Gentrification holds both a promise and a threat, depending on who you talk to.
The gentrification of an area, once under way, seems to be an inevitable and unstoppable process once wealthier people move in. This causes rising prices that drive a significant number of people away – perhaps some of the area’s more vibrant members. At least that’s the theory pushed by the left. On the other hand, gentrification proponents say that non-gentrified communities miss out on cleaner, better surroundings with people stuck in poverty while crime levels rise.
Gentrification is hard to study. If someone moves away, how do we know that gentrification is the cause? All neighbourhoods have a ‘churn’ with people arriving and leaving for various reasons. We do know that change comes slowly to neighbourhoods.
Toronto’s downtown area is expanding and gentrification of adjacent areas has followed. Forty years ago, the Junction was an artistic haven with cheap rents and property because of its grimy industry and toxic residues in the soil. It’s been cleaned up since and is a now hot area. Bloor West Village the same. Mount Dennis with its vibrant residents’ association, new Crosstown Station and Net Zero initiative may be next.
Once gentrification starts in an area, more people want to live there and demand drives up prices. Is there a danger of this in Weston / Mount Dennis? A review of the literature on gentrification found that,
New fixed-rail transit has a generally positive effect on both residential and commercial property values, but its impact varies substantially according to context.
There are signs of greater investment since the UP Express became an affordable commuter train. How then, can we keep people from being forced out as prices rise?
There is a fair amount of subsidized housing in our area. This is unlikely to change. In addition there are affordable rental apartments. Elsewhere, rent control keeps accommodation costs down but may stifle new housing.
In a study of Philadelphia neighbourhoods, Richard Florida found that there are benefits to gentrification that are enjoyed by all but the poor and vulnerable. He also found that there are fairly unstoppable market forces behind gentrification when it occurs and the secret to minimizing damage is to ensure that the most vulnerable are still able to access housing and work opportunities and that their micro neighbourhoods are well maintained.
If the secret is to have a variety of housing and work options, it doesn’t help to have penny pinching councillors (as we do out in the boonies) who make it their business to keep taxes down and starve initiatives that help poor people.
Here’s an example. The expansion of Woodbine Racetrack was recently under discussion at council. More gambling will bring problems to the community. A motion was put forward to ameliorate the negative effects by requiring that the new gambling facility install a daycare for employees and also hire a percentage of local residents. Here are two motions put forward:
1. OGGLP provide a maximum of $5 million to develop and equip a child care centre on site or within the vicinity land and work with the Children’s Services division in recruiting a not for profit operator for the site and request that the selected operator provide extended hours of operation and provide casino employees with priority access to the centre.
The motion carried but local councillor Mike Ford voted against it.
3 – Motion to Amend Item moved by Councillor Joe Mihevc (Lost)
That City Council amend the Community Benefits Agreement with the Ontario Gaming Greater Toronto Area Limited Partnership set out in Attachment 1, as amended, in accordance with the following:
a. amendments to the employment and hiring terms to provide that:
i. OGGLP will hire a minimum of 50 percent new hires through social or local hiring, of which at least half must be local hiring; and
ii. after two years of operation, at least 60 percent of employees shall have full-time employment;
This motion lost narrowly by 19 to 23. Guess who voted against that? Local Councillors Mike Ford, Vincent Crisanti, and yes, our own Frances Nunziata.
It’s voting like this that does not help vulnerable residents.
Here’s another example; living in a rooming house is probably quite cheap but the city fights rooming houses and accommodations that don’t fit into the middle class mindset e.g. the alleged illegal dwellings above the Weston Station restaurant. Surely there is a way for these accommodations to be cleaned up, made safe and licensed – especially when housing is in such short supply.
If we had affordable housing spread evenly throughout the city, gentrification would not be an issue. The city did help recently with a ban on Airbnb basement apartments but unless some brave city or provincial politicians enact legislation to insert affordable housing in every area of the city, we’re going to be stuck with the present model of an expanding gentrified zone spreading out from the core and no amount of protests and marches will stop that.
The left needs to get its act together and figure out a way to embrace the positive benefits of gentrification without allowing it to drive people out of the area. They haven’t done that yet. The right needs to understand that cutting services to the poor simply entrenches poverty and the consequential crime that comes when people have no route to prosperity.
Finally, a well managed community has room for everyone regardless of income or personal circumstance. The mark of a good society (and good people) is how well it takes care of its most vulnerable.