The most dangerous neighbourhood in Toronto has become an international model for how to redevelop an area without ejecting people on low incomes. The city revitalised the once poverty-stricken Regent Park by building a mix of subsidised housing and condominiums, with condo sales underwriting affordable housing. Unlike the familiar pattern for such projects, the partnership created a “right to return” guarantee for existing low-income tenants.
Results & Impact
Regent Park has grown from a social housing development to a self-sufficient mixed income community, closing a 60-year socio-economic gap between the neighbourhood and greater Toronto
Toronto Community Housing Corp, the Daniels Corporation
Social housing tenants were given a "right of return" that guaranteed them an apartment of the same size at the same rent once construction is complete. The developers also guaranteed these tenants' relocation costs. The redevelopment itself is a mixture of subsidised housing and condos, and the latter underwrite the former
Cost & Value
The City of Toronto will pay $1 billion from 2005 to 2019
Running since 2005
Several problems have emerged over the course of the project, which could be avoided if it were replicated elsewhere: existing tenants were angered that their new homes were assigned in a random draw rather than based on the locations of their previous homes. Delays to construction caused by the 2008 financial crash also meant that some tenants have opted to stay in new neighbourhoods they'd settled in rather than exercise their right to return
Toronto has rebuilt its most dangerous neighbourhood without pricing out low-income tenants by instituting a unique mixed-income housing model.
The $1 billion public-private partnership has revitalised Regent Park, creating a mixed-income community and closing a socio-economic gap between the neighbourhood and the city that has persisted for 60 years.
Built in 1948, Regent Park became isolated and poverty-stricken, with many dark corners that gave cover to gangs, drug deals, robberies and shootings. Moreover, the agency responsible for it, the Toronto Community Housing Corp (TCHC) could not afford to rebuild or even repair the social housing that had fallen into disrepair.
As in many other cities, the TCHC partnered with a private developer, the Daniels Corporation, to tear down the dilapidated buildings and replace them with 7,500 new units for 12,500 tenants. Unlike the familiar pattern for such projects, however, the partnership created unique guarantees for the existing low-income tenants.
Instead of the developer building luxury apartments and the original tenants being dispersed around the city, the partnership guaranteed their “right of return”. Every tenant can return to a unit of the same size and pay the same rent once construction is complete. The new apartments, designed to attract tenants of all income levels, are a mix of subsidised housing and condominiums, and condo sales underwrite affordable housing. The Daniels Corporation – which has a background in co-operative housing – and the TCHC are covering tenants’ relocation and rental costs.
The project, which began in 2005 and is scheduled to finish in 2019, has not been without its hurdles, however. The project was initially opposed by many low-income tenants, who thought they would be priced out of their neighbourhood. Many existing residents were angered that new apartments were assigned in a random draw, rather than taking into account where they’d lived before. And although their right to return was guaranteed, many did still have to move to unfamiliar, far-flung parts of the city during the building work. As construction has taken years – especially after having been slowed down by the 2008 financial crash – some have chosen to stay in their new neighbourhoods.
But overall, the project has been a success. The developers have managed to sell upscale apartments that are cheek by jowl with social housing. The presentation centre for sales doubled as a community centre and a broad range of facilities was integrated into the neighbourhood from the start. Chief among these is a Centre for Community Learning and Development, an education partnership between Daniels, TCHC, the provincial government and several local universities.
There is also a six-acre park, three acres of sports grounds, a pool and an arts and culture space. The neighbourhood is home to a variety of retail units – often overlooked in housing developments – which contain social enterprises like Paintbox Bistro, a restaurant that trains and employs locals who have trouble finding work.
(Picture credit: Flickr/Mark Kari)