The revitalization of Regent Park is well under way, but who will actually want to live there?
The revitalization of Regent Park is now well under way—the ugly red-brick dwellings having been replaced by sleek glass towers—and my cynical side isn’t sure if it’s working. The plan to transform one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods into what Toronto Community Housing calls an “innovative mixed-income, mixed-use community” was the great social experiment of the David Miller era. But in the end, who will actually want to live there?
When tenants were forced out in 2005 to make way for the bulldozers, they were given temporary housing and told they had the right to return. But can poor people afford the new Regent Park condos? Apparently not, as they found out the hard way when former residents entered the sales centre for projects like Parliament Street’s OnePark West and were promptly turned away. (Not everybody’s right to return came with a plan for how to pay for it.) Eventually, about 2,000 new low-income rentals will replace what was torn down. But consider that the plan will also introduce 3,000 modern condo units, and suddenly we’re not talking about renewal—we’re talking about cleaning up and gentrifying.
Don’t shoot the messenger! I’m not the one who decided to hire Daniels Corp., one of the largest condo developers in Toronto, to build units that would be flipped on the resale market for $500 per square foot. Explain to me how former residents of Regent Park are supposed to come up with the $513,400 that one of the townhouses on Cole Street just sold for. Is the developer handing out scratch-and-win tickets?
You might wonder, then, who originally bought these units when they were first offered pre-construction? As soon as the buildings at 1 and 25 Cole St. were completed and move-in ready, units that had been purchased beforehand suddenly appeared for resale on the Toronto Real Estate Board’s MLS. Only investors list properties for sale right after completion of a condo and before anyone’s lived in it. Since March 2010, almost 30 units on Cole Street have sold and another 66 have been listed for lease, and this doesn’t include properties that have been listed privately.
So now that the neighbourhood’s scuzzy exterior has been polished and the new condos have been nabbed by investors with no intention of ever living in the area, the question becomes: Will this forced gentrification process ever work? As a realtor who specializes in downtown condos, I have no clue why anyone would pay $500 per square foot to live in Regent Park. For one thing, there are better deals to be had in less controversial neighbourhoods. For $550 a square foot, you can live in the brand-new East Lofts at King and Princess streets. If developers hope to attract buyers of means who want to live there, they need to go a lot further to rebrand Regent Park as something other than the poverty-stricken area that we’ve known it to be for so long.
The way I see it, investors came, saw and purchased at the new, revitalized Regent Park, and in the process, the residents were driven out. Perhaps many of these investors were based overseas and didn’t differentiate between prime St. Lawrence Market real estate and condos in the nearby Regent Park, but they bought in anyway, and they drove prices way up.
Over the next couple years, I think we’ll find that the original residents of the area won’t be able to afford to live here, and the higher-income, professional singles and families imagined by David Miller won’t want to live here because, well, it’s one of the most crime-ridden areas in the city. You can give a building a moneyed-sounding name like OnePark West Boutique Condominiums (So hip! It sounds like Park Avenue), but at the end of the day, it’s still in Regent Park.