Eleanor Green was on her local TTC bus route to her volunteer job at Centenary Hospital in Scarborough recently when she looked around at the other passengers and saw only one white face.
“Most were Black, like me and there were brown faces too,” says Green, 71, a retired dental receptionist.
That’s a stark change, she says, from when she moved to her McCowan Rd. and Sheppard Ave. E. area condo 22 years ago.
Her observations fall in line with a map of Toronto put together by researchers led by University of Toronto professor David Hulchanski, that shows Black people living in clusters mainly outside the core — and very few downtown.
Community activist and writer Desmond Cole argues the map clearly demonstrates the city has a “segregation” problem when it comes to where Blacks live.
“This is called segregation. That’s what it is. There is no other word for it,” Cole told a hushed audience of city leaders, builders, planners, innovators and housing advocates gathered Thursday at the Evergreen Brick Works for the Future Cities Canada Summit, a city-building workshop.
He said many “young brilliant Black people” are leaving the city because “we can’t get the opportunities we deserve.”
Cole urged the crowd to consider the lives of people impacted by segregation and discrimination and “incorporate their needs into the notion of city building in 21st-century Toronto.”
Hulchanski, a professor of housing and community development and faculty housing chair, used Canadian census tract information for 2016 to explore inequality in the city.
The data was derived from census respondents who self-identified as Black. In 2016, the community was nine per cent of the city’s population or 239,850 people.
The map shows that Black people predominantly live in the western (old city of York) portion of the city, as well as the northwestern corners including Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough to the east.
Hulchanski, also in attendance at the summit, said in an interview that he does indeed believe “segregation” and discrimination are playing a role in the map’s configuration.
Other factors contributing to inequality and income disparities in the city include the loss of well-paying jobs that sustained people in Toronto, as well as government tax policies, he says.
But a key factor people are less comfortable talking about, Hulchanski says, is discrimination.
He noted that the Jewish community, for example, is highly concentrated in some areas of the city, as are communities such as the Portuguese.
But for Black people, “skin colour matters” when it comes to where they live, Hulchanski says.
“That’s why more people in Toronto need to recognize anti-black racism, specifically. (Skin colour) still matters to some landlords … and produces the map you see. It matters to some employers too. Lower incomes equal fewer options in the housing market. It’s no surprise to see the Black population highly concentrated,” Hulchanski says.
“We are a segregated city,” Hulchanski says, adding the problems also impact Muslims and recent immigrants.
He wants to see stiffer monitoring, enforcement and penalties under Ontario’s Human Rights Code to punish landlords who are discriminating against Blacks and other visible minorities when it comes to rental housing.
Hulchanski said it takes “forever” to go after landlords who discriminate in the city, and the penalties are “very modest.”
Asked to respond to the map and the argument that segregation and discrimination are factors, a spokesperson for the Federation of Rental Housing Providers of Ontario said the organization’s members maintain at their “core an organizational commitment to tolerance, (inclusiveness) and the protection of human rights.
“Without equivocation, FRPO and its members believe that discrimination based on race, colour, creed, gender, sexual orientation or additional factors is wholly unacceptable, is contrary to provincial law and directly contravenes the organization’s code of conduct,” said spokesperson Danny Roth.
“FRPO is committed to promoting conduct that complies with the Ontario Human Rights Code,” he added.
Also present at the summit, Ceta Ramkhalawansingh, a community advocate and former director of diversity management with the city of Toronto, said she doesn’t completely agree with the conclusion that the map demonstrates segregation.
“In my view it’s more nuanced than that,” she said in an interview.
Rather than exclusively a factor of race, she said Blacks, brown people and other minorities gravitated to the preamalgamation areas of the city such as Scarborough and Etobicoke because while you needed a car to get around due to poor transit, housing was more affordable.
Green says she purchased her 1,000-square-foot unit in Scarborough two decades ago because rents and properties downtown were too expensive at the time and have only become worse since.
Shown the map by a reporter, she says she isn’t surprised by what it shows and believes segregation “could be” a factor in the city.
She does believe housing and job discrimination against Blacks is an ongoing problem in the city.
“I have a niece and tell her the colour of her skin is one strike against her, and the fact she is a woman is another strike,” Green says.
She urged young Black people to get the “piece of paper” — a diploma or degree, without which discrimination is even worse.
Donovan Vincent is a housing reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @donovanvincent