Research by private, nonprofit and academic groups reveals increasing income inequality across Canada. TD Bank’s study The Case for Leaning Against Income Inequality demonstrates that income inequality is rising in Canada and warns that the trend threatens economic growth. In 2014, an analysis of Statistics Canada Data by the Broadbent Institute showed that wealthiest 10% of Canadians control 48% of the country’s wealth while the poorest 10% became more indebted between 2005 and 2012.
Moreover, in 2010, University of Toronto researchers released Three Cities Within Toronto, a report that identifies increasing income inequality in Toronto neighbourhoods between 1970 and 2005. The report challenges the idea that Canada is a middle class society: although in the 1970s the average income of most neighbourhoods was within 20% of the average, in 2005, more than half of neighbourhoods had an average income of 20% or more below average while the proportion of neighbourhoods with an average income 20% or more above average had also grown. The Neighbourhood Change Partnership extends this methodology to other urban areas to show that income polarization is not unique to Toronto but rather is a national trend.
Key Concept: Affordable Housing
According to the Wellesley Institute, housing is unaffordable if it consumes more than 30% of residents’ incomes. By this definition, 43.5% of rental housing in Toronto was unaffordable in 2010.
The Housing Services Corporation explains that from 1946 to 1993, the federal government, through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) was responsible for the administration and funding of social housing in Canada. This period saw significant investment in social housing including the construction of Regent Park in Toronto, Habitations Jeanne Mance in Montreal and Uniacke Square in Halifax. Although the forced displacement of residents and the segregated design of many social housing communities remain controversial, the federal government created thousands of affordable housing units in cities and towns across the country.
Starting in the 1990s, the federal government reduced its role in the management of social housing by downloading responsibilities to the provinces and territories. In 2012, over 593,000 households were assisted through a patchwork of federal, provincial/territorial and municipal programs but data on social housing and affordability is fragmented across different jurisdictions. The CMCH continues to administer approximately 20% of social housing in Canada and federal funding is also provided through the Economic Action Plan’s Investment in Affordable Housing, however total transfer payments to provincial and territorial governments have declined significantly since the 1990s.
The situation is further complicated in Ontario, where social housing was downloaded to municipalities in 2000. The Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCH) is the city of Toronto’s social housing agency. In 2013, TCH managed 94,520 units and an additional 87,303 families were on the wait list. Despite the acute need for more affordable units, TCH also faces a $914 million repair backlog and, as of January 2014, needed $2.6 billion over 10 years simply to maintain a state of good repair in existing buildings.
Key Concept: Hidden Homelessness
Raising the Roof explains that nationally, 80% of people without a place to call home do not live on the street. A variety of precarious living situations hide homelessness, including short-term stays with friends or relatives, overcrowded rental units and taking shelter in cars.
In Toronto the problem of hidden homelessness is particularly acute in suburban areas. Although the downtown core is becoming increasingly unaffordable, there is only one homeless shelter in Scarborough. Read more about hidden homelessness in the suburbs.
Research by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness indicates that although homelessness was considered a short-term problem in the 1980s, it has proved to be a systemic issue in communities across Canada. In 2013, the State of Homelessness in Canada report estimated that 200,000 Canadians access emergency housing services in a given year. The actual number of people living in precarious situations is probably much higher because the estimate does not include people who find temporary shelter with friends or relatives and do come into contact with homelessness services.
The City of Toronto manages 3,800 beds through 47 facilities operated by community organizations and 9 shelters operated by city staff. In 2013, the City estimated that approximately 5,253 people did not have a home. Of that number, almost half were on a waitlist for housing and 93% wanted permanent housing. Despite this, the number of people experiencing homelessness continues to rise and shelters operate near capacity.
Key Concept: Safe Streets Act
In 1999 the Government of Ontario passed the Safe Streets Acts, which criminalizes homelessness by ticketing panhandlers. Stephen Gaetz, director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, found that although the number of street youth engaged in panhandling declined between 1999 and 2009, the number of tickets issued increased during the same period. In 2010 alone, 15,000 tickets were issued to people who already live in extreme poverty. Read more about the Safe Streets Act.