Toronto Community Housing planning large-scale, mixed-income makeover for the neighbourhood.
It has taken nearly a decade of feasibility studies, community consultations, and discussions with the developers and the City, but the revitalization of Toronto Community Housing’s Lawrence Heights neighbourhood is about to begin. Covering more than 100 acres on either side of the Allen Expressway from Lawrence West subway station to Yorkdale Station, the sweeping Lawrence Heights revitalization project will be the TCHC’s largest—more extensive, even, than the redevelopment of Regent Park.
The project is expected to take 20 years, but by the time it’s completed, all 1,208 TCHC rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units will have been replaced, while 4,092 regular market price units will have been added, transforming Lawrence Heights into a mixed-income neighbourhood. Also in the long-term plans are a new community centre, new school, and large central park.
Phase One, scheduled to start next year, will last seven to 10 years and see the replacement of 233 RGI units and the creation of up to 5,000 square metres of commercial space, as well as new parks and open spaces. Phase One will also include the development of the Yorkdale Condos—two mid-rise residential towers for mid-to-higher-income residents being touted for their proximity to the subway line, Yorkdale Shopping Mall, and whatever retailers move into the revitalized area.
With demolition of existing infrastructure slated to begin next spring, the displacement of Lawrence Heights residents is fast approaching. Moving people from their homes—even if it’s to improve those homes—is a sensitive issue. Current RGI residents of Lawrence Heights are guaranteed a spot in the new units at the same rent rate, but there are also steps being taken to ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible. The Regent Park revitalization has been plagued with complaints from displaced residents of disrupted lives and moves to far-flung neighbourhoods. But because of the pattern of development in Lawrence Heights, displaced persons will be moved to homes still in the community, explained TCHC’s Craig Ashbourne. TCHC will cover their moving costs, and assist them in the moving process. Residents will be given at least five months’ notice prior to their moving date.
TCHC and its development partners are also putting money into programs designed to assist Lawrence Heights residents. Phase One of the revitalization will include $3.5 million in employment and training opportunities for locals. And project developers Context and Metropia have contributed $500,000 to the TCHC to create the Building Our Future: Limitless Heights scholarship. The program provides area residents of all ages with financial support for post-secondary school or training, offering up to $3,000 for tuition costs and $250 bursaries for additional education costs like books, transportation, and childcare.
It’s early days yet—but the Lawrence Heights revitalization strategy appears, at least on paper, to prioritize the wellbeing of current low-income residents, even while planning for higher-income units.