Toronto transforms a public housing disaster into a mixed-use community with citywide benefits

60 Richmond St. E., an 84-unit co-op created as part of the Regent Park redevelopment, includes a partnership with the Toronto hospitality workers' union.

Today’s Globe and Mail features the bold transformation taking place in Toronto’s Regent Park, a downtown postwar public housing project that got everything wrong about urban renewal.

The first phase (of six) of this massive redevelopment is nearing completion, putting the city on track to replace more than 2,000 low-cost housing units without tenant dislocation.

The city is partnering with private sector developers to create a new mixed-use community, including market condominiums. Funds generated by the project are being invested in new housing both on the site and elsewhere. There is much here that could be applied to projects like Vancouver’s Little Mountain.

What the article missed was the novel approach to generating new, affordable housing for vital city workers in the hospitality industry who could never afford a condominium purchase, union wages notwithstanding.

When this concept was proposed for Vancouver’s market rental units at the Olympic Village, it confounded many Vancouver commentators, although it is commonplace at sophisticated cities around the world — and even in Whistler.

Councillor Andrea Reimer and I, both in Toronto for the annual meeting of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, were given a tour today by Toronto Councillor Pam McConnell, whose ward includes Regent Park and 60 Richmond St. E., a new 84-unit co-0operative just blocks from the hotel district.

Many of the new building’s residents are Regent Park tenants and hotel workers — members of UNITE HERE Local 75 — who are relocating to a new, sustainably-designed building as their former homes are replaced. The union is a partner in the project with space for a new training centre on the ground floor.

The large airy units are organized around an open airshaft in the centre of the building, which sits on a very busy corner on a key downtown arterial. It’s a great example of how community-driven development can grow a better city.