Slim bridge between Toronto’s two solitudes [housing the poor]

Posted on January 17, 2011 in Inclusion Debates

Source: — Authors: – opinions/editorialopinion
Published On Mon Jan 17 2011.   By Carol Goar Editorial Board

One of the reasons influential Torontonians seldom speak out about poverty is that they don’t see it.

They live in upscale neighbourhoods, socialize with people who are financially comfortable, take their cars to work and shop where everybody has money.

Even if they drive through a “high needs” neighbourhood, they don’t see the need. From the outside, the crowded, cockroach-infested apartments that house the poor don’t look bad. The tenants don’t beg or scrawl graffiti all over the place.

There are very few bridges between the two worlds.

The United Way is one. Its fundraising team includes the chief executives of Toronto’s leading corporations and public institutions. Its 1.5 million clients include the city’s poorest, more vulnerable residents.

The charity has always taken its major donors on tours of the health and social agencies it supports. But this year, it is going a step further. It is taking opinion leaders on tours of the inner suburbs — neighbourhoods such as Weston-Mt. Denis and Rexdale — to show them what poverty looks like and how it is eroding the city.

The stereotypes of the ’60s and ’70s no longer fit. Most low-income residents don’t live in decrepit boarding houses or inner city tenements. They live in privately owned apartment buildings built 50 years ago.

In their day, these highrises were decent — sometimes even desirable — places to live. Some had swimming pools, tennis courts, party rooms and playgrounds.

Today, their amenities are paved over or boarded up. They accommodate three or four times as many people as they were meant for. The elevators and plumbing break down constantly. Tenants fight a never-ending battle with cockroaches, bedbugs and mice. They’re afraid to let their kids go out after dark.

The United Way depicts this reality in graphic detail in its latest report, Vertical Poverty. It shows how Toronto’s pockets of poverty have spread, now forming a ring around the city core. It urges the city, the province and the federal government, along with the private sector and community agencies to rehabilitate these apartment towers, which not only pose risks to residents but to the vitality of Canada’s largest city.

“We believe we’re at a tipping point,” warns United Way president Susan McIsaac. “The great risk to the future prosperity of our city is neighbourhood decline and disinvestment.”

But a report, no matter how strongly worded, doesn’t have the same impact as seeing poverty up close.

“Until a person can experience the neighbourhood environment, it’s difficult to understand the challenges faced by people living there,” says Scott Perchall, the agency’s vice-president of communications.

The United Way needs informed corporate champions. The non-profit sector can’t fight this battle alone. It has tried for a decade.

The recommendations in Vertical Poverty echo the proposals of anti-poverty activists and social agencies. The report calls for a national housing strategy; an Ontario Housing Benefit to help low-income tenants stave off eviction; an increase in funding for non-profit housing; a zoning amendment requiring developers to include affordable housing in residential highrises; a public investment in retrofitting aging apartments and an industry-government task force to tackle the problem of chronic elevator breakdown.

In an era of retrenchment, this is going to be a hard sell.

Mayor Rob Ford has already cut $100,000 from the city’s tenant defence fund. Premier Dalton McGuinty’s long-promised housing blueprint, released in November, contained no money for new social housing or rent subsidies. And Prime Minister Stephen Harper has spurned countless requests for a national housing strategy.

The United Way has made a compelling case. Now comes the tough part: mobilizing Torontonians to lift its message off the page.

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4 Responses to “Slim bridge between Toronto’s two solitudes [housing the poor]”

  1. Howard says:

    Tenant Defence Fund Budget Cut

    On February 24th, 2011 City Council passed the new budget for the City, including a cut to the Tenant Defense Fund of $100,000 a fund that provides essential services to poor tenants. $25,000 was cut from the grant money that tenants can access in order to challenge above guideline rent increases, demolitions, and conversions, and $75 000 was cut from the tenant education and support services offered by the FMTA. The cuts will result in a reduction in services provided by each branch of the FMTA, that is, the Tenant Hotline, the Outreach and Organizing Team, and the Tenant Education Project.

    Of the 45 city councilors, 23 supported the heartless cuts while 22 voted to keep the funding for providing these necessary city services.

    Voting against the cuts and defending tenants rights:
    Maria Augimeri, Ana Bailão, Shelley Carroll, Raymond Cho, Janet Davis, Glenn De Baeremaeker, Sarah Doucette, John Filion, Paula Fletcher, Mary Fragedakis, Mike Layton, Chin Lee, Josh Matlow, Pam McConnell, Mary-Margaret McMahon, Joe Mihevc, John Parker, Gord Perks, Anthony Perruzza, Jaye Robinson, Adam Vaughan, Kristyn Wong-Tam

    Voting to cut essential services to the poor and tenants:
    Paul Ainslie, Michelle Berardinetti, Josh Colle, Gary Crawford, Vincent Crisanti, Mike Del Grande, Frank Di Giorgio, Doug Ford, Rob Ford, Mark Grimes, Doug Holyday, Norman Kelly, Gloria Lindsay Luby, Giorgio Mammoliti, Peter Milczyn, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Ron Moeser, Frances Nunziata (Chair), Cesar Palacio, James Pasternak, David Shiner, Karen Stintz, Michael Thompson

    Make sure if your councillor was part of this attack on tenants than your neighbors know about this.

    Contact the enemies of tenants and get your friends to do the same to let them and their people know we won’t put up with this attack on the poor. You can find the contact info on these slimy politicians here

  2. Marque says:

    The city’s right wing auditor Jeffrey Griffiths is behind this and we know he wants to kill all necessary services for the poor and tenants.

    We need to get this bastard fired.

    Email him at or call him at 416-392-8461 and let him know we won’t stand for this!

  3. Geordie says:

    The city is considering gutting much of the Tenant Defense fund the only thing preventing many poor tenants from homelessness.

    We all need to be calling our city councillors today to demand no cuts to this and other essential tenant programs.

    You need to call today. Call 311 and demand to talk to your city councillor personally. Don’t talk to a secretary demand to talk to your councillor as is our right! Also call up Rob Ford 416-397-FORD (3673) Let them know we will be protesting at city hall and if they force us at their homes before they make these cuts that will leave thousands of poor helped every year become homeless

    The mean spirited landlord group the Greater Torotno Apartmnt Association takes the money they extort from our overpriced rents and uses our own money to lobby against us. This is from there June 2010 magazine Building Blocks.
    Tenant Defence Fund. In 2000, City Council created the “Tenant Defence Fund” of $150,000 per year to fund tenant disputes on above the guideline (AGI) rent increase applications and $150,000 a year to the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations (FMTA) to advocate. Despite the original concept of the program it has morphed into whatever the politicians serving on the Committee want it to be. This is a very “political” fund and needs to be reigned in.
    Recommendation: commit to a full review of this program and possibly ending it

    We need to be protesting any cuts to these essential tenant programs at City Hall. We should also protest the
    Greater Toronto Apartment Association
    20 Upjohn Road, Suite 103 
Toronto, ON M3B 2V9 

    Phone: 416 385 3435 
Fax: 416 385 8096


    It is the lowest of the low to take money out of our mouths and then use it to try to put us all into the poorhouse.

  4. Marque says:

    This is our chance to defeat Rob Ford now and make him a lame duck for the next 4 years.

    If councillors think they will lose the next election over this issue they will quickly switch sides and vote against the extremist right wing agenda of Ford and his small group of hardliners.

    Call Mayor Ford at 416-397-FORD (3673) and email him at and contact other city councillors to demand that they not only don’t cut the Tenant Defense Fund but increase it due to the rapidly rising rates of rent increases since the recession that are causing widespread economic evictions of the poor, visible minorities, disabled and elderly.


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