For those of us living life in the real estate trenches of the Toronto real estate market, the state of affordability, the lack of housing supply, and the multifaceted impacts of this phenomenon are certainly evident. I comment on this regularly in my Urbaneer.com posts like Toronto Real Estate, Yellowbelt Zoning & The Missing Middle: Part One - and - Dear Urbaneer: How Can Millennials Possibly Afford To Buy Real Estate? as well as my Urbaneer Real Estate Forecasts.
It's always healthy to occasionally receive a fresh perspective that further provokes thought, and that's exactly what is offered by Fredrik Gertten’s latest documentary, Push, currently playing at Hot Docs through Thursday and across the country through the Autumn. (Here's a piece we wrote on the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Theatre and how a cinema has been featuring film in this location for over a century!)
This eye-opening (and unsettling) documentary told through the eyes of United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha, takes a hard look at the “financialization” of various housing markets around the globe. They examine and question notoriously pricey markets, like New York, London, Valepariso, Seoul, Berlin and, unsurprisingly, Toronto. The common thread? The cost of both renting and buying a home in these metros has outpaced incomes by a wide margin, effectively making the cost of housing unaffordable for many. And given that shelter is a basic human right, this documentary serves as both a wake-up call and a figurative call to arms. Have you ever walked out of a theatre and felt you needed to DO something?
What is behind the "financializing" the real estate markets? According to Farha, it is the influx of capital to these markets. Whereas housing markets have traditionally been supported by a local economy catering to an audience of local buyers, the introduction of the deep pockets of pension funds, in particular, has really reshaped many housing markets. The film refers to these investment firms and its wealthy investors as “faceless landlords”. It’s not a level playing field, which has resulted in the displacement of residents and redevelopment of new housing which isn’t affordable or serve the needs and requirements for the local community to buy or rent.
Once upon a time, 'gentrification' meant a neighbourhood had transitioned from the end of its life cycle into one of rebirth, where lower price points provide access to a market to a broader group of homebuyers (albeit not with casualties, often marginalized renters) who collectively ride the wave of price appreciation as the neighbourhood evolves into one considered more desirable over time. But this is no longer limited to neighbourhoods historically having working-class roots, and it has been demonstrated that as foreign capital enters urban centres considered increasingly desirable, the housing stock gets redeveloped for the super-rich who don't assuredly live in Toronto full-time.
Below, I share one extreme example that recounts the recent culture wars between the original Jewish Canadian establishment and the newly-arriving International elite in Toronto's tony Forest Hill neighbourhood. Even though it's home to some of the city's most affluent, to the shock and dismay of long-time residents original 1930s mansions are being purchased for $4,000,000, knocked down, and in their place monster mansions looming four floors high are being constructed a metre from the lot line, blocking their neighbour's gardens of natural light, killing established plantings, and casting all-day shadows across swimming pools. Check out the story in A $15 Million Mansion In Toronto’s Tony Forest Hill.
Although housing is arguably an investment vehicle, it is more complicated than that as this film points out. Housing provides a dual opportunity for prosperity - financially and physically as shelter. With the huge flow of capital, the financial opportunity oversteps the shelter and the socio-economic impact of housing and what it represents as part of a community. Housing becomes an investment shell in some cases (the film confirms there are empty luxury properties sitting empty in various metros, existing as a place to park capital, rather than provide local residents with ownership or rental opportunity). The suggestion here is that housing has been completely commodified.
We’ve seen a similar phenomenon in Toronto and Vancouver, where the deep pockets of foreign investment and favourable currency exchange have contributed to shrinking affordability and housing supply for local buyers. Furthermore, there is even a criminal element to it, as we’ve seen in Canada, where major loopholes in taxation and reporting have created a favourable environment for money laundering and other criminal activities through real estate. I wrote about this in Foreign Buyers, Property Prices, And Toronto Real Estate -+- Foreign Buyers, Inadequate Policy, And Canadian Real Estate - and - Canada Revenue Agency Takes Steps To Discourage Fraudulent Real Estate Activity In Canada.
What the purpose of Push, according to Farha, is to provide a narrative and context to the abstract concept of money and the market by showing the impact on people. Check out this video where Farha discusses the film. Watch the trailer too. This film poses some very important questions about the state and direction of housing globally and in Toronto.
Here is an interview with director Fredrik Gertten about the film and about Toronto’s role in it, including the impact of AirBnb : “The Tipping Point: Fredrik Gertten Talks ‘Push’ And The Global Housing Crisis”. Here is a review of Push from the Globe and Mail: “New Documentary Push Reveals That With Big Cities Comes Big Money And Bigger Problems”.
Watch the trailer here!
Push opened across Canada on July 19. Here is the cross-country schedule:
July 19 – July 26 : Hot Docs Ted Rogers Toronto
July 24: Open Roof Toronto
July 19,20,23,24,25: Vancity Vancouver
July 26 – Aug 1: Loft Cobourg
July 26 – Aug 1: Globe Calgary
Aug 3 – Aug 9: Cinema Moderne Montreal
Aug 9 – Aug 15: Screening Room Kingston
Aug 15 & 17: Princess Waterloo
Sept 19 – Sept 22: Lunenburg Doc Fest
Sept 20: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation (Cinematheque)
Nov 9: Guelph Film Festival
This film re-enforces the depth and the implications of housing markets on individuals and communities at large. If you need assistance navigating this complicated market or enjoy a good, thought-provoking housing conversation, the Urbaneer Team and I are here for you!
Are you intrigued in the many facets of housing and home in Toronto's intense real estate market? Check out The Condo Game - On Doc Zone for an amazing narrative dating from 2012.
Thanks for reading!
~ Posted by Steven Fudge, the purveyor of houseporn.ca and proprietor of Urbaneer, a division of Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage.
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