The following has been submitted by a group of academics and social activists.
even the passing of the torch at City Hall hasn't stopped politicians from falling over themselves to heap praise on the plan to remodel Regent Park and bring decent living conditions at long last. But Regent Park residents are already raising concerns about where they will be moved during the redevelopment, and whether they will continue to feel at home there afterwards.
The community consists of 2,087 households, mostly led by single moms and immigrants, most of whom are people of colour. They've come from all over to try to establish themselves, and their lives have been severely strained by the social and economic policies of the last decade. They have no real say over how their housing project is managed, and the physical state of their homes has been allowed to deteriorate, making everyday living difficult for many, unbearable for some.
To add insult to injury, Regent Park has been cast as a flawed city neighbourhood that needs to be saved from itself. The needs of Regent Park residents have been neglected, and their housing issues deserve to be addressed, but under what kind of plan?
The city and its housing company, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC), plan to obliterate Regent Park. Discard every brick, pathway and garden. Dismantle homes, recreation centres, the swimming pool and hockey rink. Then invite private developers to rebuild it according to some Victorian fantasy.
The plan calls for housing density to be doubled from the current 2,087 units to 4,500. But there's a catch: while the existing units, all publicly managed and subsidized, are to be replaced and offered to current residents first, the additional units are for the private market exclusively.
The plan's success hinges on pitching the new neighbourhood as safe and attractive to condo developers and buyers. Beneath the spin of building a more livable community is a land grab. Consider the fact that Regent Park is 69 acres of public land sitting next to prime downtown real estate. Luxury lofts and car dealerships are already springing up on the perimeter of the park, and townhouses are on sale for as much as $500,000.
The Park's state of severe disrepair is being used to justify the project, implying it's the only way residents will finally get decent living conditions. The truth is that for years provincial governments - and recently the city - have neglected even basic maintenance. Now the politicians look to their friends in the private sector as partners to rebuild and create a "cleaned-up" and mixed community.
There's no question the renovation of Regent Park's housing is long overdue, but what does the privatization of the land and community really mean for residents and other tenants who live in the area now?
In Regent Park, folks who rely on social assistance and those who are among the working poor could well be displaced - most likely out of the centre of the city. Already, they will have to be relocated during the years of construction.
If TCHC doesn't make the profit it anticipates by selling off or leasing the Park's land to private developers - money it's relying on to fund the reconstruction of the public apartments and townhouses - even more subsidized units could be cut from the plan.
As condo buyers and businesses move in during the initial phases of redevelopment, their influence will only grow in the neighbourhood and consolidate the power of nearby ratepayer groups already pushing to slash the ratio of subsidized units to just 25 per cent.
Further, as property values go up, other residents in affordable private units around Regent Park will soon find themselves priced out of the area. The result will be even more political pressure to get rid of services for low-income people, single moms, immigrants and refugees.
So much for achieving a social mix. The proud neighbourhood formerly known as Regent Park will feel a lot more like mono-cultural trendy new "South Rosedale," a name that's already being kicked around.
Ultimately, such gentrification pushes low-income folks, people of colour and women-led families to the edges of the city.
There are alternatives. The new provincial government did pledge money for affordable rental housing, including non-profits and co-ops. Queen's Park needs to be held firmly to this promise. And the city needs to understand that public land and public housing are worth much more to the heart and soul of the city than the money privatization can bring.
Why can't Regent Park redevelopment become a solution to the desperate need for truly affordable housing in Toronto instead of feeding the ever-growing appetite of the private real estate market?
Signed by Debbie Douglas, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants; Grace-Edward Galabuzi, assistant professor, Ryerson University; Kanishka Goonewardena, assistant professor, University of Toronto; datejie green, journalist; Jason Hackworth, assistant professor, University of Toronto; Punam Khosla, MES candidate, York University; Stefan Kipfer, assistant professor, York University; Ute Lehrer, assistant professor, Brock University; Karen Wirsig, journalist; Doug Young, PhD candidate, York University