I’ve just finished reading Ricardo Tranjan’s The Tenant Class (2023, Between the Lines), already a bestseller. Sample quote:
“Markets are doing what markets do: transfer money from workers to the capital-owning class. As far as the landlord class is concerned, the rental market is working just fine.” (p23)
Tranjan notes several steps in framing housing as an unsolvable crisis. We have created a group of working class people that is economically exploited and treated as inferior and who have no other choice but to pay more than they can afford for a basic human need: shelter. Most renters don’t fall into the categories of aspiring homeowners or living in poverty, but tenants are often misrepresented in the media and culture.
We have removed the people and processes causing the problem and instead claimed it is “nobody’s fault”; and Tranjan argues that framing the issue as affordability, which implies no fault, skims over the fact that landlords charging rents that are too high and governments who refuse to regulate this are in fact the problem. Using the threshold of 30% of a household’s pre-tax income has become the standard–but it was 10% during the post-war decades and has only shifted to benefit landlords. Rents also increase at much faster rates than inflation, even in small cities like St. John’s and Lethbridge. When the shelter-to-income ratio is discussed, rent supplements for tenants help address the problem of tenants not making enough income, not the problem of landlords making too much profit. National Housing Strategy programs tend to supplement private developers and to a much smaller extent, renters through supplements.
Tranjan’s book dispels other key myths that we see in media reports on housing: that renting is a phase that people grow out of, renters don’t pay property taxes, most tenants don’t work, and most would do anything to buy a home. Also on the landlord side: that most are small “mom and pop” landlords who barely make a profit. Notably, Tranjan also presents some notable wins that tenants have achieved over the years through organizing, protesting, and striking in Canada, including present-day efforts by Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network, Parkdale Organize (Toronto), York South-Weston Tenants’ Union (Toronto), ACORN, Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (Québec), Vancouver Tenants’ Union, Herongate Tenant Coalition (Ottawa), and West Broadway Tenants Committee (Winnipeg).
At a time when many are calling on massive changes to our housing system, The Tenant Class is worth a read–and it’s a quick one, at just over 100 pages. Find it online or hard copy here.