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City Institute researchers say perceptions must shift for mixed-income neighbourhoods to work

City Institute researchers say perceptions must shift for mixed-income neighbourhoods to work

If mixed-income neighbourhoods are to work, such as the one proposed for Lawrence Heights, there has to be a mental shift in the way people view renters, said a professor in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, wrote Jan. 6:

“You can’t tell people the way to go is to own property,” said Roger Keil, who is also director of the University’s City Institute. “The attitude has to change. We have to move away from the thought that rental housing is for lower-class people.”

With a large revitalization project such as Lawrence Heights, Keil said the key thing to keep in mind is how to balance needs and wants.

“The housing area is dilapidated,” he said. “The need part is putting in new windows, making upgrades, but also for landlords to treat residents in housing better. Toronto has an official plan and wants to make it a denser city. The problem is the want part. Other interests that want housing in that area really drive the process. With Regent Park, the whole place was torn down to create change in population and change in those areas. They tear the place down, kick inhabitants out, and when shiny new buildings are built, as far as the old residents go, either the rent is too high or they feel uncomfortable living there now with the new population and new class structure. This is a given. We know this is going to happen.”

Keil noted several ways to “soften the blow” to help ensure mixed-income neighbourhoods would succeed, including a guaranteed quota of low-income housing, rental attitude changes and creation of social institutions within those communities. “The question is how to manage it and not make it into a catastrophe,” he said. “Housing is a tiny aspect. We need schools, community centres, religious institutions that support the community there so we don’t ghettoize them in the new housing. Mobility is a major issue. It needs to be built into the renovation project and that’s why things like Transit City are so important.”

Ute Lehrer, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and member of the City Institute, said the reason why not all residents return is mainly due to cost. “To relocate costs money,” she said. “People can’t really afford relocation twice. Then there is the issue of social networks with their kids. You have to take them out of their old school, put them in a new one, and if you move back, put them back in the old school. Employment situations might have changed. They might feel uncomfortable in their new environment, rubbing shoulders with people who they have very little in common with. There needs to be subsidies and guaranteed rental space, which needs to be implemented and politically supported.”

The Global Suburbanisms Project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.