For Black History Month, the Institute launched a policy series highlighting bold policy solutions in order to tackle anti-Black racism, focusing on the need for intergovernmental action. Each submission proposes a plan for governments to work together to tackle a problem; while serving as a guide for advocates working towards [what should be] our collective effort to eradicate anti-Black racism.
Providing affordable housing within proximity to Toronto’s Eglinton and Finch Avenue LRTs is a priority concern. Without a strategic plan, this $10.9 billion investment may result in massive displacement for Canada’s largest Black community in Toronto’s north-west. Over one hundred thousand Black people live within a twelve square kilometre area that stretches outward from Toronto’s northwestern corner of Steeles and Highway 427 to Dufferin Street and Eglinton Avenue (2016 Canada Census). This area is a cultural hotspot for the Black diaspora. Here one can find various businesses that serve the Black community, as well as many businesses that are owned and operated by Black residents. Even within Toronto, there is a sharp difference in the demographics of this neighbourhood compared to the rest of the city. It is unique in its Blackness.
It is also a lower income area of Toronto, which speaks to some larger systemic issues. Black people in Canada disproportionately have lower wages and lower job stability. According to the 2016 Census, on average, working-age Black people earn 28% less than white Canadians and 23.9% of Black people are low income. The presence of this wage disparity alone, makes the case for the need to preserve affordable housing options in Toronto’s Eglinton and Finch neighbourhoods. But availability of affordable housing in this region is expected to decline upon the completion of the LRTs. This is a deep issue, because in a rising housing market, there are few affordable housing options for the displaced.
Improved transit can improve lives; but they can also increase the cost of living. Even Metrolinx, Ontario’s regional transit planning agency notes the correlation. Most recently in their 2018 Regional Transit Plan, they state that “areas with better transit access have higher property values and can be more expensive to live in.” Due to lower wages and a higher likelihood to rent, Black residents are disproportionately at risk of displacement when housing prices go up. For this reason, a Community Affordable Housing Plan is an important component of combating anti-Black racism.
No Community Affordable Housing Plan has been prepared to preserve or improve the affordable housing options within this Black community. Despite, all three levels of government having anti-Black racism initiatives, there is no concrete plan to address housing displacement due to gentrification or urban renewal projects.
Conversations with community members reveal that Black residents have not being consulted on housing affordability within their neighbourhood. As a result, the issue of affordability has not been adequately addressed during construction of the project. Considering the massive multi-level investment that is going into these LRTs and existing commitments to address anti-black racism — Community Benefit Agreements can be included in this local Community Affordable Housing Plan, along with the necessary support of the provincial and federal government.
Community Benefit Agreements are a proven model. Through this approach, the Toronto Community Benefits Network works with multiple levels of government and the private sector to ensure that the LRTs deliver jobs and other social opportunities for local Black youth. Their coordination is based on the concept that planning is needed to maximize social benefits accrued when government invests in infrastructure.
Housing is a major social benefit. Through community benefits and a Community Affordable Housing Plan, federal and provincial governments can direct funds to ensure Black residents are properly supported and resourced to engage in community planning and local development activities. Suitable funds include the $9 million federal Community Support, Multiculturalism, and Anti-Racism Initiatives Program, and the $47 million provincial Ontario Black Youth Action Plan.
Toronto can provide leadership by thoroughly engaging Black residents to produce a Community Affordable Housing Plan that considers housing as a community benefit. The City already leads other strategic community planning efforts to protect heritage or promote arts and culture – here is an excellent opportunity to conduct a study that directs efforts to combat anti-Black racism while also positioning the surrounding area to maintain and improve its ability to provide affordable housing.
Cheryll Case is an Urban Planner connecting community, non-profits, & professionals for a coordinated and informed approach to improving access to adequate & affordable housing