New condominium developments have been popping up all over the downtown core with those who possess a high income in mind. But there is another condo market developing quietly in Toronto. Recent downsizing in the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) has led to the creation of numerous mixed-income housing projects. The goal of the Rob Ford administration is to remove the stigma of living in government housing. No longer will ‘these people’ be shoved into Toronto’s ‘ghetto-ized’ communities.
However, I am forced to ask: does this really work?
Will this do anything to actually ameliorate the poverty in Toronto?
It is a troubling feature of many large North American cities that the last quarter century of capital development has contributed to a sense of social isolation. We develop separate spaces for people of varying household incomes, places dedicated to senior citizens, singles’ communities, and much, much more.
Most concerning about this trend is the isolation of those living in poverty. We have constructed entire communities wholly populated by people who live there for no other reason than they cannot afford to live elsewhere. These are ghettos defined by poverty, and sometimes race, and marked by sub-par public services and facilities, as well as limited opportunity for jobs, recreation, and education.
As such, it makes sense for the decision makers in the Mayor’s office to attempt to recapture much of the social diversity that is so important to what Torontonians mean when they say “urban”. A key aspect to this is a policy the Mayor has long supported, where residents of low-income families and neighbourhoods are given the opportunity to receive rent subsidies so that they may be used in middle-income neighbourhoods.
The alternative approach has been the plan that the Mayor has actually chosen to implement; that of redeveloping public housing projects to turn them into mixed-income neighbourhoods. Most notably, we see this occurring in Regent Park, best known as Canada’s first public housing neighbourhood.
Proponents of mixed-income housing have offered numerous reasons why mixed-income neighbourhoods are better for low income individuals and families. Their reasons include: a middle-class presence can build social capital, provide salutary role-models, deter criminals, and make it more likely that a good level of public services and facilities will be provided by local government.
However, opponents are critical of the notion that these programs deprive already distressed neighbourhoods of their most capable residents, on the grounds that it is they who are most likely to be motivated or able to take advantage of opportunities to move elsewhere. Opponents believe this contributes to gentrification and displacement of the poor.
Both arguments are valid. However, they also both ignore the fact that these programs actually do very little to pull people out of poverty. There may be the potential to remove the stigma put on individuals by living in poverty stricken communities. However, issues related to poverty cannot truly be solved by adjusting the tenancy of a handful of TCHC buildings. There is an urgent need for government to address the issues of hopelessness and drowning that comes with poverty. Part of this is embracing the fine work being done by municipal corporations like the TCHC.