As of late, the activity in the condominium market is symptomatic of the utter failure of the government to address the housing crisis.
The condominium became commonplace in the residential market around the 1980s. It is now currently the most constructed dwelling-type in Toronto as well as consisting of more than half of new Canadian homes being built in the province right now. Recent developments in the housing market have only emphasized how condos are increasingly used as an investment and effectively foreclosing possibilities of equitable housing alternatives.
Throughout the summer, the housing market saw a downturn, likely a result of the Bank of Canada raising the benchmark interest rate to 2.25 points in March. Due to this, a large number of dwellings up for sale were either relisted or outright unlisted. The unlisting of condos, in particular, saw a 643 per cent increase from January to June. On top of this, condo rentals saw a record average of $2,806 in Toronto during August 2022. These are staggering figures.
The question that should be answered considering the proliferation of condo construction, an uptick in homelessness among Canadians and home prices in the country more than doubling since 1997, is how could this be acceptable?
This is a rather easy question to answer: property owners are capitalizing on the rising cost of housing.
However, there are more complex sides to this phenomenon worth considering in addressing the problem, given that public housing seems to be off the table for the foreseeable future.
Mathew Soules, professor of architecture and urban design at the University of British Columbia, centres his work around how finance capitalism affects the way dwellings are built, when they’re built and how they function in relation to trends in the market. He argues that condos are built spaces that follow the amplitude of boom-bust cycles and are used to store wealth rather than for use. This accounts for the mass vacancies in a bust cycle as seen in Toronto for the last several months.
Soules mentions in the interview linked above how Toronto is implementing a vacancy tax that takes effect in 2023 which taxes one per cent of a dwelling’s Current Assessed Value when deemed vacant at the end of every fiscal year. This is a step in the right direction but doesn’t go far enough.
One thing Soules mentions is how in the very design of condos you see a kind of standardization that makes them more liquidable assets. In the same way every dollar bill has to look like an exact replica of each other to be exchangeable, condos are increasingly homogeneous in their structure and aesthetics so as to be more easily exchangeable. Another side to this manifest exchangeability which Soules describes, is the way developers of condos are purposefully cutting out the construction of courtyards, hallways and other public spaces in condominium buildings, resulting in extremely tall, slender buildings where an elevator basically deposits you into your unit.
This has to do with making these condos purveyors of liquidity as the labor of social entanglement which often comes from bumping into neighbors in hallways and courtyards disrupts a frictionless experience which is part and parcel of the spatial logic of financialized housing.
While this situation can appear hopeless, if we start from the premise that housing should be a human right, then the condo market is in desperate need of problematization in the fight for housing equity.