Resident faces ‘revitalization’ of community housing

Tanisha Pessoa is anxious and frustrated. For a year, she’s wondered if she will soon be forced to move out of her social housing unit in Allenbury Gardens.

“What will I do when I can’t afford the cost of living in my new home?” she asked. “The thought of being displaced because they’re building condos that cost more than my rent, worries me.”

Pessoa said that the revitalization in her community housing neighbourhood has reached the phase one stage, the revitalization of the older townhomes.

“Fairview Mall used to be a one-stop shop, with affordable stores like the Dollar Store and a four-dollar movie theatre,” Pessoa said. “Now Fairview Mall mainly caters to people who have a higher income that live in the condos built around the mall.”

Tanisha Pessoa, 27, is a mature student at the Scarborough Centre for Alternative Studies (SCAS), working hard to graduate in June 2017. She hopes to enroll in nursing at Seneca College. She’s committed to becoming a nurse practitioner after graduation, so that she can move out of her current subsidized unit, in Allenbury Gardens and own her own home.

Toronto Community Housing Corporation is a public housing agency that’s funded by the government of Ontario. TCHC allows residents to pay rent according to their income.

During April of 2013, the City Council approved the official plan and zoning bylaw amendment to transform aging housing infrastructure to build better homes in the TCHC areas. Allenbury Gardens is Toronto Community Housing’s first revitalization community in the northeastern part of the city.

Lisa Murray, a public relations spokesperson for Toronto Community Housing, said that revitalization is a program to replace certain TCHC communities with apartments and townhomes that are severely aging and need replacement. This redevelopment, she said, will provide residents with new homes while bringing new amenities that benefit the entire community.

“A lot of buildings that were built as social housing were built poorly,” Murray said. ”Some community housing townhouses need extensive refurbishment.”

However, she recognized that the Toronto Community Housing services need to go beyond capital repairs. She said that TCHC takes a look at all the components of a neighbourhood. She added that private-sector developers are required to contribute funding for students who need scholarships, or to hire TCHC residents at the local stores that they construct nearby, and so forth.

“The private sectors must commit to becoming a part of the community,” Murray said. “We’ve previously put in health-care centres where 5,000 patients can have a family doctor.”

In a meeting held in July 2010, tenants were given the opportunity to assist with the redevelopment planning process in Allenbury Gardens, and to suggest designs for the planned new units.

Jed Kilbourn, an associate development manager at TCHC, said that the process of revitalization is much different from gentrification.

“Gentrification is a large city process with the rate of a neighbourhood change,” he said. “We’re a housing provider. As your income increases or decreases so does your rent.”

He argues that residents who are required to move into other vacant Toronto community Housing units outside of their original community, are given the opportunity to move back into the community once the redevelopment is completed.

“In our revitalizations, residents have the right to move back,” Kilbourn said. “In Regent Park, existing residents moved into the city of Regent Park.”

Tenants, such as Pessoa depend on the TCHC revitalization process to not eliminate affordable rental housing units they live in.

“I understand that these building are old and are in need for desperate repair,” Pessoa said. “But when the community becomes desirable, the influx of wealthier people will ‘price us out.’”

However, according to public relations spokesperson Murray, the goal in revitalization is to combine the TCHC units with market and subsidized units, and not create a community separated by class.

The TCHC board said it is committed to redeveloping the quality of homes for tenants, which will allow them to return and pay the same price they paid for rent prior to their displacement.

“With gentrification, a different demographic is going to come in and pay more,” Murray said. “For every TCHC unit that is going back up, market and subsidized will be mixed in the communities.”

But Pessoa doesn’t feel as if the tenants in the Toronto Community Housing neighbourhoods will be given the opportunity to move back into the redeveloped areas with the option to receive social assistance and the option to pay rent geared to income.

“I understand that they want to fix up the area,” Pessoa said. “If the choice that they give me isn’t the same, then my last resort is to move somewhere else with my family and work towards affording the new cost of rent.”