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AUDIO:David Hulchanski told CBC's Metro Morning on Wednesday that Toronto risks becoming increasingly divided among income lines in the next 15 years if major steps aren't taken to boost affordable housing and address inequities. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

The number of middle income neighbourhoods in Toronto has gone down dramatically over the last four decades, creating a social divide that will widen greatly in the coming years if left unaddressed, according to a new analysis of census numbers.

The analysis, published in a report released Wednesday by the University of Toronto's Cities Centre, says what are thought of as middle class neighbourhoods — defined as areas where the average individual income is within 20 per cent of the city average of $40,704 — are being squeezed out.

"It's not a theory, it's a trend," said David Hulchanski, associate director for research of the Cities Centre who wrote the report, titled Three Cities in Toronto.

"Census data from 1970 to 2005, [from] the … now famous long-form census tells us a lot about ourselves. We simply asked where was each census tract, each neighbourhood in 1970 and where is it now," he told CBC's Metro Morning Wednesday.

More low income neighbourhoods

The report found that the proportion of neighbourhoods — what Statistics Canada refers to as census tracts — considered to be middle income was 29 per cent in 2005, down from 66 per cent in 1970.

The proportion of low income neighbourhoods, meanwhile, rose from 19 per cent in 1970 to 53 per cent in 2005. Low income neighbourhoods are defined as those with average individual incomes at 20 per cent of the city average or lower.

"Poverty does not lead to violence, but it creates the preconditions for that when you have so many neighbourhoods where people feel they have no place to go," said Hulchanski. "So that is something that social scientists worry about when they look at this kind of data."

The report updates another study published by Hulchanski in 2007. The current report uses data from the 2005 census that was not available in time for the earlier version.

Tale of 3 cities

From 2001 to 2006, the trend of income and geographic polarization continued, said Hulchanski. Seven per cent of the city's 531 census tracts went down in average income, while four per cent increased in average income. 

"So the trend continues. If nothing changes, we will be a city in two halves, really," said Hulchanski.

That's a change from the city currently described in Three Cities in Toronto. The report identifies three separate categories of Toronto neighbourhoods:

  • City #1, where income increased 20 per or more since 1970. It accounts for 19 per cent of census tracts, and is generally concentrated downtown and along subway lines.
  • City #2, where income increased or decreased less than 20 per cent since 1970. It accounts for 39 per cent of census tracts and is located between City #1 and City #3.
  • City #3, where income decreased 20 per cent or more since 1970.

But if there are no major policy changes targeted at income distribution and affordable housing in the next 15 years, then Toronto will be dominated by just City #1 and City #3, Hulchanski's report says.

"This is a reasonable assumption, since neither of these changes is on the immediate horizon," the report said.

To avoid this scenario, some policies can be enacted at the municipal level, according to Hulchanski — notably, by making public transit more accessible to low-income neighbourhoods.

"The entire northern tier of our city lacks transit. Whether you call it Transit City or not, you need a plan to do that," said Hulchanski.

"And to be fair to the current administration, it's been 25 years with almost nothing happening, right? Talk, talk, talk for 25 years about doing something about transit and not being done. We finally had an announcement and now that's up in the air, of course," he said.

Subway strategy's cost unknown

New Mayor Rob Ford has called for the cancellation of Transit City, the city's light rail plan, in favour of a strategy that focuses on adding subway lines. It's unclear exactly how much it would cost to implement Ford's proposals or how long they would take to complete.

The province has already approved billions in funding for Transit City, several components of which have firm funding commitment, along with design plans and environmental assessments completed.

Hulchanski's report also calls for the implementation of the Tower Neighbourhood Renewal project, which seeks to revitalize the numerous high rise apartment buildings were constructed from 1950s to the '80s and have had minimal upkeep and upgrades.

But in addition to action at the municipal level, many of the problems Toronto face have to be addressed by the provincial and federal governments, Hulchanski said, particularly in four areas:

  • Ensuring a healthy labour market in the city.
  • Social supports for those who need help.
  • Adequate affordable housing.
  • Dealing with discrimination.

"These are in the provincial and federal jurisdictions. There's just so much cities can do about any of those four things," he said.


A report released Wednesday has split the city into three categories based on socioeconomic trends. ((University of Toronto) )