Serious question: Does Canada have a housing crisis? Or a home ownership one? I’m asking because they are quite different from one another. Sadly, this continues to come as a surprise to many people. Growing up in Montréal, I learned that renting for your entire lifetime is perfectly acceptable. Like many couples, my parents started off renting with a view to one day owning – which they eventually did – as was their choice. Of course, I had never lived anywhere else so I didn’t know otherwise. I didn’t realize there was a stigma attached to being “just a renter”. No place is perfect, but I credit Québec’s more European sensibility for all of this. Many families in Europe (and elsewhere) function quite happily in rental flats – many of which easily rival the size and quality of freehold homes here in North America. And they don’t seem shy about it either. Why should they? Shelter should be a human right, but I’m not convinced home ownership needs to be. Afterall, it’s not for everyone. Google “Rent vs Own” and you can live out your days watching endless debates about the pros and cons of each. I had an awful lot of fun doing so in a pod cast I did years ago where I faced off with the host’s Father (you can listen in at the end of this post). Spoiler alert: There is no winner. It’s a very personal choice based on many factors: income, flexibility, world views and, well just part of the beauty of living in a free and democratic society? Which is why I was confused when I moved away from home and encountered what I call the sympathetic sigh. It’s accompanied by that pathetic knowing glance from people who have been there and claim to know how you feel. When I first moved to Toronto, I was living with friends. I can’t even really call myself a renter as I was merely a boarder (cue the sigh – especially sympathetic and much deeper – more like a gasp!).
I’m not even sure I can call that a choice as it was definitely driven by finances – that is, I didn’t have any. I was moving here to start my first job – and to find myself (blah blah blah,) so renting my own place was a pipe dream at best. That was followed by another room mate situation – one closer to the city – then my very first studio apartment, then shacking up with a partner (rental), then back on my own (sigh, still renting), then in with my current partner – in another rental. Several years later saw us purchasing our very first home (condo), then a HOUSE, then THIS HOUSE. In truth, I’m an owner at heart. I crave stability & flexibility and am willing to shoulder the cost, responsibility and headaches that go along with that. This is my choice. I also view renters as equals. This is because I view renting as someone else’s choice. Even in cases where it’s less a choice and more due to financial constraints, I don’t view that person as pathetic or having not yet arrived. Again, it’s a choice (or circumstance) and sometimes it’s more complex and personal that it appears. I’m not easily impressed by size, grandeur or wealth just like I’m not horrified or pitying of people who live modestly, simply and within their means. I don’t judge a person based on whether they own or rent. I’m far more attuned to how the space feels and how they’ve added their own touches to make it feel like home. I’m curious and fascinated by how people view and function in their personal spaces. It’s actually the reason I became a Realtor.
So, why do countries like Canada confuse & conflate debates and policy discussions about housing and home ownership? To be honest, it drives me nuts. Time and again I hear politicians and policy makers screeching about a housing crisis. One could be forgiven for thinking they are concerned about tent cities and those in our shelter systems. But they are really just harping about how we need to ensure everyone can afford to buy a home – and how we (they) need to demonstrate progress before the next election. I don’t presume to have all the answers, but it appears as if everything possible is done to prop up the housing market – even if this means ignoring those who lack shelter. As long as we continue to view renting as lesser than or reserved for people who just haven’t grown up yet, we will continue to chase our tails and fail to separately address what I’m calling Homelessness vs Ownlessness. Because, once again, they are wildly different problems that require very different solutions. Yes, by all means, let’s try to ensure that current and future generations have the choice to purchase their home without spending every penny they earn in the process. But let’s also focus on a framework that allows for good quality rental housing that allows people the choice without feeling inadequate – as if renters and owners are two separate classes of society. More importantly, let’s never forget that rates of actual homelessness everywhere are rising at least as quickly as house prices. And, guess who’s really losing that race?
Real Estate: Keeping It Real
Rent vs Own: The Great Debate
Do you fancy yourself a land baron or are you more of a nomad? Do you view home ownership as a security blanket or more of a burden? Listen in to this episode as Janine Harris of Keyring Media calls upon a special guest to help ignite the age old debate of renting versus owning. Real estate agent Farrell Macdonald sharpens his pencil and weighs in with some perspectives he has gleaned from clients out there in the marketplace.
5 thoughts on “Homeless vs Ownless: Two Solitudes”
Very insightful, Farrell. I always enjoy reading your perspective. You have a remarkable talent for storytelling. Thanks for sharing. Shelley
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Thank you kindly Shelley! Coming from you, this is quite an accolade 🤩
I read an article a long while ago about European renting. It explained that a family could rent the same home for many, many years because in Europe the property was passed down for generations and not sold as it was never considered an investment property. We don’t have that mentality or culture here. Many Landlords hold investment properties for the sake of building a portfolio. It is less and less desirable to consider it a long term investment as we see them renovate to sell or buy more according to the marketplace. It’s more so prospecting with the benefit of a Tenancy.
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Congratulations on your new position. I agree with most of what you write. After owning five homes my wife and I are now happy renters again. We love the place we rented and especially in Ontario, with rent controls for a lot of rental arrangements, we’re feeling good about a decision we took five years ago. It’s totally different from owning and it has its own pluses and minuses. We think the plus-side has it for us at this time of our lives.
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Thank you Willem! I’m so thrilled you are happy in your new place and will be forever grateful you trusted me to help with the transition. Your art work still adorns our home and I think of your last house fondly every time I see it…