2018 Community Conversations
Every four years, the City of Toronto updates its plan to refine the actions the City will take to achieve the recommendations in the strategy. This update includes listening to residents. Over the summer and fall, through online submissions and facilitated community conversations across the city, Torontonians provided their thoughts about what the priorities should be for the strategy from 2019 to 2022.
The Community Conversations consultation closed on October 5, 2018. However, the Poverty Reduction Office always welcomes your thoughts and feedback. Get in touch with us to let us know what you think.
What did we hear?
After the #TacklePovertyTO Speaker Series and Community Conversation events held in March and April of 2018, the Poverty Reduction Strategy Office reached out to community organizations, community leaders, existing community programs, and other networks to organize facilitated conversations in neighbourhoods throughout the city. These conversations allowed residents to discuss and share ideas within their own communities and provide thoughts on how the City can refine and develop the Strategy going forward. An online survey was also made available to consult Torontonians, offering the opportunity for residents to respond to the questions put forward during the in-person Community Conversations.
The Community Conversations consultation closed on October 5, 2018, through which almost 100 responses from both individual respondents and group-facilitated conversations were received. The raw data from the facilitated community conversations and the online submissions was used to carry out a qualitative analysis of the responses. All responses were read, after which detailed notes were taken to identify common themes, recommendations, and main priorities.
Between the community conversations held throughout the City and the online responses to the consultation questions, we saw a lot of consistency in what Torontonians thought as well as what they currently see as priorities for the next four years. Participants made it clear that more holistic, targeted, and ongoing social support is a key component in helping residents move out of poverty. Residents with lived experience of poverty also stated that in order to move forward, the City needs to understand the interlocking issues that keep people in poverty, and adapt services to address these. As we have heard in conversations from previous years, residents highlighted that the conventional pathway to prosperity is broken. Additionally, participants are concerned about the availability and quality of affordable housing, the low value of income supports and minimum wage, and the high cost of transportation.
The following sections present the more detailed messages we heard from the consultations for each of the five issue themes of the Poverty Reduction Strategy. The information we heard from respondents will help the City design the 2019-2022 Poverty Reduction Strategy Action Plan.
For people juggling part-time jobs and dealing with many different agencies, accessing services can be time consuming. According to participants of the conversations, a recurring barrier in accessing these services is a lack of one centralized information source for all of the services available to them.
Many respondents suggested that the City create one database that can be accessed both online and offline, in order to make all of the available services and their eligibility criteria clear and straightforward. Additionally, participants frequently suggested that this information be shared with community organizations, service providers, and in public recreation spaces such as community centers and libraries so that information can be easily disseminated to residents.
Additionally, participants suggested that the City of Toronto website and various social media platforms be used for communication of services online, as well as the use of outreach teams and staff visits to shelters for offline communication. Finally, many respondents stated the need for service navigators and the importance of improving 311 call-in services by reducing wait times and increasing the consistency and quality of information available through 311.
Moreover, another important point of discussion was the opportunity for co-location or space sharing for service provision. Participants suggested a number of options – including community centers, schools, churches, and libraries – to be used in communities as a single access and application point for services such as child care or after school programs.
In regards to the location of services provided, it was mentioned that the location of service delivery needs to be re-examined every few years, and strategically located near malls, banks, grocery stores, and other hubs. Lastly, many respondents mentioned the need to fund and implement the City’s Child Care Growth Strategy and Toronto’s Middle Childhood Strategy to increase space and affordability of child care.
According to participants, a substantial barrier in accessing transit in Toronto is the cost of fares, as well as the quality and reliability of the existing services. Residents depend on transit to go to work, access services, and participate in daily activities, and being able to provide an affordable and reliable system is integral to linking residents with their city.
Participants frequently expressed the need to extend the reach of the Fair Pass Program to cater to low-income residents who are not on Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). Some respondents suggested that more funding should come from the provincial or federal government, while others suggested the implementation of a congestion tax or a commercial parking tax to provide funding for this.
Participants also stressed the need to improve existing services, as many bus routes in areas like Scarborough are unreliable or do not run frequently enough. The most frequent request from respondents was to increase bus services and routes in areas like this, as well to invest in infrastructure and build LRTs in transit deserts.
Other priorities that were brought up include the need for ‘non-peak’ hours, during which fares are lower, an elimination of the extra charge when travelling between bordering cities, and an extension of transfer time. Additionally, respondents mentioned the cost of purchasing a PRESTO card, as well as the need to rely on smartphones and data plans for available information and presto access barriers to accessing transit.
Nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate food for residents living on low incomes is a key component in sustaining physical and mental health and well-being.
When speaking about strategies to improve food access, participants talked extensively about curbing food waste from grocery stores and restaurants. Most suggested that the City implement a policy to have unsold food donated to community organizations, community kitchens, or food banks.
It was also frequently recommended that the City help to grow and support local food markets. These markets need to be oriented towards medium-scale growers in order to connect residents with good, low-cost produce options. These affordable farmers markets are especially important in high priority neighbourhoods, where access to healthy food is often physically or financially inaccessible.
In addition, issues with food banks were frequently brought up in the conversations. While some expressed the need for less government reliance on food banks, others requested changes to the existing structure. For example, many participants noted that healthier food needs to be served at food banks, along with the need for their geographic expansion, as well as an increase in service hours or the creation of a door-to-door food bank service.
Participants also asked the City to support local food at the production level. Many encouraged the City to support community gardens, vertical farming, and small-scale food enterprises. This could be done by providing residents with access to public land, providing education and training on gardening and providing financial and material supports for business startups.
Other frequently mentioned priorities included:
- Improving information available on existing food programs and resources
- Provide economic supports or nutrition advances, especially for those on OW and ODSP
- Expand food programs at Toronto schools, including school-supplied breakfast and lunch for low-income students
- Partner with local food organizations such as Food Share and government health agencies such as Toronto Public Health and the Toronto Board of Health
- Maintain peer nutrition programs
For low-income residents in Toronto, the availability, affordability, and quality of existing housing are major concerns. In addition, participants of the conversations frequently mentioned the need for more assistance and more holistic social support to make it possible for people to move out of the shelter system and into transitional and supportive housing. Ongoing support and housing relocation assistance are key components to helping residents access and remain in stable housing.
In regards to the supply of affordable housing in Toronto, many participants emphasized the use of inclusionary zoning, in which developers would be required to allocate a certain percentage of their buildings for affordable units. Some participants suggested that this inclusionary zoning policy be mandatory, while others suggested that the City encourage this form of development through incentives for developers.
Participants also suggested prioritizing the building of affordable, social, and supportive housing projects on underutilized or City-owned land, as well as the need to encourage and increase co-operative housing options. It was also suggested that the City allow for laneway developments and rooming houses in all parts of the City to increase affordable housing options. Additionally, many participants brought up the need for income-based rental supplements, as well as the need for the City to regulate rent increases.
When it comes to the quality of existing housing, many participants pointed to the need for more attention to be paid to maintenance, landlord management, and inspections of housing units. Several of the respondents were frustrated and angry – having dealt with poor housing quality and discriminatory landlords – and asked the City to enforce housing standards that keep landlords accountable. Respondents also requested that the City carry out proactive and mandatory housing inspections to ensure that residents are guaranteed a safe and healthy place to live. A tracking system for work orders in TCHC buildings was also suggested as a way for the City to actively fix up and maintain buildings.
Lastly, participants noted the importance of accessibility in design – making sure that all new apartments, townhouses, and houses be built barrier free with an intentional design for accessibility.
Without a sustainable source of income, residents cannot adequately move out of poverty. For many participants of the conversations, major concerns included the lack of quality jobs available, the low value of current minimum wage, and the inadequacy of OW, ODSP, EI, and GAINS rates. Whether from employment or from income support programs, increased income is a crucial component to poverty reduction.
The City was encouraged to advocate for changes in provincial legislation to improve provincial income supports. Additionally, people encouraged the City to do more to ensure that people are paid a living wage – one that is adequate to support the cost of living in Toronto.
The lack of good quality jobs was another frequent topic brought up by participants of the conversations. Around this topic, many discussed the need to expand Community Benefits programs in the City. A Community Benefits program is one in which infrastructure and development projects bring benefits to communities, for example, by hiring locally or prioritizing unemployed people from priority neighbourhoods for jobs in the community. When asked what the City’s role should be in this type of program, it was suggested that the City play a leadership and project management role. This could include catalyzing and conducting benefits programs, revealing contract expectations, or taking on an overview and assessment role of the private sector’s participation.
Participants also frequently noted the importance of education and training for those disconnected from the workforce, including apprenticeship programs and paid training employment programs that are held in accessible areas of the City. One respondent spoke about a friend who had to attend a training program in the east end of the city, while her home and child’s day care were both in the west end. Even though the program was beneficial, she often had to pay extra fees to keep her child at daycare longer so that she could travel across the city – making things more difficult for her in the end. Her story not only highlights the need for more accessible locations throughout the city, but also the need for more frequent opportunities for residents to take part in employment programs.
In addition, some respondents mentioned the need for inclusive hiring practices as well as access to employment services that connect them with job opportunities. On the topic of engaging businesses, public institutions, and community partners to increase the number of quality job opportunities, respondents suggested providing tax incentives, or funding from community grants to encourage hiring.
About the Community Conversation Format
Based on resident feedback, the City is always exploring new ways to better engage communities in decision-making at the municipal level. Governments often use large forums for consultations with residents. Some work; some don’t. We have learned that community-led conversations are an effective way to ensure that as many people as possible have meaningful opportunities to share their thoughts and ideas.
Conversations that happen locally in a neighbourhood reduce the need to travel far; when they are hosted by community leaders and in existing community programs, they can create better conditions for safety; when more of them happen, more people are able to actively participate.
The Toronto Poverty Reduction Strategy Office partnered with members of the Lived Experience Advisory Group (LEAG), community leaders and animators, to create Community Conversations across the city. In these intimate conversations, members of Toronto’s diverse communities meaningfully shared their ideas with their neighbours on how the City can develop the next set of actions to achieve the objectives of the Strategy.
What did we ask?
The City created a Community Conversation Guide to help guide the conversations. The guide was available in a number of formats: