Soon after he got a job as a furniture salesperson earlier this year, Jack Hall moved out of his parents’ house, to which the 27-year-old had returned at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and into a shared townhouse in Burlington, Ont., with two other young men.
But having given up on the prospect of buying property in the Toronto area and struggling to save money even with his frugal lifestyle, Hall is now looking to leave the country entirely.
“I've actually been talking to my father, who's got contacts in Australia, New Zealand and Ireland, and I’m thinking of just straight-up leaving the country because it’s become unviable for people my age,” he said. “Not unviable, like we can live here, but it's worthless to live here.”
Hall is part of a growing trend of people living in shared accommodation, with the number of households composed of roommates — defined as two or more people living together who are not partners, children, parents or grandparents to each other — growing by 54 per cent from 2001 to 2021, according to census data released by Statistics Canada last month.
The portion of all Canadians living in such arrangements is still small — the more than 660,000 such households account for just four per cent of the national total. But when it comes to the living situation of 20- to 34-year-olds, shared accommodation makes up 15 per cent of the total, up from 11 per cent in 2011.
Young adults live with roommates for financial support because of a lack of affordable alternative housing options either by choice, for companionship and emotional support or for other reasons, the statistics agency said.
It’s certainly a financial decision for Hall, who says he has little left at the end of each month and dips back into debt when unexpected expenses arise.
“The cost of gas, car insurance, groceries, rent, utilities, internet, cellphone bill, tenant’s insurance, it spreads my paycheque pretty thin,” he said. “But if I'm careful and just keep an eye on expenses, hopefully I can keep my head above water, but, you know, it's been going above and below the water back and forth for two years now.”
The jump in prices for food, fuel, transport and a range of other basic and discretionary goods this year has put further strain on Hall’s budget and forced him to cut back on consumption.
That means not accepting every invitation to go out, he said, since “the cost of alcohol out there is a completely unessential expense,” barely eating meat at all and buying and eating less food overall.
The number of roommate households has grown faster than any other living arrangement in Canada over the last decade, census data shows, and with home ownership in the Toronto area a distant dream, some young people are looking abroad.
“With groceries, I’ve just started eating less, preparing what meals I need to be healthy but not buying a whole bunch of stuff,” he said, adding that often means just eggs, bread and fruit.
Hall says he knows that there are many people facing tougher circumstances than his own, but he is frustrated that politicians talk a lot about addressing the problems of affordability without taking steps to fix them.
“I’m talking to a generation of people who don’t care.”
Morgan Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer