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Lexy Rhynold initially had to drive 60 kilometres each way for the nursing job her sister helped her find in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the cost of gasoline eating into her monthly budget, the 26-year-old says that by late last year, she had no choice but to move out of her parents’ home in Bowmanville on the eastern outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area and into her sister’s basement in Lindsay to help make ends meet.

While the job on a surgical unit that also deals with the town’s COVID patients is technically part-time, Rhynold has been doing at least six 12-hour overnight and weekend shifts every two weeks since she started there in February 2021. She added a seventh about five months ago.

“I have to work more than mentally I can cope with,” she said in an interview. “I'm torn between ‘I have to pick up this many shifts to afford things,’ but also my mental state is on its last string.”

Her predicament is not uncommon, with stagnant wages and precarious work coupled with high-cost housing and a steep rise in the cost of food and other goods squeezing many young people in the province.

House prices and rents in Ontario have become more unaffordable in the past two years than in any other recent two-year period anywhere in the country, a report from Generation Squeeze found.

The Ford government seeking re-election on June 2 removed some rent control rules early in its first term and released a housing plan in early April focused on speeding up municipal approval of housing developments. It ignored the recommendations of its own task force, which included setting a target of 1.5 million new homes built in Ontario over the next decade — double the current pace of construction — and more density in neighbourhoods with single-family homes.

The NDP has promised to build 250,000 affordable housing units, make it harder to “renovict” a tenant and hit that 1.5-million home target, as did the Liberals, who also say they will ban "new non-resident" homeownership, tax empty homes and bring in provincewide rent control. The Greens promise to spend $5 billion over 10 years for a green building program and to build 100,000 affordable rental units.

Vee Merianos is fortunate their father helped support them financially through university but worried they might have to move from Toronto to a smaller city accessible to it by GO Transit, such as Oshawa, once bills start stacking up.

Students and workers early in their careers often face the worst effects of Ontario’s affordability crisis, with home ownership well out of reach for most and steep rents and the rising cost of food, gasoline and other costs squeezing budgets.

“Oh, I'm always terrified,” said 22-year-old Merianos, who recently graduated. “I'm going to have to start paying rent. I'm going to have to like, probably start paying more it's been kind of a lot of pressure.”

For members of a weekly focus group that youth advocacy group Future Majority is running during the provincial election campaign, it is access to training and job opportunities that is holding them back.

“Sometimes, people want to shift gears and go in a different direction, but when you have already invested so much time, money, effort and resources into college and university, it can be difficult,” said one participant. “We need more affordable higher education.”

Another said there should be more incentives for employers to hire for entry-level positions “so that there is less risk for the business to take on more inexperienced people while ensuring that young people are still able to be paid the wages that they need in order to get ahead.”

For Rhynold and her partner, who works in Scarborough and lives in Newcastle, the budgetary arithmetic is such that neither expects to be able to buy a home in the near future.

“We've both kind of given up the idea that it would be any time soon unless the market crashes,” she said.

Starting a family has also been taken off the table.

“I don't think we could afford a kid, we can't even afford a home,” she said. “I don’t feel comfortable bringing a child into this world knowing they might not have a chance to make it.”

Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

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