Scarborough residents have always complained of their second-class status. Some believe the burb has become little more than a fleeting afterthought post-GTA amalgamation. Now a new report by social policy expert John Stapleton confirms this might be the case.
While poverty has become endemic to North Scarborough, none of Toronto’s 31 Neighbourhood Improvement Areas (NIAs) — communities earmarked for special support to tackle youth violence, poverty and social service gaps — are located there.
To receive funding from an NIA program, policymakers calculate the average income after basic shelter costs. Yet after using this equation in more than 140 neighbourhoods within the GTA, seven in north Scarborough (north of Highway 401) have higher levels of poverty than those designated as NIAs. The result leaves many Scarborough residents feeling short-changed by the city.
“Even though northern Scarborough has seven of the poorest of Toronto’s 140 neighbourhoods, not one has an NIA designation: not Malvern, which comes in 9th poorest; neither Agincourt North (29th) nor Agincourt South-Malvern West (32); not L’Amoreaux (34th),” the report says.
Thorncliffe Park, Flemingdon Park and Black Creek — all designated NIAs — rank as the top three poorest neighbourhoods, in Stapleton’s analysis.
U of T professor David Hulchanski, who heads up the research partnership, says he hopes the analysis “helps to improve the way we target communities” for extra support.
“John is the first to acknowledge there is not enough money for those who get it,” he said. “But let’s make sure we do it a bit better.”
On the plus side, city staff at least acknowledge the limitations of the tools they have been using – and vow to leverage Stapleton’s data to bring about new decisions for those in North Scarborough next year.
But Councillor Jennifer McKelvie isn’t interested in waiting. She plans to bring a motion to council asking city staff to consider designating her Scarborough-Rouge Valley ward an NIA neighbourhood immediately.
“In the 10 months since I have been elected, I have witnessed the aspiration and resilience of the Malvern community,” said the first-term councillor in an email from Copenhagen where she is attending a municipal conference.
“However, the inherent challenges associated with having the longest commute times in the entire city, and the 9th lowest after-tax and shelter income, make it very difficult for Malvern residents to get ahead.”
For Stapleton, it’s a similar reality where he lives in the neighbourhood of Milikin.
“I see this daily: in its roads, its parks, its stores, its malls,” Stapleton wrItes in the forward to his report.
“Whether the issue is transit, bike lanes, city jobs, infrastructure development, poverty reduction, educational institutions, or affordable housing, Old Toronto is much better at taking care of itself than Scarborough,” he says.
“To me, the lack of public policy advocacy in northern Scarborough is stunning. And being a public policy advocate, I know that when policy advocacy is done well, it gets results,” he says. “Unfortunately, north Scarborough does not take care of itself. It is ineffective when it tries to fight back.”
In part, Stapleton notes that this is because of a class divide. Northern Scarborough had the lowest voter turnout in the last civic election and the highest concentration of residents who commute over an hour to work daily. It also contains the highest percentage of residents who don’t speak English or French at between 10 per cent and 49 per cent.
One resident embroiled in the situation is Bee Lee Soh, an Agincourt rooming house resident who lives on less than $300 a month after paying rent. She says her address has excluded her from participating in the Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy 2020, a multi-year effort to improve the health and wealth of the city’s poorest communities.
Part of Lee Soh’s problem is the absence of affordable housing in the neighbourhood. North Scarborough has the lowest level of subsidized housing per capita in the city, the report says. And it has the lowest level of subsidized housing of all NIAs.
“It is really frustrating,” said Soh, 58, who says she has tried for years to become a member of a local resident advisory council for the strategy.
Let’s hope Stapleton’s report redefines the NIA designations and brings relief to those far reaches of the GTA – the ones most burdened by stigma.