Lawrence Heights finding new life

[attach]1407[/attach]Lawrence Heights is at the beginning of a 20-year renaissance.

The City of Toronto and Toronto Community Housing recently unveiled plans to revitalize the low-income area and turn the 100-acre plot into a mixed-income community, replacing all 1,208 existing housing units and adding 4,300–4,800 units to be priced at market value.

The project will span the next 20 years, but if plans go according to schedule, construction of mixed-income housing can start as early as 2011, said Keiko Nakamura, CEO of Toronto Community Housing.

The heat is on to help the troubled neighbourhood, which has experienced several violent crime incidents in the past and faces a lack of social services.

“We’ve been moving towards (the mixed-income) model because we believe very strongly that there’re more positive results coming from living in mixed-income, integrated neighbourhoods,” she said.

Research has shown that children from low-income families do better in school, are healthier and have fewer run-ins with police when they live in mixed-income areas rather than ones dominated by poor families, said United Way president Frances Lankin.

United Way initiated the Action for Neighbourhood Change project in Lawrence Heights a few years ago, and currently operates the New Heights Community Health Centre, located on Flemington Road.

“In mixed-income neighbourhoods the parents have the resources to organize the community like keeping the school swimming pool open or organizing the Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and soccer clubs,” she said.

Nakamura said Toronto Community Housing is working hard to transform Lawrence Heights into the sort of community Lankin talks about.

“In terms of our vision, it goes beyond replacement of housing in poor states of repair,” said Nakamura. “We see great value in social housing and through our activities in changing neighbourhoods, we hope we can help catalyze others to see that.”

And there is little question that much of the housing in Lawrence Heights is in poor condition.

“It’s beyond the point of repair, it’s time for rehabilitation,” said Ward 16 councillor Howard Moscoe. “So we’re using this opportunity to rebuild the community from the ground up.”