Is Toronto a Playground for the Rich?
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Is Toronto a Playground for the Rich?

A new panel series kicks off by looking at affordability in the city.

Photo by Bella from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Photo by Bella from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

The average price of a detached Toronto home is $1.07 million.

Household incomes in our richest neighbourhoods grew by 80 per cent over the past few decades, while they rose by just two per cent in the poorest communities.

And according to Ipsos, four in ten Torontonians are “thinking of leaving Toronto because it’s too expensive to live here.”

This Thursday, Hogtown Talks hosts their first panel discussion, entitled “Be it Resolved: Is Toronto a Playground for the Rich?,” a question that seems largely rhetorical in light of recent studies pointing to our city’s rapidly accelerating rate of income inequality—a rate that’s twice the national average.

In advance of their discussion, Torontoist spoke with panelists Andray Domise, Shawn Micallef, and Jacquelyn West about why Toronto is particularly affected by income inequality, the ramifications for our growing city, and what we as individuals can do to create a more equitable community.

In 2015, the World Economic Forum named rising inequality as the single greatest threat to the global economy, pointing to its association with poorer health and education outcomes, higher rates of mental illness and incarceration, and decreased levels of social mobility—all of which have been well documented here in Toronto.

Increased levels of inequality are a worldwide phenomenon, and can be tied to the effects of globalization and the shift towards precarious work, but Domise, an activist and writer (and sometimes-Torontoist contributor), also points to political inaction as a catalyst for Toronto’s increasing stratification. “We’ve done such a poor job of trying to expand our range of social services, or at least, trying to keep up with the growth in population,” explains Domise. “We simply aren’t willing to charge more taxes, and we aren’t looking to find new ways of raising revenue.”

Recent cuts, such as the provincial government’s to ODSB and welfare and stagnant municipal investments in subsidized childcare, will surely exacerbate the problem. However, Micallef argues the warning signs for Toronto have been there for generations: “There are four decades of reports warning of this trend, but nobody wanted to hear it. Even though the middle class was shrinking and it was getting harder for many, nobody wants to think, or admit, they’re in trouble. It’s why politicians like to talk to ‘the middle class.’ We all think we’re part of it, even if we’re working and living precariously.

“The analogy is the frog not feeling the water boiling. We are the oblivious frogs.”

Jacquelyn West, Agency Director at creative house Hermann & Audrey, also points to the disengagement that wealth inequality inspires among the general population. “I’d say that we are creating a climate where affluence and archaic bureaucracy steers growth, resists community involvement and in that, youth disengagement and apathy strengthens. We don’t believe we can impact change, especially without dollars, so we don’t even bother.”

Because of this sense hopelessness, West feels that we as citizens haven’t demanded the returns we’re owed from the city’s lucrative period of development. “Our neighbourhoods are effectively disappearing to the highest bidder. In Toronto our systems of control have not kept pace with growth, and an appetite from land-owners for quick dollar bills supersedes long-term consideration of the people who inhabit our city. We have left the design of our modern urban communities to developers who for the majority, are seeking the quickest and highest return per square foot.”

So what can Torontonians do in the face of global forces, political resistance, and a climate of apathy to slow our rate of stratification?

“One of the things people could do is push back against bad NIMBYism whenever they see it,” suggests Micallef. “Even innocuous housing developments often face lots of community resistance…though we need to fit more people in this city and very few will ever be able to afford a single family house. Defend density when you can, defend projects that will make public transit better. Usually only the NIMBYs make their voices heard.”

Domise’s succinct solution? “Elect people who actually have compassion for human beings who aren’t as rich as they are.”

“Be it Resolved: Is Toronto a Playground for the Rich?” will be held at 12 Ossington Avenue, 7 p.m. on January 14. $5 cover, with all proceeds going to the United Way.