Filtering and Gentrification in the Canadian Context

1579 words | 6 page(s)

Similar to living things, age does change houses, cities, and neighborhoods. Age comes with the deterioration of buildings, which makes them functionally obsolete. Buildings that have been hit by age become less attractive. Potential homeowner by-pass these aged homes and prefer new and upcoming buildings. The aging process of buildings can be reversed with the renewal of neighborhoods. High income and younger households can move to the inner cities of Montreal and Toronto and push out the lower income households. As the city grows, so does the relative attractiveness of the central locations. This has the potential to counter the effect of the depreciation of buildings (Skaburskis & Nelson, 2014). Changes in the size of a city, resident tastes, household composition, and income can reverse the direction that filtering takes. Changes coupled with cutbacks in housing programs create serious housing challenges in terms of housing shortage for low-income households in Canadian cities such as Toronto and Montreal. In the Canadian context, filtering is not a solution to the city’s housing crisis, but a cause of the housing problems, hence the need for polices that will lead to gentrification.

There are instances in which city high-class and high-income houses deteriorate and become less desirable. Over time, the condition of these houses attracts people of low-socioeconomic status because they have lost value and become affordable to these people. This phenomenon is known as filtering and it has happened in both Montreal and Toronto. Filtering is a market mechanism that leads to an increase in the supply of dwellings that sell or rent below the economic cost of modified houses or new units. A lot has been made on the efficacy of filtering by market advocates that want the government to be compelled to stay out of the housing business (Hommik, 2012). However, it is important to note that cities change. Increased demand for land under ageing buildings encourages their replacement and renovation. Gentrification is a widespread phenomenon in Canadian cities.

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Gentrification is a market and real estate phenomenon in which a neighborhood that was classified as middle-class or low-income gets an influx of new comers. This leads to the change of the social and economic composition of the area. Gentrification is associated with an increase in housing prices and rent. It is vital to note that the rich are not concerned with the housing of the poor. As they move into the previously low or middle-class location, they demand houses, which in quality, amenities, and size fit their desires. In Toronto, high-rise condominium towers are the poster child of this phenomenon. Gentrification can also occur in a low-density area in case the area becomes desirable. The highlight of gentrification is the tearing down of old houses and replacing them with new houses as zoning allows. Even though the tearing down of old houses is a hallmark of gentrification, it can also occur in a manner such as the merging of units, renovation of buildings, and adding extensions. Gentrification can occur without leaving a physical mark noticeable from the street. In Montreal, some renovation of old buildings is thorough to the extent that what is left of the old building is the exterior wall.

From 1971 to 2001, the population of Toronto grew from 2.61 to 4.68 million while the population of Montreal grew from 2.74 to 3.43 million. Most of this population growth occurred in the ever-expanding suburbs in both cities. In Montreal, the suburbs grew from over 600,000 households in 1971 to approximately 1.1 households in 2001. In Toronto, the suburbs grew from 500,000 households in 1971 to 1.3 million households in 2001. In Montreal, the suburbs doubled while in Toronto, the suburbs expanded by more than 2.5 (Hommik, 2012). Over this period, gentrified households in Montreal grew by a factor of 1.17 whereas in Toronto, they grew by a factor of 1.33 (Skaburskis, 2012). This was more than inner-city neighborhoods where the gentrified neighborhoods grew by a factor of approximately 1.09 and 1.24 for Montreal and Toronto respectively. Comparatively, gentrification is less extensive in Montreal than in Toronto, which can be attributed to the fact that Montreal had a slow growth rate during the period from 1971 to 2001 compared to Toronto (Skaburskis, 2012).

In the 1970s, industrial re-ordering and restructuring of the national urban hierarchy brought economic and social stagnation and uncertainty. Consequently, the urban areas lost their stature because of concomitant population out-migration to outlying suburbs and other regions of Canada. Even though Toronto and Montreal witnessed an increase in the number of households, this increase was associated with a reduction in the average household size. In Montreal, inner city neighborhoods witnessed the largest decrease in their average household size. Conversely, in Toronto, the gentrified neighborhoods experienced a large decrease in their household size. Gentrified neighborhoods in Toronto had the same average household size, 1.96 persons per household in 2001. This trend in household size in the gentrified neighborhoods can be associated with the decreasing population densities during this period. Similar to the growth trend in the number of households, most of the growth in the workforce occurred in the suburbs in both cities. Growth in the women workforce in the suburban neighborhoods was substantial. In the gentrified neighborhoods and inner city, the number of women and men in the workforce remained constant. A general characteristic of gentrification is the shift from a predominantly lowly educated and working class population to a highly educated population. This is evident in both Toronto and Montreal where the number of people with a university degree doubled in 2001. In Toronto and Montreal, the gentrified neighborhoods experienced an increase in the proportion of the people with a university degree. The inner city survey tract showed a great increase in this proportion.

Gentrification is usually accompanied by changes in the housing tenure. People living in gentrified neighborhoods are mostly renters and not owners. As the incoming gentrifies move in, rental units become owned units for them to cater for the typically wealthier incomers. This population is likely to desire home ownership, unlike the previous population that was renters. For the entire period from 1971 to 2010, Montreal has changed from a rental majority to an owned majority. This is attributed to the growth in suburban homeownership. Conversely, Toronto residents have always preferred home ownership. This supports the notion that gentrifies prefer to be homeowners. In Montreal, the ratio of home ownership shifted from 0.22 to 0.54 from 1971 to 2010. In Toronto, this ratio shifted from 0.59 to 0.71 from 1971 to 2010 (Skaburskis, 2016).

A recent housing phenomenon that is being witnessed in Toronto is filtering. One of the characteristics of filtering in Toronto is the movement of affluent populations from newly constructed luxurious buildings into more modern and more luxurious buildings in a different location. This is happening in areas where new luxury apartments are being constructed in inner and outer city. This has led residents that were previously occupying luxury apartments to abandon their homes and move to the newer apartments. The abandoned homes are free to be occupied by the middle class populations because they are affordable to them. Over time, new and more luxurious apartments come up in the market and previously considered new luxury constructions will age, and be abandoned (Filion, 2011). They will filter down the socio-economic ladder.

One of the features of gentrification and filtering in Toronto is that filtering is outpacing gentrification. In an environment where gentrification outpaces filtering, high-income individuals would replace low-income families. Low-income families would be forced to move to poorly constructed locations. This would happen because of the excessive restrictions in new constructions. In a healthy and competitive regulatory climate as evident in Toronto, there is more filtering than gentrification (Skaburskis, 2016). In this city, low-income families are moving to houses that were previously occupied by the wealthy population. The rich and affluent abandoned their homes as they moved to new and fancier buildings. Presently, the demand for real estate in Toronto is high. The city is currently attracting a large number of high-income earners. Interestingly, instead of the city witnessing gentrification, this is being offset by the re-development of real estate to accommodate the new and affluent population. This has led to the emergence of new and more expensive housing units. It is important to note that even with the redevelopment; the inventory of affordable units has been left and protected by the authorities.

In most of the cases, gentrification is preceded by filtering in the cycle of investment and dis-investment in the real estate. A neighborhood undergoing gentrification experiences an increase in re-investment and status. Conversely, filtering is associated with a decrease in the status of a location and disinvestment from this location. In Canada, Toronto and Montreal have experienced filtering and gentrification. Both filtering and gentrification in Canada are characterized by increased residential mobility. Gentrification is associated with increased status and income while filtering is associated with decreased income and status. Filtering in low-income areas of Toronto is synonymous with the formation of slum. Socio-economic polarization is manifested by super-gentrification at one end of the city and low-income filtering at the opposite end.

  • Filion, P. (2011). The gentrification social structure dialectic: a Toronto case study. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 15(4). 553-574.
  • Hommik, A. (2012). Comparing gentrification in Montreal and Toronto. Kingston: Queen’s University.
  • Skaburskis, A. (2012). Gentrification and Toronto’s changing household characteristics and income distribution. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 32(2), 191-203.
  • Skaburskis, A. (2016). Filtering, city change and the supply of low-priced housing in Canada. Urban Studies, 43(3). 533-558.
  • Skaburskis, A., & Nelson, K. (2014). Filtering and gentrifying in Toronto: neighborhood transitions in and out from the lowest income decile between 1981 and 2006. Environment and Planning: Economy and Space, 46(4).

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