New Poverty Reduction Strategy Confronts Old Challenges
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New Poverty Reduction Strategy Confronts Old Challenges

Residents at a poverty reduction meeting want to see action on transit, child care, and affordable housing.

Participants at a recent City of Toronto poverty reduction meeting  Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto

Participants at a recent City of Toronto poverty reduction meeting. Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Low-income Torontonians need better transit, more affordable housing, and more accessible child care, according to approximately 50 participants at last night’s City-sponsored poverty reduction consultation. The session was the first of eight across the city that will inform phase two of TOProsperity, a poverty reduction strategy led by councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale). The City is working to complete the strategy before the 2016 budget process.

“I want Torontonians to know that poverty is everyone’s business,” McConnell told Torontoist at the Rexdale Hub near Kipling Avenue and Finch Avenue. “We know what the issues are, we’ve done consultations. This is really about finding solutions and a road map.” McConnell acknowledged that many of the issues raised in phase one of the consultations—more subsidized child care spaces, higher rates of social assistance, and better job-bridging programs for newcomers—have been studied at length by City staff. But she argued that a proposed $25 million in the 2015 budget to reduce poverty shows council is getting the message.

Residents filled out a questionnaire, and engaged in group discussion with moderators as staff took notes. Many cited the poor Canadian economy as the major culprit in enduring poverty. “Prices are going up day by day—for example TTC, hydro, cable, internet—but our salaries are not rising any more,” remarked Deva Dondapaty, a middle-aged resident who has worked providing services to new immigrants. A resident named Michael said he was hearing too many conversations about inequality, rather than poverty. “The entire economy is getting poorer. You could totally eliminate inequality and we would still be poor,” Michael said.

The City’s 2014 employment survey notes a long-term trend towards part-time employment: “The proportion of jobs that are categorized as part-time have increased steadily over thirty years. In 1984, only 11.4% of Toronto’s jobs were part-time while in 2014, 23.2% are defined as part-time employment.” The Toronto Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy 2020, an extension of the old “priority neighbourhoods” strategy, cites “unnecessary, unfair, and unjust differences faced by neighbourhood residents” in economic opportunity, social development, healthy lives, participation in decision-making, and physical surroundings. The 2020 strategy notes that residents on the lower end of these benchmarks are more likely to be visible minorities, and the vast majority of low-income neighbourhoods are located in the former boundaries of Scarborough, York, North York, and Etobicoke.

Rexdale resident Amina Jama came to the meeting with particular concerns about housing. “A lot of communities here live well below the poverty line,” Jama said. “It’s not that people lose housing or go to shelters willingly, it’s because they don’t have access to affordable housing.” Jama also noted the importance of focusing on equity rather than equality. “I would like them to help the poor first, not go from the top down.” She added that the City should immediately move to reduce its waiting list for affordable housing of nearly 170,000 people, as of late 2014.

Although Mayor John Tory has insisted that tax increases be kept to a minimum, McConnell expressed confidence that the eventual strategy will be properly funded in the 2016 budget. “I take the mayor at his word—he asked me to develop this strategy, he supported me,” McConnell said. She applauded Tory for proposals to provide free TTC for children under 12 and expand free recreation programs in some community centres. “I know poverty is the business of this mayor, and it should be,” said McConnell.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy will unfold throughout 2015, and council will have the opportunity to amend the final strategy before approving it.

CORRECTION: 3:23 PM This article incorrectly stated that Pam McConnell represents Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale. She represents Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale. This article mistakenly used the word “poverty,” not “inequality,” in a quote attributed to Michael. The changes have been made, and we regret the errors.