David Hulchanski

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Q&A: David Hulchanski, the U of T professor sounding the alarm on income inequality

(Image: Claire Foster)

(Image: Claire Foster)

David Hulchanski has been thinking about affordability and cities ever since he moved here from upstate New York in the late ’60s (tuition was cheaper in Canada). After decades of research, the University of Toronto professor is currently best known for his series of “Three Cities” reports, which detail the steady disappearance of middle-income neighbourhoods in Toronto and other Canadian cities. Over the years, Hulchanski has emerged as the voice of scientific inquiry into income polarization in Canada, his name regularly invoked in legislative chambers and in the media. We asked him about growing inequality in Toronto, what the loss of the mandatory long-form census means for his research, and making $1.25 an hour at his first job.

How did you become so invested in the idea of inequality?
I was always involved in issues like this, right from high school, and I just continued. As a professor, part of my job is research. In the past ten years we’ve had a couple of very large social science research grants focused on income inequality, income polarization, and how cities and neighbourhoods are changing. This is during a period where income inequality and income polarization are dramatically growing.

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The unaffordable city: how did Toronto get so !@#$%&* expensive—and is it worth it?

Middle-class life isn’t what it used to be. Thanks to a heated real estate market, a strong dollar, new taxes and stagnating incomes, Toronto has become, improbably, one of the world’s most expensive cities. Is it worth it?

(Illustration by Julien Pacaud; skyline photo by Brian Summers)

Today, an average Saturday, I spent the following: $6 on a round-trip TTC ride; about $17 on groceries from the Wychwood Barns farmers’ market (organic Crispin apples, an olive boule and free-range eggs); $34 on two bottles of wine (one decent, one plonk); almost $20 on the recent Superchunk CD and $11 on toiletries. Lunch was cheap and simple: a peanut butter sandwich, an apple and a few spoonfuls of raspberry yogurt. Dinner was free: homemade rice-and-bean burritos at a friend’s house. On the way home from that modest dinner party, waiting forever for the Dufferin bus, I almost splurged on a cab, but it seemed wasteful. Then I got home and booked a flight to New York on Porter for a friend’s 40th birthday: another $326. There’s also what I spend on my mortgage, property taxes, insurance, utilities, cellphone, Internet, YMCA membership, charitable donations and credit card debt. All of that adds up to roughly $65 a day. So, as a childless, home-owning, not-terribly-extravagant-but-not-entirely-miserly-either Torontonian, this one day at the tail end of 2010 cost me—not counting the airfare, which, for argument’s sake, I’m setting aside as an exceptional expense—about $153.

That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s about $20 more than what I make every day, after taxes. And it leaves nothing, obviously, for home repairs, clothing, vet bills, investments, medical expenses, birthday presents, savings, recreational drugs, holidays or the kid that Liz, my fiancée, and I have been talking about having this year but which, if things continue in this fashion, we’ll have to postpone having until we get jobs that net us more than $50,000 each a year.

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Two and a half cities: Hulchanksi sees a bleak, bleak future for Toronto

Three years ago the University of Toronto’s David Hulchanski produced a report titled “The Three Cities Within Toronto,” spotlighting the fact that Toronto was divided between a wealthy urban core and a working class outer ring of suburbs, with a thin buffer of middle class neighbourhoods between them. Well, Hulchanski has updated his report with census data from 2006, and projecting forward. The results are pretty bleak for those concerned about income equality in the future.

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