United Way Toronto

United Way Toronto

January 12, 2011 11:30 ET

United Way Toronto Report Reveals the Geographic Concentration of Poverty is Growing Vertically-In Inner Suburban High-Rise Apartments

Agency's Latest Report Shows the Number of High Poverty Neighbourhoods in Toronto has Quadrupled, Poverty has Intensified and 92% More Low-Income Families are Living in High-Rise Buildings

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Jan. 12, 2011) - The number of high-poverty neighbourhoods in Toronto continues to grow and poverty concentration is still most severe in the inner suburbs, said United Way Toronto President and CEO Susan McIsaac. Within the inner suburbs, poverty is also becoming increasingly concentrated in high-rise rental buildings, according to a research study released today by United Way Toronto. 

"The number of high-poverty neighbourhoods has more than quadrupled over the past thirty years, from 30 in 1981 to 136 in 2006. And poverty concentration is intensifying at a greater rate in the inner suburbs," said McIsaac. "Thirty years ago, just 18 per cent of Toronto's low-income families lived in neighbourhoods where more than one quarter of the community was low-income. By 2006, this number jumped to 46 per cent."

McIsaac said the geographic 'sorting' of households along income lines has the potential to segregate low-income families and exclude them from opportunity that can help them climb out of poverty. Geographic polarization also threatens the social cohesion of the city and increases the chances that people will be left further behind.

Poverty by Postal Code 2: Vertical Poverty found that while poverty continues to be concentrated geographically, it is also becoming increasingly concentrated vertically in high-rise buildings. Today, a much higher percentage of tenants who live in high-rise buildings are low- and moderate-income compared to 30 years ago—nearly 40 per cent in 2006 up from 25 per cent in 1981.

"Tenants in the inner suburbs are being squeezed from both ends; their income has been declining while the cost of rent is growing," said McIsaac. "People are forced to choose between paying the rent and other necessities, and more than half actually go without every month, or a few months a year, in order to pay their rent."

McIsaac said the effect of concentrated poverty can create a downward cycle of neighbourhood decline, triggering business flight, deteriorating housing conditions, and crime and social disorder. And where poverty is concentrated, people are more likely to move out of those communities as soon as they have the means to do so.

Based in part on tenant surveys, the report identifies the strong connection between poverty and poor housing conditions, especially inside the buildings where there are serious problems of disrepair. Crime and social disorder like drug dealing, vandalism and property damage are high in many inner suburban neighbourhoods and worse in high-poverty neighbourhoods. And despite generally regarding their communities as safe places to live, high-rise tenants are far more likely to experience social disorder compared to Canadian tenants overall.

While Vertical Poverty underscores the challenges facing low-income families living in the city's high-rises, it also highlights many reasons to be hopeful, said McIsaac.

The majority of people living in inner suburban high-rises say their neighbourhoods are good places to live and raise a family, and the bonds of community are strong—more than half of tenants say they can rely on friends for things like child minding or to lend small amounts of money.

"Toronto's towers are a tremendous asset and resource for reversing the growth of concentrated poverty in our city," said McIsaac. "Toronto has the largest stock of high-rise buildings in North America outside of New York City. We must use this valuable housing stock as a tool to promote social cohesion and drive neighbourhood renewal."

"Strong neighbourhoods play a vital role in the prosperity of our city, and we all have a responsibility to dedicate our resources toward improving conditions in Toronto's high-rise towers," said McIsaac. "Our efforts will require collaboration and commitment from all of us—governments, other charitable funders, the private sector, community organizations, labour and local residents—to ensure our city's neighbourhoods are vibrant and strong for many years to come."

About the research: Poverty by Postal Code 2: Vertical Poverty examines the growth of concentrated poverty using Statistics Canada data (1981-2006) and data obtained through interviews with nearly 3,000 high-rise renters in Toronto. Vertical Poverty is an update of previous United Way research, chronicling the changing geography of poverty in Toronto.

To learn more about Poverty By Postal Code 2: Vertical Poverty, visit United Way Toronto's website: unitedwaytoronto.com/verticalpoverty.

About United Way Toronto: Established in 1956, United Way Toronto is a charity working to advance the common good and create opportunities for a better life for everyone in our city. Working in partnership with others, we mobilize people and resources to address the root causes of social problems and to change community conditions for the better. United Way supports agencies that provide services to strengthen individuals, families, and communities.

Executive Summary, Key findings handout, Recommendations handout, and a DVD with high resolution images of the maps, graphs, and charts found in the report are available upon request.

Contact Information

  • Media Contact:
    United Way Toronto
    Caitlin Stidwill
    Desk - 416-777-1444 ext. 396
    Mobile - 416-577-8508
    cstidwill@uwgt.org