No Fixed Address: How skyrocketing GTA rents left this woman an 'emotional mess'

No Fixed Address: How skyrocketing GTA rents left this woman an 'emotional mess'

Deb Hope has struggled with mental health issues for much of her life but a few years ago, she says, the uncertainty and emotional trauma of dealing with skyrocketing rents in the GTA made her "an emotional mess."

After decades of suffering, Hope, 60. was finally diagnosed with Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety and agoraphobia at the age of 53.

Finally, with the right balance of medication, she says she was coping well when she used the Ontario Disability Support Program to move into an affordable housing unit in Oshawa, Ont., in 2010.

"I got the first apartment I had ever had and I was so proud of it," she said.

But soon after she said she was met with multiple rent increases and allegations she hadn't paid rent, when she claimed she had.

Ultimately, she attempted to take the management company to court, but ended up moving out of her home prior to the conclusion of the case.

"By the time we hit court I was a mess, in June 2015. I was a mess emotionally," she said.

She spent three weeks in hospital under suicide watch and then a few months couch surfing at her son's home in Toronto.

She ended up moving out of the Greater Toronto Area altogether --- 150 kilometres north to Wasaga Beach.

Now, she lives in a little grey two-bedroom cottage behind the restaurant she works at. She pays $800 per month including utilities.

As she reflects back on her crisis following her housing ordeal, she thinks a conversation needs to happen around the mental health toll of the GTA's expensive and difficult housing market.

"Mine was a very unusual situation that never ever should have happened," Hope said. "But I can see how people could get stressed ... What I had to deal with was stress to the max."

50% of clients feel 'trapped' by housing stress, psychotherapist says

At her posh office in Bloor West Village, psychotherapist Toni Gordon says even among her more affluent clientele, 50 per cent of the people she helps now cite housing expense or instability as a major source of stress on their mental health.

It's a dramatic increase she has noticed in the last two to three years, she said.

"Toronto's housing market has become so problematic, people's choices have become diminished, so I think it compounds a sense of feeling trapped," Gordon said. "This is a relatively new phenomenon I think, but the conversation needs to happen."

Gordon said she is most commonly seeing this phenomenon in clients who already exhibit other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

The consequences, she says, affect not only individuals but also society as a whole.

"That's depriving us of sleep and depriving us of making more healthy decisions. We're missing more days at the workplace, we're showing up at the emergency room more. So that's an increase to public resources that are being doled out unnecessarily."

Housing anxiety or depression? It's not your fault 

The national campaign advocating for housing reforms, Generation Squeeze, says it's a trend to be expected with skyrocketing home prices.

The group's founder, Paul Kershaw, says many young people facing challenges finding a home in this market look at their parents at their age and realize they seemed to be further ahead. That, he says, has them asking what they're doing wrong.

"That does tend to create a whole lot of anxiety or lack of confidence that can give rise to a whole range of mental ill-health problems," said Kershaw, who is also a professor at the University of British Columbia.

As part of Generation Squeeze's "#CodeRed" campaign, Kershaw hopes to raise awareness of the mental health struggles, particularly of millennials dealing with housing instability in greater numbers.

"And if it's not the individual's fault that these things have happened, then we can help people move from a place of uncertainty about their own potential failing to say, 'Oh it's not me, there's something bigger going on."

Examining the mental health toll of Toronto's skyrocketing housing market is one part of CBC Toronto's No Fixed Address series. Join the debate and discussion on our Facebook page: Toronto Housing Woes.