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Karen Russell says she is not worried about leaving her home on the southern end of Toronto, where she lives with her parents and sister on her mother’s land.

Ms. Russell’s parents bought a two-bedroom home that could be subdivided for small units in 2003, and now live in one smaller suite that looks out over farmland.

As her parents struggle with debt, Ms. Russell is not feeling as worried about leaving the family home. “I don’t want to go back to the house where they are living and having to get up early to get to work at 8 a.m.,” she says with a sigh. “They would never know when my mom woke up.”

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The 30-year-old is among almost 50,000 Ontario tenants who are living in substandard housing. Over the last four years, Toronto’s city hall has spent more than $2-billion on more subsidized housing than it did on subsidized housing through the private sector. But the system is woefully inadequate to accommodate everyone, say critics.

“Nobody understands how many of these families are in that situation,” says Doug Norris, a former NDP member of Parliament who is now a lobbyist against subsidized housing. “They can’t afford more than three or four months’ rent.”

In Toronto, where a couple’s combined rent equates to about $1,900 per month, subsidized housing has made up a big part of the city’s affordable housing policy. But the problem is that many of the people in the system, like Ms. Russell, don’t really live in the city.

“Nobody knows how to live anywhere,” says