Friday, 3 June 2016

Is Toronto's suburban poverty shifting towards lowrise housing?

In the last decade, a lot of attention has been given to the suburbanization of poverty in Toronto. Although the process has been going on for several decades, it has recently reached the point where most of the low income census tracts are in post-WWII neighbourhoods. That's likely due in part to the outwards expansion of poverty following the outwards expansion of Toronto in general, but also due to increased gentrification of the core.

Most of the media and organizations discussing the issue have been highlighting the concentration of poverty into rental apartment buildings that were built in auto-oriented inner suburbs in the 60s and 70s.

However, a recent series of maps using 2012 taxfiler data suggests that poverty may now be shifting towards more low-rise neighbourhoods in even more distant suburbs of Toronto.

Here's the map of the current income distribution of Toronto, with census tracts coloured based on median per capita income of adults (aged 16+).
Brown: <60% of CMA average (very low income)
Pink: 60-80% of CMA average (low income)
Beige: 80-120% of CMA average (medium income)
Light Blue: 120-140% of CMA average (high income)
Dark Blue: >140% of CMA average (very high income)
I've overlain when the very low income census tracts reached their very low income status. There is a loose trend of very low income areas expanding outwards with time.

Where it gets interesting is the break-down by unit type.

The census tracts that reached very low income status before 2000 had virtually no detached SFHs and significantly above average amounts of apartments. However, the census tracts that became very low income between 2005 and 2012 actually had below average amounts of apartment buildings, with above average amounts of townhouses and duplexes (typically houses with basement apartments) and only slightly below average amounts of detached SFHs.

It's not just a matter of there not being any more census tracts with high percentages of apartment buildings, there are still plenty of those that are not very low income.

I also modified the map to show the unit type breakdown of Toronto's very low income census tracts.

Yellow = no apartment buildings
Green = <1/3 of units are in apartment buildings
Light blue = 1/3 to 2/3 of units are in apartment buildings
Dark blue = >2/3 of units are in apartment buildings
The very low income census tracts in the core and inner suburbs do have a lot of apartments, but further out, not so much. So are most of the apartment dominated census tracts located in the core, so that due to the better location, they are less likely to be very low income? A lot of them are.

However, not all. The condo neighbourhoods of central North York are not very low income, although it's true that despite further from the core, they still have subway access and many amenities. There are also still census tracts in the NE and NW inner suburbs with a lot of apartments that are merely low income, rather than very low income, such as in Brookhaven-Amesbury, Weston, and a few highrise clusters in south-central Scarborough.

Richmond Hill, Mississauga and Thornhill also have a fair bit of apartments and condo towers. That's despite being far from downtown, although those are arguably in the "favoured quadrants" of Toronto, and closer to suburban job centres. The apartments in the NE and NW inner suburbs, despite often being beyond the pre-WWII core and away from rapid transit, are still about 45min from Downtown by transit, with decent access to suburban jobs, so it could be worse.

However, even in the more distant NE and NW suburbs like Brampton and Miliken, there are some neighbourhoods with older condos, apartment buildings and townhouses that have a bit higher per capita incomes than the SFH dominated very low income census tracts of these same communities. Perhaps this is due to a combination of these areas having a relative undersupply of apartment buildings and many basement apartments and multi-generational households?

Were the last few years a temporary anomaly? Will very low income areas shift back towards apartment dominated suburban neighbourhoods?

Or is there a more permanent shift taking place? One where although there is an undersupply of SFHs in core neighbourhoods and desirable suburbs, most available land for new SFHs is in lower demand NE and NW suburbs? Or are SFH neighbourhoods simply going to be better able to accommodate lower income people through multi-generational households and basement apartments?

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