Loneliness and Housing Affordability

Image by Kuru Selvarajah.

My marker of “making it” will be living in a home that has an abundance of natural light. It will have plants that stay nurtured, rather than withering leaves that fall from my shelf in the middle of the night — my failed attempt at purchasing company. It will have ceilings that are high enough so I don’t have to touch them every time I take my clothes off or do yoga. The sun will serve as my reminder that there is another day to confront/appreciate/experience/conquer. I won’t need two space heaters in the winter months, and I will need stand fans to help me fall asleep in the summers. I no longer will have to crouch my head down before I enter my home, and take a set of step downwards. The smoke alarm won’t go off every single time I make toast. I won’t lay in bed all day because my home is a cave, intended for hibernation and isolation.

People ask about going home for the holidays, but my mother’s home has slits for windows and a bed in the living room. The sun is evidence to life, it is the evidence of fuel, it is the evidence of a will to live. We are a family of basement apartments and elongated naps and kottu roti to go and a mother who tries to talk to family in Sri Lanka on her inconsistent sleep schedule due to overnight working hours. We deserve light. This social disconnection is beyond the confines of our “homes”, but is integrated in the housing laws of Toronto. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is infamous in Toronto, in part to the low sunlight and early sunsets during the winter months. Sunlight is linked to the secretion of serotonin, which is integral to boosting one’s mood and being calm. Imagine SAD 24/7 due to the space that you live in.

Since December 2018, one bedroom units are going for an average of $2,260, in the City of Toronto. Almost half of renters in Toronto spend more than 30% of their income on housing. This is the highest average rent in Canada, and highlights the affordability problem that forces people to reside in basements and call them homes. University of Toronto Professor, David Hulchanski, even said in a Toronto Star article, “Money buys choice. And people with the most choice are choosing to live in certain areas.” They can choose to live in the neighborhoods that they admire, as well as the types of homes that they reside in.

Affordable alternatives to residing in a downtown apartment is living further away, in the suburbs. Based on my quick scroll through Craigslist, people can pay $1,450 for a one bedroom condominium in Ajax, a stark contrast to the $2,260 average rent in downtown Toronto. Ajax is in the Durham region and 47 kilometers away from downtown Toronto. I personally know so many young folks who reside in their family homes with their parents and away from downtown, because the average price of a detached home in the GTA is $907,347 and one in Toronto is $1.35 million. They are more prone to stay in abusive situations involving their families for the sake of affordability — contributing a bit of their income to the home mortgage and having money left over to travel or save. In exchange, their parents finally have the assets that they envisioned when they first came to Canada. In response to domestic violence and human trafficking, Ontario created a portable housing benefit, which aims to ease the financial burden of victims. However, obtaining the benefit requires survivors disclose they are in a domestic violence situation. Furthermore, they may not want to risk persecution of their abuser or deal with the cultural stigmas associated with leaving partners/parents/guardians. This leaves many people in a bind of residing with their abuser due to affordability.

The suburbs are lonely, I saw a t-shirt that said “Going Ghost in the Suburbs”, and immediately thought of this notion of loneliness due to affordability. We lose human interaction for the sake of accruing capital and purchasing assets. I spoke to my cousin who used to live in her family home in Ajax, and she said that “homes are designed so that every third home is the same, it’s almost disorienting. We are all strangers on my street.”She said she never had to leave her home because the houses were so large — she could subsist in these McMansions, mass produced mini-mansions made out of poor quality materials and are knockoff mansions. For affordability, the appeal of faux-paus luxury, and the space, we live in suburbs that admonish us of human engagement and forces us to configure how to purchase a car. We are ultimately pawns in the housing market under capitalism, aiming to survive, and appearing to thrive. We are just in the same lonely abyss treading water, aiming not to add alcohol or elongated naps to the loneliness.

Due to zoning policy in suburbs that prohibit mixed use development, residents tend to need a car to access stores or other places that necessitate social interaction. When there are places of social interaction nearby, such as malls and Walmarts, parking laws require parking spaces that have the capacity to host its shoppers. Even when there are spaces of social interaction, it burdens the pedestrian with walking through mass parking lots- consumerism is constantly prioritized over accessibility for pedestrians.

There are horror stories about what people have heard coming off of or entering Union Station, the central station that hosts the GO train and GO bus, the primary methods of transit to access the suburbs of Toronto. My cousin was walking to Union Station, and told by the woman behind her “Move faster, you fat bitch.” I’ve witnessed a general trend around major cities — People are a little meaner. They have less time to wait in lines, they drive faster and more aggressively, they walk faster too, they say mean things like “move faster, you fat bitch” at the GO Station. Their leisure time is being spent commuting, and that’s not very leisurely. They consider it a part of the workday, so imagine adding three hours every day (the general time for commuting to and from Ajax) to a five day work week — That’s 60 hours of commuting a month. There is a loneliness sitting on the silent floor of the GO train in an attempt to catch up on sleep, and a unique aggression towards people who make any unnecessary sounds. There is an alienation experienced by those merely trying to make efforts of socializing during times when they’re conditioned to stay quiet. Commuting long distances also deters folks from socializing at their work or school, due to bus and train schedules, and the desire to maximally spend leisure time despite having to commute. We are surrounded by literally hundreds of bodies on carts, and yet we aim to feel warmth listening to our newly downloaded podcasts — an attempt to maximize knowledge during commutes.