Scarborough is set to get many more centres for subsidized recreation once a system City of Toronto staff admit is “inconsistent and inequitable” is changed in 2014.
The city’s Welcome Policy subsidizing recreation for low-income residents was used by 24,204 Torontonians last year.
But the subsidized programs are only at 22 recreation centres the city calls “priority centres,” and only one of these, Oakridge, is in Scarborough.
The Welcome Policy is effective, but its method for choosing priority centres “resulted in inconsistent and inequitable distribution across the city,” staff said in a presentation to Toronto Council’s Community Development and Recreation Committee last Wednesday.
Councillors heard 42 of Toronto’s low-income census neighbourhoods - including many in Scarborough - weren’t served by the policy because they were more than 1.5 kilometres away from a participating centre.
The city’s new Recreation Service Plan for 2013-2017 recommends increasing the number of priority centres to 39. Based low-income neighbourhoods in the 2006 Census, Scarborough would be the biggest beneficiary of the change, going from one priority centre to 10.
The plan recommends making the change in 2014, so the city can use 2011 Census data available next year.
This week, however, Scarborough Centre Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said 2006 data is good enough and the city shouldn’t wait for 2014.
Expanding the Welcome Policy’s reach into Scarborough has been contentious because providing free recreational programs “really went against the ideology or mindset of many suburban councillors,” said De Baeremaeker.
The policy is worth its cost because it teaches important skills to young people and reduces isolation in seniors, he added.
Staff, however, are also recommending the term Priority Centre be replaced with something “more generic” in order to reduce any stigma for low-income users.