Whoever forms the next government, what they choose to do next is going to clear a path out of the crisis or is going to intensify it.”

Ms. Atkey said the riding-by-riding report adds further evidence to research showing the suburbs are becoming increasingly unaffordable for renters in Canada.

“For years, we’ve considered places like Surrey [in the Metro Vancouver area] or Mississauga [in the Greater Toronto Area] to be more affordable for renters and people have moved further and further out from the urban core in search of affordability, but they’re no longer finding it there,” she said.

Ms. Atkey said rents have been climbing sharply in many suburban regions because there is less rental stock than in downtown cores, and a growing portion of the population is seeking rental units. Average incomes are also generally not as high in the suburbs as in city centres.

The rental data released Tuesday comes from the 2019 edition of the Canadian Rental Housing Index. The index, initially launched in 2015, was updated last year to use rent and income data from the 2016 census.

Willowdale is the least affordable riding in 2019 because it has a combination of a large proportion of lower-income renters, such as single mothers and seniors, and a rapid increase in average rents.

The coalition is calling on political parties to commit to address housing affordability during the current election campaign. Ms. Atkey said one of the biggest things that would help is if spending proposed under the $55-billion National Housing Strategy was accelerated.

Much of the spending committed by the Liberal government under the 10-year program is back-end loaded and won’t begin to flow until after 2023, she said. The National Housing Co-investment Fund, which aims to develop 60,000 more affordable housing units, has proved especially cumbersome to access and has not seen strong uptake, she added.

“That money needs to hit the ground soon if we’re going to start to turn the corner on the crisis,” Ms. Atkey said. “Housing doesn’t get built for two to four years after an investment is made, so there’s already a lag time built in. We need those investments moved up.”

The Liberal Party released a pledge last week offering more support for first-time home buyers, but has not announced a rental housing platform in the election campaign. The Conservatives have not yet released a housing platform.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has pledged to build 500,000 units of affordable housing within the next 10 years if his party is elected, and says he would invest a further $5-billion for rental housing. The NDP have also promised to waive the federal portion of the GST or HST on the construction of new affordable rental units.

The Green Party has pledged to add $750-million to the National Housing Co-investment Fund and would expand the Canada Housing Benefit by $750-million for rent assistance for 125,000 households.

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