Urbs vs. Burbs: “I live where I want, and I have peace of mind knowing I won’t default on a mortgage”

Urbs vs. Burbs: “I live where I want, and I have peace of mind knowing I won’t default on a mortgage”

Rent-for-lifer Deanne Marsh on why downtown living beats being tied down by home ownership

This Toronto couple rents a 650-square-foot apartment with an 800-square-foot yard in Baldwin Village for $2,427 a month

Who: Kyle Skillman, 37, a facilities coordinator and musician, and Deanne Marsh, 34, a TV producer
Where they live: a 650-square-foot rental with an 800-square-foot yard in Baldwin Village for $2,427 a month
Where they used to live: a 500-square-foot rental with no outdoor space in Baldwin Village for $1,000 a month
Commute now versus then: With the occasional exception, they work from home

My landlord calls me a “lifer”—a lifelong renter. Some people might see that as an insult, but I don’t. I know that renting is my key to financial freedom. In 2012, I moved into a 500-square-foot basement apartment near Kensington Market. I was starting my career as a TV producer, and it made more sense for me to live downtown, close to work assignments, than with my parents at their place in Mississauga. Plus, the rent was affordable: $1,000 a month, all in.

Related: This non-profit is seeking millions to keep Kensington Market affordable

Over time, I grew attached to the house. Our landlord is lovely, and the neighbourhood is vibrant. So, when the main-floor tenant moved out, in 2017, I jumped on the chance to take over the lease. I gained a second bedroom, which is now used as a gym-slash-office, plus access to the big backyard. Four years later, I’m still there, and my boyfriend has moved in. Here’s why I think renting is the superior option: I’m not strapped for cash, I’m using my would-be down payment to grow my investment portfolio and I have peace of mind knowing I won’t default on a mortgage.

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Because I work a lot and have a good job, people are often shocked when I say I have zero interest in buying a home in Toronto. I get it—I didn’t always think this way. When the market dipped during the pandemic, I perused listings because it felt like the adult thing to do. But, even though I could afford to buy a condo, I didn’t want to. I would like to own the kind of house we’re renting, but that’s a winning lottery ticket away. I won’t give up my current lifestyle to have just any kind of home, and I refuse to move to the suburbs. I’m a cyclist, and I like being able to walk to restaurants.

The couple's gym-slash-office inside their apartment near Kensington Market

The living room of a 650-square-foot rental with an 800-square-foot yard in Baldwin Village

There’s this platitude that renters are just throwing their money away. But don’t homeowners feel like they’re throwing their money away when their furnace stops working or their roof needs to be replaced? I save money by not having to deal with repairs or property taxes. Buying a house certainly worked as an investment strategy for people in previous decades—my parents have moved and upgraded homes three times since being married. But there are other ways to invest now. I think a lot of folks my age don’t consider options other than real estate because financial literacy is criminally under-taught in school. Our generation entered a brutal housing market without understanding the basic ins and outs.

Since shifting away from saving for a house, I’ve felt freer. I flew to Vegas recently and spent a week hiking in Zion National Park. I went to Colorado to see one of my favourite bands in concert. I have Blue Jays season tickets. I bought a really good couch. I go out for nice dinners, I get facials, I can afford to take time off between contracts if need be and I’m saving for retirement—all without being stressed about my budget.

Renting does have its challenges, of course. I wish I had a second bathroom. I live below one tenant and above another, and I rarely get to know my upstairs neighbours because the turnover is high on that unit. Unlike some renters, I’m not afraid of being renovicted—my place was recently upgraded. But my landlord could pull the trigger on that laneway house she is considering building, which would cramp my style.

Related: The average rent for a one-bedroom in Toronto is $2,481—and it’s going up

Still, I’m dead set on living downtown, and given the cost of buying, I’m dead set on renting. I don’t think home ownership is bad—I could even see myself buying a place in Central America, where houses are much cheaper, in 20 years. It’s more about realizing that home ownership isn’t the only pathway to happiness and security. Many millennials like me were born 10 to 15 years too late to benefit from an affordable housing market, so they’re approaching middle age trying to play catch-up and feeling like they’ve failed. I found another way to have the life I want, all while making good financial decisions for the future that don’t require extreme sacrifices in the present. I think I have it figured out.

The kitchen of the Baldwin Village home that the couple has been renting since 2017

Kyle Skillman, 37, a facilities coordinator and musician, and Deanne Marsh, 34, a TV producer, are rent-for-lifers in Toronto

The exterior of a Baldwin Village home that rents for $2,427 a month