Start­ing a more in­clu­sive di­a­logue on hous­ing

Work­shops gather ideas from res­i­dents of city’s most un­der­served ar­eas

Toronto Star - - NEWS - TESS KALI­NOWSKI

Ch­eryll Case had barely grad­u­ated from Ry­er­son Univer­sity last year when she made a splash as an ur­ban plan­ner with a project that laid a map of the city’s zon­ing bound­aries over cen­sus data.

Her peers are still hail­ing the work that shows how vast tracts of Toronto are ef­fec­tively over­housed, squeez­ing younger, less af­flu­ent res­i­dents into smaller ar­eas.

But rather than join­ing Toronto’s ur­ban plan­ning es­tab­lish­ment, Case’s af­ter-grad­u­a­tion en­core is a project called Hous­ing in Fo­cus, which chal­lenges the sta­tus quo in her cho­sen field.

Us­ing grants from the Laid­law and McCon­nell foun­da­tions, Case, 23, or­ga­nized a se­ries of work­shops, draw­ing about 140 par­tic­i­pants from low-in­come ar­eas — peo­ple she says have lit­tle say in how their neigh­bour­hoods are de­vel­oped. She asked for their ideas on how to make more af­ford­able hous­ing in vi­brant, well-ser­viced com­mu­ni­ties.

“My goal is to bring for­ward a con­ver­sa­tion that com­mu­ni­ties have been want­ing to have — the whole idea that the plan­ning process should be serv­ing those with the most needs. It’s to see how the plan­ning process can best suit their in­ter­ests — en­sur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion is wel­com­ing to those com­mu­ni­ties,” she said.

The ideas Case col­lected ranged from a water­front mar­ket­place in Eto­bi­coke to new rules that would al­low res­i­dents to con­vert their garages into homes — some­thing that might pro­vide more af­ford­able shel­ter since it doesn’t in­volve buy­ing more land.

“As a plan­ner trained to think a cer­tain way, I have cer­tain ideas of what good de­vel­op­ment looks like. Talk­ing to th­ese com­mu­ni­ties, they had dif­fer­ent ideas about re­ally cool, neat ways to build com­plete neigh­bour­hoods,” she said.

Af­ford­able hous­ing was the jump­ing-off point for the dis­cus­sions. But the par­tic­i­pants talked about their de­sire to mix sub­si­dized rentals with mar­ke­trate units, to build eq­uity through co-ops and rent-toown pro­grams.

“They’re open to pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­nity. They ac­knowl­edge that to have op­por­tu­nity you need to have de­vel­op­ment,” Case said.

“They see re­ally holis­ti­cally the way you can use de­vel­op­ment to build more af­ford­able hous­ing, to build more cul­ture, more vi­brancy in the neigh­bour­hood.”

Par­tic­i­pants in six work­shops were drawn from com­mu­nity groups and ser­vices in Eto­bi­coke, Scar­bor­ough, We­ston, Park­dale and the Dan­forth area.

There were also five work­shops ded­i­cated to build­ing youth en­gage­ment — de­vel­op­ing their lead­er­ship and re­search skills. The women, who meet at a weekly cafe at Women’s Habi­tat in the Eto­bi­coke Lakeshore area, are hun­gry for op­por­tu­ni­ties and be­lieve they have a role to play in mak­ing their neigh­bour­hood func­tion bet­ter, said Jen­nifer Oliv­er­rie, a tran­si­tional and hous­ing sup­port worker, who helped co-or­di­nate one of Case’s work­shops.

“They want their neigh­bour- hood to be safe. Women who use our ser­vices need rent­geared-to-in­come hous­ing,” she said.

Oliv­er­rie cited an ex­am­ple of a build­ing in the area where some of the agency’s clients live for which rent on a two-bed­room unit jumped from $750 a month plus hy­dro to $1,775 in less than two years. Those women wanted to see more con­sid­er­a­tion given to shared ac­com­mo­da­tion — some­thing sim­i­lar to a pro­gram that con­nects se­niors with stu­dents, who ex­change af­ford­able rent for help around the home.

“If se­niors can do this, why not other in­di­vid­u­als?” she said. “Why not youth, why not peo­ple with fam­i­lies ... to help them not use their en­tire pay­check plus their child ben­e­fit to pay rent.”

Gerry Dunn of the Dan­forth Vil­lage Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion ad­mits he was skep­ti­cal when Case ap­proached him about help­ing to or­ga­nize a work­shop.

“She pre­sented a doc­u­ment, an out­line of her idea. At first I thought it’s a bit aca­demic. It’s like some­body look­ing for a the­sis,” he said.

He said he was leary right up un­til the event.

“What she did was fairly spec­tac­u­lar. There were four ta­bles of about 10 peo­ple each. Not a big crowd, but they got go­ing. They were en­gaged,” Dunn said.

If he has any crit­i­cism of the project, it’s that, so far, it was a one-off.

“The ques­tion that is on ev­ery­body’s lips is, ‘Where do we go from here, what’s next?’ ” he said.

Case says she is de­vel­op­ing a re­port on the work­shop ideas that will be re­leased later this month and dis­trib­uted to the city and as many plan­ners and hous­ing pro­fes­sion­als as pos­si­ble.

Al­though com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tions are part of vir­tu­ally ev­ery de­vel­op­ment project in Toronto, Case thinks there’s room for im­prove­ment.

“Th­ese com­mu­ni­ties, when I’m talk­ing to them, they’re feel­ing they’re not in­cluded or they’re not be­ing asked the right ques­tions or they’re not be­ing in­vited to the right spa­ces. I’m try­ing to help both sides fig­ure out what con­ver­sa­tions do we need to have, what kind of spa­ces do we need to build to make sure ev­ery­body is in­cluded in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process so we can ac­tu­ally de­velop an ad­e­quate sup­ply of af­ford­able hous­ing that meets all our needs,” she said.

If it sounds like ad­vo­cacy, Case in­sists she is a plan­ner first. “As a plan­ner, I’m see­ing a gap I’m try­ing to fill: dis­cus­sions with peo­ple who are un­der­served.”

AN­DREW FRAN­CIS WAL­LACE TORONTO STAR

Ur­ban plan­ner Ch­eryll Case, left, work­shop par­tic­i­pant Penny Fisher, hous­ing sup­port worker Jen­nifer Oliv­er­rie and work­shop fa­cil­i­ta­tor Tetyana Bai­ley gather at an Eto­bi­coke health cen­tre.

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