Public Works: Paris Strikes Back Against Gentrification
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Public Works: Paris Strikes Back Against Gentrification

The city has a plan to keep residents from being squeezed out of their homes by rising rents and redevelopment.

Public Works looks at public space, urban design, and city-building innovations from around the world, and considers what Toronto might learn from them.

Photo by Jerry Howells, from Flickr

Photo by Jerry Howells, from Flickr.

Paris is taking a stand against gentrification. On December 17, the city approved a plan to protect tenants in rapidly evolving neighbourhoods from being squeezed out by rising rents and property redevelopment. The city has identified more than 8,000 apartments in 257 buildings for which it will have the right of first refusal on property sales.

If and when these homes go on the market, the municipal government will be guaranteed a chance to buy them and convert them into low-income housing before they’re instead scooped up by private developers to be turned into stately pleasure domes for the nouveau riche.

The plan takes advantage of existing laws that allow public agencies first dibs on properties in certain areas for the purpose of urban development. The government will pay market value, and only pursue properties that landlords have independently put up for sale. If a landlord feels the government’s offer is insufficient, they can go to arbitration for a higher sale price or take their property off the market. The city has earmarked 850 million euros for buying up these properties.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s efforts at slowing gentrification have yielded a somewhat spotty record. While Paris wants to buy private land to turn into public housing, Toronto has been selling off vacated public housing in gentrifying areas to private concerns.

The Toronto Community Housing Corporation, for its part, has been working to protect, improve, and expand subsidized housing neighbourhoods. Regent Park, for instance, is undergoing a massive overhaul that has seen it transformed into a mixed-income community featuring new parks, athletic centres, and creative social programs—and by the time that project is finished, more than 2,000 affordable housing units will have been replaced, with more than 300 new ones added. But things have not gone perfectly. Although residents are guaranteed a spot in the rebuilt community, many have been displaced during construction. But, overall, TCHC appears committed to protecting public housing residents in Regent Park and other communities undergoing revitalization from being pushed out en masse in favour of condos and high-income gentrifiers.

It’s good news for people already in the public housing system. But for low-income Torontonians not already living in TCHC residences, things look a little bleaker.

Just up the road from Regent Park, Cabbagetown has been gentrifying at an alarming rate, and what could once have been described as a mixed-income neighbourhood is becoming more and more homogenous. Some would argue the gentrification process there has been completed already. And in Parkdale, a west-end neighbourhood that 10 years ago was almost exclusively low-income and sported an unsavoury reputation, is today “the place to be” for young professionals.

With more and more neighbourhoods gentrifying, where will low-income residents go when their buildings are sold or their rents increase? Paris seems to have answered that question. Will Toronto?