Marina Anderson: What life is like in Toronto’s ‘ghosts’

(CNN) — There are lots of young people living in Toronto these days, but they’re fighting a steady stream of restrictions on who can move in. It’s normal to find seniors, too, living in…

Marina Anderson: What life is like in Toronto's 'ghosts'

(CNN) — There are lots of young people living in Toronto these days, but they’re fighting a steady stream of restrictions on who can move in.

It’s normal to find seniors, too, living in Toronto apartments that are owned by someone else and can’t possibly sell to you. Or you can rent, but only from a family member.

They want housing but are thwarted by all those barriers to entry.

Shawn Micallef, in his debut novel, “Ghosts of Mount Pleasant,” shifts perspectives to explore many of these issues.

The story is set on the east side of Toronto, north of the Royal York Hotel and the McMichael Museum of Canadian Art. Lots of people live there, including religious groups and refugee families. But in the story we see that residents also have mostly a steady old face.

Of course, in your life, and in mine, it’s easier to attract new people with a fresh face than to even ask for folks to move in.

But Toronto is at something of a tipping point, due in large part to the economic decline of its industrial businesses and the period of strong investment in real estate that preceded that.

I think that’s why housing is scarce: An old way of doing things is being replaced by a new way of doing things. And many old ways are used by a small number of people with large investment portfolios. But while they may enjoy their homes and their wealth, many others do not.

Housing is an issue that’s often overlooked in the midst of economic issues, but there’s plenty of evidence that Toronto is in a housing affordability crisis. One of the suggestions I make in the book is that we need to place real estate shortages in the context of a larger problem.

Urban areas may have lots of people living there but if they’re being kept out due to housing shortages, those people will not be able to buy many kinds of goods in local shops. It would also translate into less consumer spending in the local community, which might hold back other economic activities.

The largest group of people on my street weren’t home the other night. I felt bad for the city’s tech workers and those who work for the bank but also the people who work in the two local houses for which I pay $1,500 per month, about $120,000 a year.

I like being there, and I want to remain a good neighbor, but if I could spend more of my income on housing, I’d save more for savings.

And if the economy booms, and incomes rise faster than housing prices, then others who want to buy won’t be priced out, and they might even get a glimpse of the stories behind the peephole in the front door, along with people who don’t yet have one.

That’s not to say that only young people are to blame for the local housing shortage. People who have lived in Toronto for long periods of time have to look at it and wonder why so many have moved out.

The book is about the roller coaster of identity amid all the noise, but I couldn’t resist adding a throwaway line about closing my curtains in the night to quietly listen to the barking of dogs at my local estate sale.

So, in the end, what I love about my neighborhood is that it looks exactly the same as it has since the war and even before. It doesn’t need a lot of change. And it seems OK with me.

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