Have you ever noticed how some neighbourhoods suddenly transform from a plain unimaginative enclave into the new hot trendy area with sky-rocketing property values? And how is it that in the course of a few years a neighbourhood once renown for it’s Italian shoe stores can become home to the trendiest eateries in the city? Or an area identified as Greektown is now a burgeoning community full of French immersion school kids?
Welcome to the world of gentrification in the City of Toronto.
Gentrification is the phenomenon of middle class households moving into what were once working class areas. In Toronto, the city of neighbourhoods, most of what was constructed south of St. Clair Avenue during the late 1800s thru 1920s was built of the simplest pedigree. Brick and frame constructed two storey row homes, two and half storey semis, and working class cottages dot most of our inner city streets. With the exception of The Annex, Rosedale and pockets of Riverdale and the central west end, the majority of our housing wasn’t constructed for the affluent, but for the working and merchant classes immigrating to the city.
Up until the 1970s this housing stock remained much the same while the cultural makeup of the neighbour-hoods shifted. As new immigrants fanned throughout the city, the social fabric of the inner city changed while the existing housing stock and its fairly cheap property values did not. In pockets where the housing stock became decrepit, the 1950s and 1960s solution to this visual blight was blockbusting. Huge swaths of down-town ‘ghettos’, particularly Regent and Moss Park amongst others, were torn down and replaced by social housing as a means to provide better shelter, and arguably a better quality of life. For the areas that avoided decimation the housing remained substandard, though by the 1970s a more unusual shift was in the air. White-painters, as they were originally called, began moving in and upgrading the housing stock. In addition to necessary mechanical and building component upgrades, these early adopters deconverted these multi-family dwellings and rooming houses, restoring their original architectural features and parlaying them into lucrative profits. As their popularity grew, the influx of the middle class followed, claiming the inner city as their very own.
An array of explanations has been suggested for the rise of gentrification since its noticeable impact in the 1970s. These include a growing rejection of the suburbs for its architectural homogeneity and cultural sterility, as well as the time and congestion associated with highway commuting. The changing household structure of fewer children and two income wage earners, including the growth of a gay subculture and non-traditional living arrangements, have also made traditional suburbia undesirable. As well, the growth of white collar service activities downtown and the decentralization of manufacturing have redefined the inner city housing market, now home to first generation Canadians.
Another contributing factor to the rejuvenation of inner city housing stock is its condition. As most of the housing stock is at least one hundred years old, enormous investments of capital are required to bring it up to building code. As realtors who work throughout the inner city, we generally find that the lowest acquisition price usually means a substantial amount of improvements are necessary, particularly as insurance companies are resistant to properties containing old knob-and-tube wiring and insul-brick siding. As a result, homebuyers are often required by both financial and insurance companies to upgrade their homes, which in turn push up costs beyond the affordability index of many home buyers. Many first time buyers simply cannot afford city houses retrofitted to building code. As a result, the condominium market has evolved into the entry level alternative for downtown living.
Not too long ago in an interview for a Global television newscast, I was asked what the city’s hottest neigh-bourhoods were. My response became the television commercial for the segment. “In the 70s it was Cabbagetown, in the 80s it was Riverdale, in the 90s it was College Street, and for the new millennium it’s Roncesvalles Village!” Certainly across the inner city, we are finding that gentrification is making its rounds, as urban revitalization takes a strong hold throughout the central core and creates new in-demand neighborhoods. It is an interesting phenomenon, and with careful analysis, there are several clues to which neighbourhood will rejuvenate next.
At urbaneer.com, we make it our business to monitor such inner city dynamics and identify neighbourhoods poised to gentrify. Certainly as a homebuyer, you want to make an educated decision on which location will make the best investment. It’s one of several critical factors to making a rational prudent home purchase.
Do you want to know more? Give the urbaneer.com team at 416-322-8000 to help put your needs into perspective!