Tag Archives: Ontario

(288) Living wages

386PX-~1A direct approach to easing suburban poverty would seem to be found in wages.  If suburban poverty is about precarious employment in dispersed, lower wage jobs, thin transportation resources, weak access to social services, and lack of affordable and appropriate housing options then why wouldn’t wages be a good place to start?  In the UK a movement for living wages is edging into the national debate just as the country appears poised for brutal austerity and economic contraction which will be very difficult for the poor.  Certainly, the idea of living wages has been kicking around social policy circles in most developed countries for decades and perhaps the economic craziness of the last few years has brought it forward.

In Canada, we see British Columbia’s Simon Fraser University adopt living wages as a specific policy …and finding itself able to afford to do so.  It seems a sensible argument can be made that living wages are good for people and what is good for people is good for business.  The very idea of a minimum wage is simply obsolete.  Not only can few live on them but business interests and their lobbyists, at least in English-speaking countries, tend to take offence to notions of raising minimum wages.  It’s harder to argue against living wages, which are an expression of justice in an age where a job doesn’t protect you from being poor.

CBC’s The National visited Hamilton, ON in 2012 to look at what a transition from minimum to living wages might mean.  That clip, and other material, is available on the Living Wage Hamilton site.

Living wage will cost SFU less than 0.1 per cent of budget: report
The Tyee

Living Wage Foundation UK

Beyond the Bottom Line: Challenges and Opportunities of the Living Wage  
77-page .pdf file resolutionfoundation.org January 2013

image: Bundesarkiv via Wikimedia Commons

(283) Natural capital near the GTHA [Report]

new high point mall 200Something like half of Canada’s best farm country can be seen from the top of the CN Tower.  Sure, that Toronto edifice is the world’s tallest free standing structure but that doesn’t make for a lot of farm land for Canada to feed herself from.  Both of these ideas are cliches that have been in circulation since the mid 1970s.

What you can also see from up there is a zillion dollars worth of suburban development.  In a growth-crazed Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area few can imagine life any other way.  In time, we may come to ask if exchanging all that good, green, food-producing land for a brittle horizon filled with worn out, low grade garbage architecture was all that good an idea.  Better the questions start now while there is something to conserve.  This is what the Suzuki Foundation has in mind with its most recent report.  An opinion piece in the Toronto Star introduces the report, a document deserving wide readership.

From the report:

“Some regions of the country, like the Golden Horseshoe surrounding Toronto, have been blessed with an abundance of Class 1 soils. But an increasing proportion of the best soils in the Golden Horseshoe and in most urbanized regions of Canada now lie beneath sprawling housing developments, highways, strip malls and other infrastructure. As urban communities have grown over the years, agricultural lands and natural areas have far too often been drained, dug up and paved over.
…our growing cities sprawl over what once was mostly farmland. Only 5 per cent of Canada’s entire land base is suitable for growing food. At the same time, urban uses have consumed more than 7,400 square kilometres of dependable farmland in recent decades.”

Urban sprawl is destroying Ontario’s farmland star.com

Nature on the Edge: natural capital and Ontario’s growing Golden Horseshoe
davidsuzuki.org for full report as a 31-page .pdf file

(282) It’s more than poverty [Report]

UnemployedMarchThe hollowed out nature of many working lives in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area is the subject of a new report from McMaster University Social Sciences and the United Way.  Using Statistics Canada data, interviews and previous United Way research the authors delve into one of the major determinants of the quality of life in Ontario: precarious employment.  This should be a major embarrassment to the system.  Working people with serious intentions who do their part remain in poverty or in fear of poverty.  They work for cash, have intermittent, insecure employment arrangements in the form of limited hours of work, temporary and on-call status and a weak grip on wages let alone pensions and benefit plans.  Even university lecturers live this way.  The result is a depressing under-utilization of human capital and a reduction in the resilience of our society and a reduction in the standard of living.  Precarious employment places a negative slant on nearly all aspects of the individual’s life and these effects become manifest in the public realm.  The 120-page report is available at the link below in .pdf format.  If any single issue in the life of this province needs to be brought out of obscurity for clarification and remedy it is this one.  The Toronto Star devoted a good amount of space to the report with numerous personal profiles.  Other mainstream media outlets have covered the report but its release just before the mindless hype and over commentary driven by the Oscars may not have been such a hot idea.

It’s more than poverty: employment precarity and household well-being
via globeandmail.com

Insecure Jobs Destabilize Communities
United Way press release

Half of GTA and Hamilton workers in ‘precarious’ jobs
Toronto Star – see profiles link on left navigation

PEPSO: population and employment precarity in southern Ontario
research project

image: unemployed single men’s march in 1930s Toronto – via Wikimedia Commons

(275) Brampton 2

Züm_Queen_Kennedy_NWThe suburban-poverty.com Lear Jet finds itself touching down in Brampton, ON …yet again!  The Toronto Star’s urban affairs columnist Christopher Hume continues to blaze a trail across suburbia a step or two ahead of us.  Hume is realistic, dry and barely contains his sarcasm in the land of clothes line bans and monster homes.  Locals counterattack viciously in the comment boxes, advising Hume to stay downtown with the other density-loving, latte sipping yuppies.  Almost the inverse of the previous posting’s problem this time the issue is a housing form with too much visibility.  A massive monster home grows in an older suburb.  The owner/builder wants his extended village-sized family under one roof.  To do this he has to go big.  It could get ugly.  Well, actually, ugly it already is.

The point is not what is going on at a single address in Brampton.  Larger issues present themselves.  Again, if this is the best the culture can do to get started working out the housing challenges of the twenty-first century then it doesn’t say much for us.

Now, where did we put our latte spoon?

Brampton monster home controversy exposes suburbanites’ fear of density

Monster homes are here to stay despite Brampton’s new bylaw

image: a taco establishment behind one of Brampton’s groovy new bus stops by Secondarywaltz via Wikimedia Commons

(274) Illegal apartments

800px-Bungalow_(PSF)A form of second class citizenship results from having a bad landlord.  It is remarkably stressful for working people when a property owner is outside the law regarding the state of repair, provision of heat in winter, increases in rent, fire and electrical safety, lighting, ventilaton, crowding, cleaning, and snow removal reasonably expected by a rent paying tenant.  Anecdotes about bad landlords and substandard/illegal apartments, particularly in the basements of houses designed for single family living, are never hard to come by.  Students, immigrants, low income workers, the mentally ill and retired persons often find themselves in substandard housing because they are economically vulnerable.  Exaggerated real estate values also compel property owners to consider shoddy installations of poor quality suites and basement apartments at least as much as simple greed does.

Even a casual use of Internet search terms such as “illegal apartments” followed by virtually any North American suburban place name yields a peek into a massive social change for the worse taking place in North America. This is true from Vancouver to Boston.  Such a change represents the mainstreaming of substandard housing and is another feature of poverty associated with traditional urban social difficulty now fully rooted in suburbia.

To wit: Brampton, Ontario, Canada.  In 1998 Brampton banned basement apartments.  They were cited as unsafe and not appropriate to the single-family ideal of a fast-growing, low-density suburb.  Basement apartments were said to be fire hazards that also bring an unwelcome increase in vehicle parking, create unplanned demand for schools, police, libraries, parks and garbage removal.  Extra basement-dwelling tenants are even cited for lowering water pressure at certain times of day!  There is truth in all these things but the story does not end there.  Brampton is now thought to have about thirty thousand illegal basement apartments.  Some houses have had such apartments for decades.

Brampton’s situation can hardly be unique.  Suburbs all over North America are being forced to adapt to change.  A basement apartment represents a cheap, unimaginative, fast, minimalist approach to keeping people housed.  The single-family home-based suburb is obsolete. Super-sized monster homes and rooming houses encroach on moderate homes and the result is uneasy.  Thing is, where is the alternative?  We have barely begun to conceive of what it might look like.

Brampton residents battle over basement suites-which are illegal, apparently
Toronto Life

Jan Wong: the simmering class war over basement apartments in Brampton
Toronto Life

Brampton, to the northwest of Toronto, has just over half a million people and is one of Canada’s fastest-growing communities.  In the early 1970s much of it was still agricultural land.  Older Queens, New York, home to more than two million, finds the issue of illegal apartments similarly tough.  To crack down on all the illegal housing in Queens would make life harder for many tenants who need cheap, basic places to live.  At the same time, the illegal units can be burdensome.  They represent unsafe conditions, can be crowded, their owners are not paying proper taxes, and tenants may be exploited.  What to do?

Housing: illegal conversions
Queens borough president official illegal conversion page

Fire Reveals Illegal Homes Hide in Plain Sight
NYT

How about the introduction of the rule of law to basement land and substandard landlords?  Respect for tenants is already enshrined in the law in Canada and the United States.  Slack standards and a lack of inspection endanger people.  We have the meltdown in the British and American banking systems to remind us that market-driven openness can be taken too far.  A tenant is not a colony to be exploited, they are in a buiness reationship with their landlord.  A little more balance at City Hall would help tenants get value for their money.

Landlords have rights and concerns yet many may be in a position to legalize and improve their suites with relative ease and at reasonable cost.  Others will need to be shut down, tossed in jail even.  The system must enforce existing, reasonable laws.  After that, a little imagination and a lot of investment, public and private, should be leveraged to support good housing alternatives.  Right now, it seems like North Americans can’t even imagine how to economically house themselves for a world of cultural changes, super storms, global warming, financial difficulty and energy scarcity.  This will change one way or another.

image: Scott Forseman via Wikimedia Commons

(265) Downtown core sees office jobs returning [Report]

It looks as if jobs may be starting to follow people back into urban centres.  At least, this appears to be the trend for the Greater Toronto Area according to a new report from one of the big banks.  According to its author, “New business creation, employment gains and population growth in the downtown core are now outpacing that in the surrounding suburbs, reversing a decades-long trend…”  Some 4.7 million square feet of office space were added to downtown Toronto between 2000 and now, according to the report.  This compares to 3.9 million square feet over the same period for all four regions surrounding Toronto (Halton, Durham, York, Peel).  These regions pursued aggressive economic development strategies that cost Toronto jobs and population over the years.  Banks, for example, were often found locating new office space and facilities in suburban areas.  Their work forces were also keen on living in detached housing in those areas.  The so-called Echo Boomers and Millennials, the future office work force, by all accounts, prefer downtown locations and this must surely also be incentivizing employers and office developers.  Interesting, …if worrisome for the economic prospects of suburbia.

Toronto – a return to the core 3-page .pdf file from TD Economics

See also: (261) A great inversion [Book review]

image: French postcard via Wikimedia Commons

(257) Offices & transit: will it happen? [Report]

Two of Canada’s major national media outlets featured items today about the nature of suburban life and economics as influenced by transportation.  The issue is the rapid of appearance of millions of square feet of office space in parts of an urban/suburban agglomeration once zoned exclusively for industry. Where once office jobs were downtown and industry near ports or in early inner suburbs and satellite locations (generally to the east as in most cities in the northern hemisphere thanks to prevailing wind) we now find office employment ubiquitous and growing fast near airports and out along highways and major arterial roads.

This shouldn’t be such a surprise, given decades of deindustrialization and the apparent economic advantages of sprawl, that employers put office space, server farms, call and data centres where once there were cornfields. Suburban office space can be built and occupied in a hurry and most jurisdictions, eager to maintain employment, property values, development levies and so forth are glad to have office and service employment over the declining prospects for manufacturing, against which there are other liabilities like air pollution, noise and perhaps a cultural loss of interest in making things, as well.

The Greater Toronto Area, with some five million people now, was the focus of both pieces.  One is part of a series on CBC Morning called the Joyless Commute. They’d hardly devote a week of air space to a topic not recognized by the listenership.  Many of whom are essentially forced to car commute for hours every week to office jobs many kilometres away and which are virtually impossible prospects for cycling, walking or public transit. The second item was also about the power of car commuting to far flung office pods, places often miles from a subway stop and served by low frequency buses at most. Curiously, the piece was front page in today’s Toronto Star business section. Not at the back of the local issues or lifestyle related parts of the paper.

Money talks.  Getting these issues wrong is going to be bad for business and make life diffcult for working people.

All through the 80s, 90s and 2000’s getting it right too often meant grinding into public expenditure, cutting taxes for the rich, privatizing and reducing services.  Now it means trying to bring millions of square feet of far flung office development into transit networks, reducing car dependece and pollution, providing appropriate infrastructure upgrades and general improvements to atmosphere and opportunity where our future workplaces will be.  Everyone is feeling the pressure, workers, managers, planners, builders, employers, investors.

Stuck in gridlock? Blame the office thestar.com

Joyless Commute Metro Morning on CBC radio – see thursday segment

Strategic Regional Research: A Region in Transition
Canadian Urban Institute link to major report

image: Zlatko via Wikimedia Commons

(250) Welcome to the grotto

A grotto is simply a shallow cave or underground passage, a chamber.  In more than one culture, grottoes are viewed as places of mystery and have associations and embellishments relating to spiritual life.  A fashion for decorative, Christian-themed grottoes developed in the eighteenth century in Europe and grottoes near water or built into gardens are often tourist sites.  We came across the grotto as a metaphor of suburban poverty and homelessness in a paper about Peel Region recently.

Homelessness in the suburbs: engulfment in the grotto of poverty
Studies in Social Justice Volume 6, Issue 1, pages 103-123, 2012
via Homeless Hub – 21-page .pdf file

 

(218) Panhandling

As near as the Research Department can tell, panhandling refers to begging for food for a man’s family in North America during the Great Depression.  Holding out a cooking pot for passersby to place spare change in told others the intentions for the money were honourable.  Certainly begging has been around as long as human society has.  Out on the highway off ramps of suburbia it seems to have arrived, just a little later than the rest of us maybe…

As poverty gets pushed to the suburbs so does panhandling Open File

image: Ed Yourdon via Wikimedia Commons