Toronto releases plan to reduce poverty by 2035
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Toronto’s goal to create a prosperous city for all residents by 2035 starts Tuesday with the city’s release of a sweeping anti-poverty plan aimed at addressing growing inequality and lack of opportunity.
“It is unacceptable that, in a city as prosperous as Toronto, people cannot meet their basic needs for food, clothing, shelter and transportation,” says the report, obtained by Torstar News Service.
“We want to be renowned as a city where everyone has access to good jobs, adequate income, stable housing, affordable transportation, nutritious food and supportive services,” says TO Prosperity: Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Based on “expert advice” over the past year from thousands of Torontonians living in poverty, the 48-page report sets the vision, said Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell, who is responsible for the city’s poverty file.
“What is before us today is the path to move forward,” she said in an interview. “The next step is to look at the funding of that path both today and over the next 20 years and make sure we have tools available to measure progress every step of the way.”
The report goes to the city’s executive committee June 30 and to council July 7 to 8. If approved, city staff will continue to work with the community over the summer to develop firm timelines, measurement tools and a multi-year funding plan.
The final strategy will go to council in October or November — in time to be included in the 2016 budget.
The city already addresses poverty and inequality with targeted supports to individuals, families and neighbourhoods, including $25 million earmarked for poverty reduction in last year’s budget.
“What’s new is that we will have an absolute commitment from all members of council that this is the direction in which all of our departments, agencies, boards and commissions should be moving,” McConnell said. “And that we need sustainable, ongoing money if we’re going to move down this road successfully.”
Councillor Joe Mihevc, who first raised the idea of developing a municipal poverty-busting plan in February 2014, said city staff have crafted “a bold vision with some very strong recommendations.”
“I think the community working with people in poverty will feel their voices have been heard,” he said.
As the report notes, more than two dozen community agencies and activists helped shape the plan.
The strategy is centred on five themes: housing, city services, transit, food access, and quality jobs and living wages. It includes 24 recommendations and 74 short-, medium- and long-term actions aimed at addressing immediate needs, creating solutions and driving systemic change.
Actions to address immediate need include ensuring that essential services such as shelter allowances and daycare subsidies are well funded and co-ordinated.
- Housing stability
- Improve quality of affordable rental housing by strengthening housing standards enforcement
- Boost incentive programs to encourage landlords to conduct energy and efficiency retrofits
- Provide more housing allowances
- Press Queen's Park to give city power to enact inclusionary zoning
- Create financial incentives to build more affordable housing
- Help residents better navigate social services
- Create new registration process for all city programs that is accessible, fair and equitable for low-income residents
- Expand dental care for low-income people
- Integrate application process and management of all income-tested services
- Boost before- and after-school programs for children and youth
- Ensure user-fees don't create barriers for low-income households;
- Increase number of subsidized daycare space
- Improve service to inner suburbs
- Plan transit expansion to ensure equal access to reliable service
- Consider discount fares for low-income residents
- Restore cuts to inner suburbs
- Push Ottawa to invest in long-term public transit strategy
- Include healthy food as part of programming for children living in poverty
- Make it easier to use parks, rec centres and public space for community ovens, farmers' markets, communal kitchens.
- Increase access to public land for community gardens
- Increase school nutrition programs
- Help food banks provide nutritious food
Quality jobs and living wages
- Provide start-up funds for newcomers and people leaving mental health institutions, hospitals, homeless shelters and jails
- Become a living wage employer and require city contractors to pay their workers a living wage
- Implement a “social procurement strategy” for city contracts
Actions to “create pathways to prosperity” include encouraging more full-time, living wage jobs, attracting investments to low-income areas and ensuring city services are integrated and focused on preventing residents from falling into poverty.
Systemic change will require embedding poverty reduction into the corporate culture of the city’s DNA, McConnell said. Ideally, every budget decision would be weighed against its impact on poverty and inequality.
Eradicating poverty entirely is probably not achievable, McConnell said. “But it is possible to have strong safety nets to ensure people don’t fall into poverty and that when they do there are lifelines to pull them out.”
The report talks about the need to make transit service more reliable and frequent in the city’s inner suburbs, where most low-income Torontonians live. And it recommends financial incentives to encourage developers to build more affordable housing and landlords to retrofit aging units.
The report calls for the city and its agencies, boards and commissions to provide good jobs with living wages that reflect the high cost of living in Toronto and for all city contractors to follow suit.
Other cities, such as Seattle, Wash. have brought in municipal living wage policies, McConnell noted.
But the city can’t blaze the pathway to prosperity alone, the report warns. The plan also calls for collaboration with senior governments, business, labour and community organizations.
“Poverty is everybody’s business,” McConnell said. “The survival and prosperity of Toronto demands that we pay attention to moving as many Torontonians as possible down the road from poverty to prosperity.”
Who is poor in Toronto
29 per cent of children
30 per cent of people with disabilities
33 per cent of people from racialized groups
37 per cent of female lone parents
46 per cent of recent immigrants
Source: City of Toronto
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