According to a recent University of Toronto paper, this city is polarizing into neighbourhoods of haves and have-nots. Not any more. Thanks to a mix of visionary community initiatives and bold government programs, Toronto is once again becoming the stomping ground of people who live in that shadowy region between rich and poor.
Middle-Class Wish Foundation
From Lawrence Park to the gentrified side streets of the Annex, the GTA's newest charity has its sights set on the city's most vulnerable: Toronto's middle class. Last month, a foodie in Little Portugal walked into her kitchen one morning to find that her four-burner mid-80s Magic Chef had miraculously been replaced by a six-burner Wolf dual-fuel range and an accountant on the Danforth went to the dealer to pick up his brand new Toyota Matrix to find it had been replaced by a sporty Lexus crossover. And just in time for Christmas, Jeff, an architect who lives in the Junction, opened what he thought was yet another credit card bill only to find a gleaming pair of Leafs tickets. "At first I thought it was some kind of sick joke," a beaming Jeff told the Middle-Class Wish Foundation. "But then I showed them to a client and he said they looked real. They were!"
A guaranteed living wage
An annual income of $120,000 per year might sound like a lot to someone who lives in Barrie, but in the city of Toronto it can lead to what social activists call "poverty of the soul" in which outwardly well-fed, well-groomed and well-dressed citizens hunger for the material comforts they see all around them, but which are nevertheless out of reach. The Guaranteed 'This is Living' Wage provides an income supplement of up to $60,000 per year, based on criteria ranging from number of children to level of entitlement. "Spa treatments, splurging at Holts, long weekends at Langdon Hall - I used to regard it all as highly desirable fluff," says Jane, a junior marketing executive at Sun Life Financial who will receive almost $40,000 in tax credits and government cheques this year. "Now I see them as a right."
Middle-class food stamps
Turkey cutlets, bok choy, Presidents Choice "Memories of…" sauces - the supermarket fare of today packs all the romance that gruel did for Dickens. Enter the middle-class food stamp. Redeemable at up market shops such as Pusateri's, McEwan and the Five Thieves, struggling middle-class families can exchange these vouchers for basic luxury foods like aged balsamico and imported Wagyu beef. "Last week, I bought my family a raw milk Époisses from the Cheese Boutique that I paid for with middle-class food stamps," says Anson, a graphic designer who lives in Etobicoke. "When I unwrapped it, I started crying, because this was the kind of food my father dreamed of giving to his kids but could never afford to."
Middle-income housing quota
To Linda Scofield, an urban demographer at York University, the city's post-industrial housing policy has been nothing short of a failure. "What we've done is created a downtown with ghettos of the rich next to ghettos of poor," says Ms. Scofield. "What we need are mixed ghettoes that include the middle class." Thanks to the province's new Middle-Income Housing Initiative, anyone buying a six-bedroom penthouse now pays a tax that supplements a four-bedroom unit seven floors down, and anyone putting up a faux-Georgian mansion in Forest Hill has to build a Markham-style tract home next door. Critics have predicted that unwelcome middle-class neighbours will put a chill on luxury construction. But Ms. Scofield dismisses that as scare mongering by greedy developers. "Let's face it," she says, "every rich Canadian had a grandparent or great grandparent who was middle class. They're not so different."
Special to The Globe and Mail