United Way hosted a very small ‘OpenHouse’ ahead of campaign to end poverty

To illustrate just how desperate the housing crisis has become in Toronto, the United Way hosted a special “OpenHouse” during the city’s Nuit Blanche last weekend. It took place in a single parking spot, covering just 150 sq. ft.  

Created with Sid Lee, the installation was meant to show what someone making minimum wage could afford in Toronto, with the one-bedroom rental mock up listed at a hypothetical cost of $250/month, which is about what it costs to rent a parking spot in the city.

According to a real estate listing on Kijiji published two days ahead of the exhibit, the floor plan included a bedroom (a bed), dining room (a table with one chair), and living room (a chair and small rug), but no washroom or utilities. 

In absence of a toilet, the exhibit featured a plaque that read: “Many social housing units don’t include a private bathroom. As rental costs increase, many low-income residents will be forced into less livable spaces.”

The stunt illustrates the problem of increasing rental prices colliding with unbudging wages, and draws attention to the not-for-profit’s ongoing efforts to address the continuum of housing challenges in the Canadian market. 

The statistics that informed the campaign come from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board’s second quarter Rental Market Report, which states that the average rent for a one-bedroom condo in Toronto is now $2,532, up 11.6% from 2022. 

During the exhibit, the public, media and industry professionals were invited to learn about critical policy changes including rent control, inclusionary zoning, and rental unit replacement.

“As we walk through this transformed parking space, we’re not just witnessing a visual representation of the crisis; we’re seeing firsthand the housing struggle that so many in our community endure every day,” said Daniele Zanotti, president and CEO at the United Way of Greater Toronto.

The installation is followed by the organization’s annual fundraising campaign, with a goal of raising more than $110 million to support the hundreds of thousands of people in Peel, Toronto and York region who are grappling with the challenges posed by the high cost of living and the persistent issue of poverty. 

Emma Johnston-Wheeler