Poverty reduction is a "total team effort"

Submitted by Kristine Culp on February 23, 2017 - 10:58am

Vibrant Communities was pleased to recently present a webinar with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, host of our 2016 Cities Reducing Poverty summit, and Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, who will host this year’s summit from April 4-6, in a conversation facilitated by Brock Carlton, CEO, Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

If you didn’t get the chance to join that webinar, we’ve pulled out some excerpts from the conversation for you below. Time annotations are included so you can click through the webinar recording to hear more (full recording available below).

“There are 5 million Canadians who are living in poverty,” said Mr. Carlton, opening up the conversation. “How cities and towns plan and set priorities really matters.” The mayors discussed the following points and many more.

Poverty reduction is a collective effort (19:40). In Hamilton, an “anchor group” of health and educational institutions, business, and government, is tackling the city’s big issues together. “It is a total team effort,” Mayor Eisenberger said. “We’ve had our poverty strategy in place for the better part of 15 years, and now we’re really starting to see, by our collective efforts, some real movement on some of the very key issues that we need to deal with to have an impact. That is a testament to the team approach and bringing all the institutions into play.”

Ending poverty makes good business sense. (26:28) “A study was done a couple of years ago in Alberta looking at the costs of poverty to the economy here,” Mayor Iveson said. “And $7 billion is the cost that was estimated in terms of lost productivity, costs to the health and justice system.”

Housing is a key next step. (28:34) “There was a realization that housing has become the kind of fundamental issue that provides stability for people,” Mayor Eisenberger said. “If we don’t invest these kind of dollars, we’re going to invest them much more significantly in the health care system, in our criminal justice system, and elsewhere … Upfront investments can save us money going down the road.”

Data is key for understanding progress. (30:44) “We want to be able to understand our baseline conditions and make evidence-based interventions, and of course we want to track our progress,” Mayor Iveson said. The city is working with the University of Alberta and the Edmonton Social Planning Council to understand the baseline situation.

There are innovative ways to create affordable housing. (34:45) Surplus public lands provide an opportunity for mixed-income communities and mixed-use developments “that add vibrancy to the entire neighbourhood,” Mayor Iveson said. Mayor Eisenberger added that Hamilton is making downtown parking lots available for developers to do mixed-use development. New tools like inclusionary zoning and density bonuses also help stimulate construction of affordable housing.

If you want to engage your municipality around poverty reduction, reach out to a range of stakeholders. (39:45) “It’s not just the local council that needs to be engaged,” Mayor Eisenberger said. “Get some of your major institutions to stand behind (your poverty reduction initiative). It then makes it much more possible and easily supportable for your local council to put positive measures in place.”

Public education is vital. (43:18) “Were it not for the [local] poverty roundtable and the 15 years of lead-up work here, we would never have been able to convince the council to part with $50 million [for a 10-year poverty reduction strategy],” Mayor Eisenberger said. “That was so important, and the community was just ready for that. The level of support I’ve heard in the broader community was just outstanding.” Mayor Iveson added, “I have to credit the partners who were at the table … in particular the United Way, which made solving poverty their goal for their campaign three or four years ago.” That campaign softened the ground and made it easier to talk about poverty reduction in his mayoral campaign, he said.

The business community can play a big role in poverty reduction. (47:32) “That is really the next step, to engage that broader business community to put more effort and resources into their ability to actually make an impact,” Mayor Eisenberger said. “… I’m looking forward to the conference and really exploring in a more robust way how the business community can actually tap into, and get benefit from, being a partner in poverty reduction.”

To learn more about the Cities Reducing Poverty: When Business is Engaged conference, co-hosted by Vibrant Communities and the City of Hamilton, click here.