Don Mount Court is the first public housing project in Toronto to be redeveloped – coming in just ahead of Regent Park, the biggest and oldest public housing neighbourhood in this city (which has started the redevelopment process). Don Mount, in the east end of downtown Toronto, had to be redeveloped because a growing number of the buildings were unfit for human habitation. The official opening for the new Don Mount – now called Rivertowne – was held yesterday.
Toronto Community Housing Company, the city’s housing agency, faces the tough job of managing the biggest housing portfolio in the country (the second largest in North America) with precious little support from senior levels of government. TCHC is forced to cannibalize its portfolio by selling-off bits and pieces of its land and housing in order to finance the long over-due redevelopment. If senior levels of government (especially the negligent federal government) paid their fair share, then TCHC would have much more flexibility with the redevelopment plans and could more effectively address the social and economic issues facing its almost 60,000 tenant households.
A pattern is being followed throughout North America with public housing redevelopments. Typically, they are converted from projects housing mostly low-income households to mixed-income communities. In the United States, the redevelopment almost always leads to fewer subsidized units – a tragic erosion of affordable housing at a time when more affordable homes are urgently needed, not less.
All of this raises a profound question: Are mixed-income communities better than single-income neighbourhoods?
Mixed-income social housing communities have been viewed as a big success, especially after the development of Toronto’s St. Lawrence neighbourhood three decades ago.
Public housing projects (large-scale government-owned and government-managed that typically housed low-income households)were built in large numbers in Toronto, Canada and throughout the United States in the first two decades after the second world war. They fell out of favour by the late 1960s and, in Canada, were replaced with a new model of affordable housing when the National Housing Act was amended in 1973 to bring in Canada’s highly successful national housing program.
From 1973 to 1993, more than half a million good quality, affordable homes in mixed-income developments were built throughout the country, and they continue provide good homes to millions of Canadians.
On the face of it, mixed-income neighbourhoods are better, and more inclusive, than single-income (low-income) neighbourhoods.
But a deeper question remains: Will the low-income households who now live in Regent Park be better off when they move back into their redeveloped neighbourhood and live next to higher-income households?
Some proponents of mixed-income neighbourhoods argue that the mere proximity of higher-income people living next to lower-income people offers a better role-model and somehow inspires poor people to work harder and get ahead in life. But the roots of poverty are not simply in personal characteristics, but structural issues (such as employment, education and income assistance programs).
Housing experts in North America and Europe are beginning to realize that while mixing incomes are necessary to create better neighbourhoods, income-mixing alone is not sufficient to address the fundamental social and economic issues that create and perpetuate poverty.
Researchers are working with residents in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood on a long-term study to test the impact of income-mixing on health and well-being.