Excerpts from Vibrant Abbotsford's The Abbotsford Community - A Poverty Profile (PDF).
Located in British Columbia's Fraser Valley, Abbotsford faces unique challenges and opportunities in effecting lasting poverty reduction. The city is growing rapidly and is already the fifth largest city in BC, with a current population of over 130,000. With excellent farmland, Abbotsford combines a strong agricultural base with a growing urban element. The population of Abbotsford is younger then the provincial average, with 36 percent of the population under the age of 24.4 Abbotsford is also becoming one of Canada's most ethnically diverse communities, with 20.3 percent of the population visible minorities.
Lone parent households
In 2006, Abbotsford was home to 6,460 lone-parent households.17 In Abbotsford, the median income for female-headed lone-parent families in 2006 was $31,502 compared to the median income for all census families of $52,097.
While many of the inmates who leave local prisons (8 of the 9 federal prisons in BC are in the Fraser Valley) may relocate to their original communities, some continue living in the Abbotsford area. It is estimated that over 300 inmates exit Fraser Valley prisons annually. Of those who do settle in the Fraser Valley, many tend to choose Abbotsford as home, due to the relative density of (mostly poverty alleviation) services available. Over the years, the population of ex-inmates has added up. In general, the demographic that chooses the Valley over Vancouver are older and have served longer prison terms. This represents a greater challenge in securing employment. In addition, those who are incarcerated over a longer term have families who move to the area to be close. With one parent in prison and the other parenting, many of these mothers rely on the social safety net for survival.
With a strong agricultural base, Abbotsford relies heavily on farm workers, particularly fruit and berry pickers. The employer practices in the agricultural sector are especially important. Abbotsford has a higher percentage of the labour force in the agricultural sector then the rest of BC, particularly the female population. The trend for people receiving income assistance follows a seasonal pattern. Most workers are immigrants, many Indo Canadian, who are not fluent in English and often have little ability to advocate for their own rights, or to find other work. Most depend on farm labour contractors to negotiate their wages and working conditions with the farm owners. There is long history of exploitation and violations of employment and safety standards among these negotiators. A recent study found that immigrant farm workers often make less than minimum wage when paid the piece rate. In addition, they are not paid for overtime, statutory holidays, or rest periods.
As the population in Abbotsford increases, the cost of housing rises. In 2007, the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board produced data showing an increase in the value of single-family homes and townhouses of 90%, and an increase of 154% for apartments. The vacancy rate for rental properties continues to drop, despite a rise of 2.5% in the average rent for apartments, and 4.3% for average rent of townhouses. Rental rates are controlled though the provincial Residential Tenancy Branch, which limits increases to the inflation rate plus two percent. In addition, a report on the housing situation noted that the number of rental apartments fell by 47 units between October 2005 and October 2006. "On a net basis, there are approximately 200 fewer units in the City's rental housing inventory in 2006 than there were in 1993." The increased demand and rise in rental prices means that it is becoming increasingly difficult for low-income people to secure housing.
Early Childhood Development
A study based on the Early Development Instrument "indicated that children in Abbotsford fare quite well in social knowledge and competence, but there is room for some improvement in the other domains: physical health and well-being, emotional health and maturity, and language and cognitive development." Children in Abbotsford score below the norms on vocabulary. Abbotsford also uses less of their cultural, educational, and recreational resources then similar communities.
The role of physical and mental health in the overall wellbeing of a community is important, especially as it relates to poverty. Abbotsford has a comparatively good life expectancy rate for women, though it ranks much lower for men. Whether this reflects the types of jobs that are predominant in Abbotsford or other health factors may require further consideration. For those dealing with addiction and living in poverty, overcoming the addiction is usually a necessary step in the struggle out of poverty. It is estimated by Fraser Health Authority that 12 – 15% of the Fraser Health population is in need of treatment for addictions, or withdrawal management.