When she prepares a meal for her family, Martha Lozada has to negotiate her way around her teenage son’s bed.
A makeshift curtain across the kitchen’s entrance barely serves as a privacy screen for Rafi, 14, and does little to shield his ears from the clinking and clanging in the kitchen.
Her two children used to share a room in their two-bedroom Flemingdon Park apartment, but now, with both having hit puberty, her son stays in the living room while her 16-year-old daughter occupies the second bedroom.
“I want to move into a bigger apartment, but I’m not able to do it because it’s too expensive,” Lozada said. “My son has to stay in the living room.”
Lozada’s family lives in what Statistics Canada classifies as unsuitable housing — lacking enough bedrooms for the number of people it houses.
Some 36 per cent of households living in one-bedroom dwellings in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are not suitably housed, according to Statistics Canada data in a recent study from Malone Given Parsons, a planning consultant firm.
The figure dips to 21 per cent for those like Lozada, living in two-bedroom accommodations.
Housing suitability refers to whether a private household is living in appropriate accommodations, according to the National Occupancy Standard. Developed by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, the suitability requirement hinges on whether the dwelling has enough bedrooms for size and composition of the household, and assesses the required number of bedrooms per household based on the age, sex and relationships among household members.
Lozada, 50, who works at the Flemingdon Park Ministry, relocated here from the U.S. in 2009 with her husband and two children. They have lived in the same St. Dennis Dr. apartment since.
Lozada’s living conditions aren’t uncommon in Flemingdon Park, where affordability is a key hurdle to appropriate housing, says Rev. Beverley Williams, executive director of Flemingdon Park Ministry.
“This is 100 per cent what we’re seeing,” Williams said. “I see cases where a one-bedroom apartment is all they can afford, but they’re a family of six.”
Williams, whose ministry runs a host of programs including a community drop-in centre in Flemingdon Park, says she’s witnessed varying degrees of unsatisfactory housing.
“I know of one family where the parents were sleeping on the floor of the dining room on a mattress and the one bedroom is where all the children were,” she said.
Williams said the bulk of residents in unsuitable housing live in low-income and rental housing, filled largely with refugees, immigrants and the working poor.
But the unsuitable tag isn’t limited to the confines of Toronto’s marginalized communities.
Planner Matthew Cory, a downtown Toronto condo-dweller who is the lead contributor to the MPG study, titled Greater Toronto and Hamilton and Area Land Supply Analysis, says his own living arrangement could be deemed unsuitable.
“I’m technically in that situation, because I live in a one-bedroom-and-den downtown and I have two kids,” Cory said. “Technically I should have at least two bedrooms.”
Cory said Lozada’s dilemma is a more severe case of ill-suited accommadations.
“If people choose to be, like me, in that category, that’s fine,” Cory said. “If you have no choice — that’s not good.”
The National Occupancy Standard stipulates that there should be no more than two persons per bedroom. Children less than five years of age of different sexes may reasonably share a bedroom; Children five years of age or older of opposite sex should have separate bedrooms; Children less than 18 years of age and of the same sex may reasonably share a bedroom; and single household members 18 years or older should have a separate bedroom, as should parents or couples.
Using this measure, households that would require at least one additional bedroom are experiencing some degree of overcrowding.
The problem is more common among those who rent, according to another study by the Evergreen Housing Action Lab’s Missing Middle Working Group.
That study, also released this week, based on census data and numbers from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., found the number of households in unsuitable housing to be 31 per cent for those who rent, three times higher than those who own, at 8 per cent.
“There are a lot of people in our city who are living in unsuitable housing,” said Michelle German of Evergreen, a housing-focused non-profit organization. “The burden is heaviest for those living in rental accommodations and it’s heaviest for families.”
Both Cory and German said much of the problem delves from a deficiency in the right mix of housing-types, sizes and available locations in the city.
German hopes the study will spur “gentle density” in the way of laneway housing, secondary suites, six-plexes: different forms that meet the wide range of needs.
“Our most vulnerable communities and families are experiencing this at higher rates — the solutions should be geared toward our most vulnerable communities,” German said.
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Jason Miller is a general assignment reporter with the Toronto Star.