By Owen Charters
On my way to the office every day, I pass by an apartment building. It seems innocuous. Lots of green space. Near a ravine. Seems reasonably well-kept (from a distance). Not far from the subway.
It’s actually part of a complex of apartments, all in a park setting. The area is called Crescent Town. Our West Scarborough Club is at the edge of Crescent Town.
Interesting sidenote: the actor Kiefer Sutherland grew up there. His parents didn’t have much money at the time (being actors—but look how that turned out for them all!).
This type of apartment building was part of a post-war boom in urban design and planning, and can be found all over Canada. Toronto has a multitude—almost 1,500—most of them in suburbs. They’re old. They need maintenance. Their systems are inefficient.
So, what’s of note about these buildings? They’re quiet, and as I said earlier, innocuous. I spent the first two years of my life in one at Jane and Finch, in Toronto. They were supposed to be the hallmark of modern living. But they aren’t anymore—they are part of a different way of living.
Canada has lots of pockets of poverty, and what’s surprising is that they are so hidden away. When we think of poverty, we think of run-down houses, cars well past their prime in driveways. Neglected neighbourhoods. That’s not actually the picture of poverty in a lot of Canada—it’s more how Hollywood depicts poverty.
Poverty lives in apartment buildings like Crescent Town. I used to volunteer door-to-door for a federal politician in Thorncliffe Park, a very high density neighbourhood in Toronto filled with these apartment buildings. The faces that answered the doors of these apartments were the face of modern poverty in Canada. Polite. Often women. Mostly recent immigrants. Not very keen to open the door to someone who was carrying a clipboard and looked like they were from the government. And usually with cleaning supplies in one hand—the apartments were mostly spotless. And full—there was often more than one face peering around the door frame.
Their lives are tough. These apartments are at the edges of transit accessibility. Infrastructure is lacking. And the average household income across Toronto Community Housing (which owns many of these apartments) is $16,000. Let’s put that number in perspective again: the LICO (low-income cut off) is a calculation of how much income a family of a certain size requires. If their income drops below this threshold, the family struggles significantly to pay for the essential necessities of life—shelter, food, etc. The LICO for a family of four is $45,700.
And the amplifying factor is that Toronto is creating neighbourhoods of poverty that are increasingly isolated from the rest of the city. From United Way’s A Tale of Two Torontos: “in 1980, there were only five very-low-income neighbourhoods and in 2015, there were 88.” The 13 highest priority neighbourhoods in Toronto are characterized by a density of post-war apartment towers.
Sadly, poverty is hidden away and it’s this lack of integration with the rest of community that exacerbates the effects of poverty. We need to start moving in the other direction. More access. More integration. More supports. More Boys & Girls Clubs. We need to reduce the isolating effects of poverty. Kiefer Sutherland currently stars in Designated Survivor, and the title might be more appropriate to him making it out of Crescent Town than his role in the show.
We’ve got some work to do.