Low-income, subsidized housing ghettos provoke violence

By Pat Watson Wednesday March 27 2013 in Opinion
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A summit aimed at maintaining communication between service agencies, youth and all levels of government was held last week hosted by the African Canadian Coalition of Community Organizations under the heading the Crisis of Killings in the African Canadian Community. The summit was able to pull in provincial politicians, top police officers and a commitment by Mayor Rob Ford to attend. Ford, however, did not show up. Liberal Cabinet Minister Michael Coteau attended, as did Councillors Adam Vaughan and Shelley Carroll.


Yet, I’m not aware of whether there were any representatives from the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) at the summit. TCHC representation would matter because a significant number of the shootings and gun related deaths that occur take place in and around TCHC subsidized housing. The two common denominators of this crisis of youth shootings are being African Canadian and living in an environment of economic disadvantage.


Those who attended the summit heard that more than 75 per cent of the victims of gun deaths in Toronto are young, Black males. It’s been called gang violence, and it’s been called Black-on-Black violence, but the fact is that young, Black males who live outside of these low-income, social housing enclaves are not the ones engaging in and being the targets of shootings. Reading Share each week, as it details the achievements of young Black men, makes that clear.


The social housing model, as well intentioned as it was when it was first established with the construction of Regent Park over 60 years ago, has failed. It has failed because by lumping together large sectors of the population who live in poverty, the unintended consequence has been an aggregate of social dysfunctions associated with poverty. Almost 70 per cent of social housing residents live below the poverty line compared to the average of 20 per cent poverty across the entire city. The average income of TCHC households is under $20,000; compare that to the average of $65,000 for the Greater Toronto Area. When that level of poverty is also racialized, the outcome of violence among disaffected racialized youth is predictable.


The youth population in low-income, subsidized housing is about 40 per cent, which is above the citywide neighbourhood average of 30 per cent. These are neighbourhoods that do not get the support to sufficiently answer to the kind of poverty-related social needs that amass there.


When the kids in these neighbourhoods realize the programs that are there offer no meaning or reliable solutions to the problems they face, they are even less likely to turn to them for help. Or, if they do, it is usually as an act of desperation, a last resort. From the many quotes coming from people who work in service agencies who talk about the youth they know who are killed, there is a pattern of them being killed often shortly after making an effort to turn their lives around.


Community worker Ken Jeffers, the strategic advisor for the ACCCO, pointed out that the Black community is under-resourced leaving service supports in a weak position. In this vacuum, there is tremendous dependence on volunteer work to cope with addressing the crisis. Community service groups are not given sufficient and consistent resources, so Black youth who would most need intervention and would like to get help see the resources as ineffective.


Another disturbing fact is that the 164,000 people living in subsidized housing projects are four times more likely to be the targets of violent crimes, including murder.


It is time end the housing model that has resulted in these islands of poverty. The solution is to keep the rental payment rate of 35 per cent of income and subsidize rentals across the city. There will be rental agencies that would pad their rates if they think it is being paid by government, but when you consider the savings in repair costs, that effect would be cancelled out. Currently, TCHC has a repair backlog that amounts to $750 million. A provincial tax credit could also deter landlords from plundering a government rent subsidy budget.


Getting people out of TCHC ghettos has to become a priority as a critical part of the answer to the crisis of youth shootings and deaths.


A note on a standout author…


Nigerian author Chinua Achebe died last week at age 82. Achebe has left a rich legacy, beginning with his 1958 novel Things Fall Apart and followed by No Longer at Ease. Not to be missed are Achebe’s Arrow of God and Anthills of the Savannah, among his best works.


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