Poverty in Montreal
Where it’s at, where it came from, where it’s going
Montreal is known for its nightlife, its bagels and its year-round festivals du homard, but it has a lesser-known and less-celebrated reputation too. For decades, we’ve ranked above all other big Canadian cities for poverty. If this burg were a store, we’d be Hardship ’R Us.
But where are the streets with no dough? Destitution is often imperceptibly found in otherwise unremarkable, sleepy tree-lined areas. In the April 1, 1999 Mirror, in their story “Down and Out in Montreal,” Philip Preville, Matthew Hays and Dominique Ritter looked at the city’s five poorest neighbourhoods. They were: Maisonneuve, the Gay Village, Pointe St-Charles, Côte des Neiges’s Victoria district and Park Extension.
By analyzing reams of data from the 2001 census, the Montreal public health administration and the provincial Health Ministry poverty map (www.msss.gouv.qc.ca/statistiques/atlas/atlas/indicateurs/
defav/fc_pauvrete_2001.php), the Mirror has peered once again through those brick walls into the hand-me-down, hardscrabble city of foodbank pasta, waiting for the mailman on the first of the month and fantasy of big lotto lucre. Some places have improved, others haven’t.
So enough with the contextualization and rhetorical flourish. Here are Montreal’s poorest neighbourhoods, based on welfare rates, income, home ownership and education.
St-Henri Serious poverty reigns in about a third of the fast-polarizing area of St-Henri, if you believe the 2001 census. Nowadays, the neighbourhood made synonymous with scarcity by Gabrielle Roy’s WWII classic The Tin Flute isn’t entirely dollar deficient. Have-nots live cheek-to-jowl with brie-eating urbanites, but the persistent pockets of poverty lie in Turcot Village (just east of the Turcot Yards) and as well as parts of Little Burgundy and several blocks around Atwater. Over 27 per cent of all St-Henri residents receive welfare, well above the city average of 12 per cent.
St-Michel This is a largely working-poor area, home to 55,000, of whom only 19 per cent receive welfare. The typical St-Michel adult earns $18,414 a year, compared to the city average of $28,258. About 30 per cent have less than a grade nine education, twice the city average. Poverty is particularly dire around Boulevard Industriel between St-Michel and Pie IX.
Park Extension The 30-odd-block, formerly Greek, now somewhat East Indian, immigrant crash pad is often deemed the city’s—even the country’s—poorest neighbourhood. All but two blocks were shaded as poverty zones on the Health Ministry poverty map. Six blocks on the north side of Jean-Talon fell into the most serious classification of poor. One in four Park Ex residents collects welfare. That’s down from 35 per cent during the mid-’90s Montreal meltdown, but nevertheless twice the city average. City councillor Mary Deros suggests that poverty has since been reduced.
“People are renovating, there’s upkeep and investment,” she says. “You’ll see the cars parked outside, and they’re not cheap cars.” New libraries, a community centre and a swimming pool have improved lives for the locals, but Deros admits that cleanliness remains a challenge.
Hochelaga-Maisonneuve A few years back, you could have mailed a postcard from povertyland from a giant chunk of the city, anywhere from Frontenac to Viau between Sherbrooke and the river. In 2001, that giant bastion of barrenness melted down to a much smaller series of reluctant toeholds. Cupboards remain bare mainly near the river as well as other zones deep in the ’hood, such as around Adam and Davidson. But even that data could be outdated, as sections such as Préfontaine and Ste-Catherine E.—an area once fondly known for its unabashed crack hookers—have also been redone since those numbers were collected. In 2004, 29 per cent of Hochelagans were on welfare, down 10 per cent from its 1997 peak.
Montreal North The working women of this area earn an average of $17,000 per annum, making them the lowest-earning group in the city. Compare that to best paid: $118,444 annual income of a Westmount male. And many of those women feed families on that wage—40 per cent of all area families are headed by a single parent, dwarfing the 25 per cent overall city rate.
While poor blocks were found throughout Montreal North in 1996, the east side nowadays is the main holdout, above Henri-Bourassa from Monty to Lacordaire. The former municipality is home to the most poor people of any district and has an increasingly bad reputation—largely undeserved—for street crime. Half pay more than one-third of their income on rent, and 41 per cent live below the poverty line.
Pointe St-Charles Unlike other areas where poverty has diminished, almost every block in the Point gets painted with the blackest of ink on the poverty map. The only areas that were deemed un-poor, according to the provincial poverty map, were a couple of blocks near Hibernia, a few standouts near the canal and about half of the area south of Wellington. Half of families live under the poverty line. About half of all homes here are some form of public housing, so they’re there to stay.
The Point also retains its comfortable lead in the concentration of welfare recipients—33.5 per cent. It’s also tops in single-parent families, double the city average. In fact, there are as many single-parent families as dual parent families in the area, and 21 per cent of all residents have less than a grade nine education.
How to tell if your ’hood is heading south
Poverty is too poor to afford a moving van, which is why you see mainly the same areas remaining poor. But bare cupboards could be slowly creeping from the inner city to what were once considered suburbs. Poverty is moving, says McGill urban studies prof Raphaël Fischler. He has some notions on how to spot an area in transition from suburb to slum.
“It’s related to the quality of the housing stock,” he says. “In older suburbs, where the population is reaching retirement age, there’s going to be a lot of supply of housing on the market. And in places where the quality of the building stock is not so high, middle income earners will not want to buy these houses. They may prefer to go to new housing further out. Even though one can’t predict the future, the thing to watch out for is low-density, old suburbs with poor housing quality.”
Fischler has more hope for areas rife with abandoned, buggy-and-whip industries. “With really old industrial zones that have become brownfields, new housing of good quality can be put in—we’re talking Verdun, Lasalle, Lachine,” he says. “There’s less demand for places not well-served by public transit, commerce, parks and playgrounds, so watch out for that.”
Also check out the main drag in your home turf. Consider empty storefronts a warning. “These places might fall between the cracks,” he says. “If you see a commercial strip not doing well, even in a place that wasn’t necessarily traditionally, historically poor, that might be part of the next wave of concentrated poverty.”
More poverty tidbits
• Ville St-Pierre—or St-Pierre, as it’s part of Montreal now—retains some alarming poverty. The blocks along St-Jacques are poorer than they were a decade ago.
• Parts of Montreal East, near the riverside, are new to the poverty map.
• Côte-St-Paul, Ville Émard and lower NDG all had scattered areas of poverty in 1996, but no more.
• From Marcel-Laurin Boulevard to about five blocks east, you’ll find penury all the way up. It’s poor and getting poorer.
• In Lachine, the area around Park Lasalle has been added to the city’s poor zones.
• Poverty in Verdun, once scattered as far west as the avenues, has been reduced to the blocks east of de l’Église.
• The richest? 1) Westmount 2) Hampstead 3) Town of Mount Royal 4)Beaconsfield 5) Montreal West.