Listen to our new podcast Housing & Health: Unlocking Opportunity, which explores how housing affects the health of the people living in Toronto.

The built environment means the buildings, transportation systems, energy systems, open space, and agricultural lands that make up and support our communities.

  • Street design, bike lanes and sidewalks; housing types and neighbourhood design; patterns of development; the provision of trees, parks, green space and recreational facilities; and the location of jobs, schools and services are all important components of the built environment.
  • The built environment can have a significant impact on human health because it can influence people’s levels of physical activity; the safety of travel; the quality of outdoor air; access to jobs and services; and opportunities for social interaction and recreation.
  • This describes how human health is affected by a broad suite of factors including: income, education, employment, food security, quality of housing, transportation services, and access to health services.
  • People who live on low incomes have a greater chance of developing a chronic disease or being injured. They are also more likely to live in neighbourhoods with greater exposure to traffic, and less access to healthy foods, parks, trails, green space, and good transit service; factors which increase their risk of illness and injury.

Housing and Health: Unlocking Opportunity is a podcast series about housing in Toronto and how it affects the health of the people that live here.

Housing is a significant social determinant of health. Policies and decisions made in the area of affordable housing can have a profound impact on population health. Housing policies and program interventions are needed to increase the supply, the repair and the maintenance of affordable, supportive, accessible and permanent housing, where people can live free from discrimination.

Toronto Public Health interviewed Torontonians about their experiences with various housing issues to illustrate the impacts of housing on health and well-being.

Episode Descriptions

Episode 1: Housing and Health

Read a transcript of this episode here.

This episode provides background on how housing impacts health and identifies the populations most at risk of experiencing housing challenges in Toronto. It describes the historical context of Toronto Pubic Health’s role in housing and sets the stage for describing housing issues currently being experienced by Toronto residents. The episode features excerpts from Dr. Eileen de Villa, the City of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.


Episode 2: Ashley

Read a transcript of this episode here.

Ashley is a young single mother of a toddler, who has been living in subsidized housing in Toronto. This episode explores how poor building and neighbourhood conditions have an impact on Ashley’s and her son’s physical safety and mental health. Alice Gorman, former Manager in the Child Health and Development Directorate at Toronto Public Health, comments on the importance of stable and safe living environments for healthy child development.

Episode 3: Renel & Quill

Read a transcript of this episode here.

In this episode we hear from Renel and Quill, people who have experienced discrimination and mistreatment in the housing system because of their gender, sexual, cultural and/or racial identities. This episode provides examples of the compounded disadvantage experienced when a person has one or more marginalized identities and how that intersects with access to housing. This episode features commentary from Clare Nobbs, the former Director of Transitional Housing at EGALE Canada Human Rights Trust.

Episode 4: John

Read a transcript of this episode here.

John, a single man in his early fifties who lives with his brother in their childhood home, reveals the economic hardship that can result from intergenerational poverty and adverse life events, and how these can lead to housing instability and energy insecurity. John’s story shows how housing instability contributes to emotional and mental stress, and negatively affects quality of life.

Episode 5: Bindu

Read a transcript of this episode here.

Bindu is a lone parent of three children who works part-time in a low-wage job in Toronto. This episode explores how longstanding housing unaffordability, instability and overcrowding have impacted her and her family and features commentary from Alice Gorman, former Manager in the Child Health and Development Directorate at Toronto Public Health.

Episode 6: Conclusion

Read a transcript of this episode here.

The series concludes with interviews from several people working to understand and improve the housing situation in Toronto:

  • Professor Jim Dunn (Chair of the Department of Health, Aging & Society, Director of the McMaster Institute for Healthier Environments)
  • Chris Phibbs (Director Social Policy, Analysis & Research, Social Development, Finance & Administration division, City of Toronto)
  • Sean Gadon (Interim Executive Director of the Housing Secretariat, City of Toronto)

The interviews discuss the relationship between housing and health, the municipal housing initiatives currently underway, as well as the federal response. The episode also features excerpts from Dr. Eileen de Villa, the City of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.

Related Housing Reports

Healthy Streets: In 2014 TPH compiled health evidence for Complete Streets and produced three reports:

“Getting our Neighbourhoods Moving” Active Transportation Demonstration Projects (2014):

Why nature matters to health

Abundant, diverse and well maintained green spaces are important features of a healthy city. Three reports released in September 2015 describe the many health benefits of green space:

These reviews fill a gap in the understanding of the relationship between green space and human health and highlight the importance of continued investments in Toronto’s natural heritage.

Artificial turf is increasingly being used in places like sports fields, child care facilities and streetscapes. Toronto Public Health completed a health impact assessment to better understand the potential implications of this increase in use.