Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Lawrence Heights: Residents Speak Out!

AMAL is a 23 yr-old single parent with two children living in Lawrence Heights.

Amal: I used to live in Regent Park, so when you talk about revitalization…Regent Park’s the first thing I think about. That’s why I ended up living at Lawrence Heights, so when I think about Revitalization, I think about moving.

I think Lawrence Heights is an excellent location, if this was going to be revitalized and made into houses that you can buy and own it would be excellent—and be in the millions. If you look at the location where we’re at, houses are up to $500,000. So in terms of revitalization I just think they’re kicking the poor out…to communities that don’t have that much services; in terms of TTC, that accessible.

[The “revitalization] is a bad thing, in the sense that not a lot of people will come back to the community. I think a lot of people are going to be kicked out to other communities that are really far and not accessible to services. Whereas in Lawrence Heights we have that privilege: we have two subway stations; we have two big malls; we have a library. So I think we’re getting kicked out and for me personally, living at Regent Park, coming to Lawrence Heights and now hearing revitalization, I think it’s the further and further I move out. I can say for my family that we don’t have a choice. Where is home for us? Home is a place where you have decisions and you can always come back, but that’s not happening. We constantly have to be moving because of revitalization.

And not only that, living at Regent Park you come to find out that only half the houses that are going to be revitalized are going into subsidized units—half! If not half then less than half.

[Current TCHC estimates are that only one third of units will be rent geared to income! - editor.]

BASICS: How will this affect the Somali community?
With revitalization will people be split up?

AMAL: I think with anybody that would happen, not only Somali. People who’ve been raised here knowing their families and what not, have to leave…I have to emphasize: we have no choice in the matter. The only thing you have a choice in is the next place that you choose to live in. So that disturbs me. I think that’s the one thing people don’t look at.

BASICS: If it was your choice what would you make happen?

AMAL: Well one thing I would have is—upgrade these houses. These houses haven’t been upgraded from God knows when. We live in an environment that is infested with cockroaches, with rats. And for the parents of Lawrence Heights I would want to change that so that it would have more of a “home” feeling. More of a status that you feel comfortable living in subsidized housing.

BASICS: Did any one really consult you about the redevelopment?

AMAL: No. I just know that it’s going to happen. Nobody got to vote on it. It’s not a choice and that’s what disturbs me. Being a person that is marginalized already and TCHC with their approach as “community-based” and “tenants have rights” when in fact we don’t, and can’t even express the fact that we don’t want to move.

TANISHA is a 20 year-old 1st-year student at York University who grew up in Lawrence Heights.

TANISHA: Revitalization is a hot topic right now because people are starting to hear about it. However, I know that this is a project that has been planned for years now. So it’s weird to me that the actual residents who have been living here for years are just hearing about it. I don’t feel that we are given enough opportunities to get involved and have our voices heard when it comes to the revitalization project and what’s gonna be happening to our houses. These are houses we’ve been living in for years. These are houses that we’ve raised our children in. And knowing that they will be teared down soon, and knowing that we might have to move elsewhere, there’s just too many questions that are not being answered. And too many loopholes within the planning process, according to the residents here. Because no one is really talking to us and giving us straight forward answers about what is happening.

BASICS: Do you think a resident’s association could be formed out of this problem?

TANISHA: I can definitely see something like that, maybe a resident organization. But more specifically a youth forum or organization. Because, believe it or not, the youth here take a significant role among the population of Lawrence Heights and we have very strong opinions that need to be heard. So it would be nice to have a youth forum in particular, that creates an outlet for youth to have a say in revitalization.

The number one fear personally, is our sense of family that we have developed over such a long period of time now, is going to be broken. That security and knowing we all know each other and take care of each other here in Lawrence Heights, is going to be broken up. Because we will be sent to different areas of Toronto and our community won’t be as tight-knit as it is now and has been. Regardless of the Somali, Caribbean, Eritrean, or Indian youths, we are all one community and everyone takes care of each other.

Here in Lawrence Heights because many of the members have known each other for such a long time, we know our neighbours, we know our neighbours children, we have a common set of values where we all kind of think alike or we experience the same issues as other members of our community. And I just feel with the revitalization, having an influx of so many different people coming in from different areas; from different socio-economic backgrounds, there’s gonna be too many people with too many different sets of values. And the issues that we might be facing, the new people might not have faced those issues and vice versa.

Gentrification is all I have to say. Everyone should look that word up. With revitalization, there is a lot of economic profit that will be made for the city and for other organizations as part of the development and planning process. And I hope that the message gets out that this community is about so much more than just poverty, money or economics. There’s a lot of talent in this community, there’s a lot of artists in this community, there’s a strong sense of family.