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Income gaps have widened in Greater Montréal, report finds

April 11, 2013

Update : February 3, 2021

Income disparities between Montréal-area neighbourhoods have increased in the past three decades, though not as dramatically as in Toronto and Vancouver, a new report shows.

While most Greater Montréal neighbourhoods remain middle-income, their share slipped from 64% to 55% between 1970 and 2005, the report finds. On the Island of Montréal, the share of low-income neighbourhoods grew from 22% to 37%. In the off-island suburbs, poor neighbourhoods jumped from 3% to 19% of the total and the share of affluent neighbourhoods rose slightly (15% to 18%).

Researchers Damaris Rose and Amy Twigge-Molecey of INRS University tracked how well neighbourhoods were doing in terms of their residents’ average incomes compared to those of Greater Montréal as a whole.

The period they studied saw dramatic changes affecting urban growth and the social status of many neighbourhoods. When Canada’s financial centre shifted to Toronto, it took with it many of Montréal’s most affluent residents. Traditional manufacturing industries collapsed, but Montréal reinvented itself as a knowledge- and culture-based economy, which has fuelled gentrification of the inner city. With the rise of the francophone middle class, the outer suburbs mushroomed. With big changes to immigration policy, middle-class areas became more diverse, but the poverty map of Montréal also looks different today as low-income newcomers cluster in post-war apartment districts.

Commenting on the findings, Rose says that it’s time to retire the classic “doughnut hole” metaphor used to describe the patterning of wealth and poverty in Greater Montréal. Gentrification has broken up old poverty concentrations and created some new pockets of affluence in the centre. Surrounding the urban core is a ring of post-war suburbs where poverty has become entrenched, with consolidation of a large cluster of lower-income neighbourhoods in north-east and south-west Montréal. Poverty has also grown in Longueuil and parts of Laval. Meanwhile, zones of affluence are expanding in in parts of Laval and the North Shore and in the eastern part of the South Shore, while contracting on the West Island.

The report is the most recent publication of the Neighbourhood Change Research Partnership (NCRP), a 7-year study funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). It is based at University of Toronto and also includes Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Halifax. Previous NCRP reports show that Toronto and Vancouver have fared much worse than Montréal since 1970 in terms of increasing income contrasts between neighbourhoods and shrinkage of middle-income neighbourhoods.

“Unlike these more polarized cities,” says Rose, “neighbourhoods that are relatively stable, where a majority of residents have middle incomes, are still found all over Greater Montréal.” Rose attributes Montréal’s relative success to an array of factors, including affordable housing, strong community services and good public transportation in most poor neighbourhoods on the Island—not to mention that Canada’s top 1% are largely absent from Montréal!

She warns, however, that Montréal can’t afford to become complacent. “The expansion of contiguous zones of poverty and affluence raises spatial-equity challenges with implications for housing and transportation policy,”she says, adding that it’s crucial for the region’s new “transit-oriented development” (TOD) to ensure that affordable rental housing is built in the new high-density transit hubs planned for the outer suburbs.

The NCRP team will soon be updating their findings to 2010, for Montréal and the other five cities.