Jane-Finch Faces the Possibility of Life After "Priority" Status
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Jane-Finch Faces the Possibility of Life After “Priority” Status

Not everyone is convinced that changes to Toronto's "priority neighbourhoods" program will be for the better.

Teens lead a Jane's Walk tour of the Jane Finch area  Photo by ardenstreet, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Teens lead a Jane’s Walk tour of the Jane and Finch area. Photo by ardenstreet, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

As part of an attempt to update its seven-year-old “priority neighbourhoods” program, the City is developing new criteria for identifying the parts of Toronto that are most in need of government and charitable help. But residents of one neighbourhood that has benefited under the existing system are worried that their extra funding is about to disappear.

In 2005, after a summer characterized by gang violence, the City designated 13 priority neighbourhoods in places across Toronto. Each designated neighbourhood began receiving a modest amount of extra program money from the City and the provincial government, and also from charitable organizations—chiefly, the United Way.

Now, the City is consulting with residents and businesses to determine which areas will continue to be given funding under a new strategy, called Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods 2020. The shift is expected to include a name change (from “priority neighbourhoods” to “neighbourhood improvement areas”) and also a change in the geographical areas served by the program.

Community consultations are currently taking place, and it’s not yet known if there will be fewer or more neighbourhoods selected for investment. The City will make a decision after getting input from residents, businesses, and agencies.

City council is expected to make a final decision in Spring 2014, and will then set goals to be reached through targeted funding.

The new initiative has unsettled residents of the Jane and Finch community, who are concerned the priority status of their neighbourhood will be changed. A meeting held this week saw hundreds come out to protest the notion of cutting services for youth, the elderly, and families living in poverty—although, to be clear, the City hasn’t yet said it will be doing any of those things.

Members of Jane and Finch Action Against Poverty (JFAAP), a resident-led group, are concerned that if their neighbourhood loses its priority designation, the area won’t get as much investment from the City and charitable organizations.

According to the City, no decisions have been made yet.

Chris Brillinger, the City’s executive director of social development, finance, and administration, said he couldn’t confirm what’s in store.

“We will review the data and consultation results and determine how many areas should be recommended,” he said.

“This could result in the same number, a greater number, or fewer.”

He acknowledged that residents in many current priority areas are worried.

“In response to interest and concerns raised by numerous communities, we have done our best to provide additional [consultation] opportunities where possible,” he said. “Five additional consultations have been organized.”

Errol Young, a spokesperson for JFAAP, said his community is dealing with “soul-destroying poverty” and that young people facing lives in minimum-wage jobs feel hopeless, and sometimes turn to “other economies.”

He added that the high-immigrant area has a lot of people who “live on the edge.”

“There are older people in social housing, those who used to work in the garment factories, doctors from overseas, and people who gave to this city, who are all now living in poverty. There are pockets of people living alone up in boxes, 30 stories high. It’s tragic,” he said.

Young added that there is a lot of good work going on in the community, too—like an art hub for youth and seniors. Those kinds of things that would be at risk, he said, if the neighbourhood doesn’t continue to receive support from the City.

Given the issues Jane and Finch faces, it seems less likely than other neighbourhoods to face cuts.

This year, five teens were shot in the area—four of them fatally—all within within blocks of one another.

“It’s more insidious than just losing City money,” Young said.

“No one likes to be called a ‘priority neighbourhood,’ but we get more funds from groups like the United Way. That’s at risk if we are not a priority neighbourhood.”