Residents in Lawrence Heights cheered as a demolition crew began tearing down a townhouse in their neighbourhood Tuesday, as part of the largest revitalization project in Toronto Community Housing history.

"Our community is low income but we're not lowlifes," resident Mariam Mohamud said to loud cheers at a news conference afterwards.

"Our community is segregated from other communities," said Mohamud, who's lived in the the troubled neighbourhood for the last 20 years. "But it's not about race, it's about socio-economic status."

The sound of an excavator ripping into a townhome's roof launched the first phase of the renewal of Lawrence Heights. 

TCH says 233 homes will be replaced in the first phase at no cost to the corporation. In addition, over 1,200 homes will be replaced and more than 4,000 private condominiums and townhomes will be constructed during the 15 to 20 year project. Residents will also get a new park, a school, and a community centre.

"The people living in Lawrence Heights will begin to see very soon a real change in their housing and quality of life as a result of what we're doing here today," Mayor John Tory said at the press conference. "It is about safer home and public parks but it's also about bringing the community together."

Tory said partnering with the private sector is crucial in breathing new life into neighbourhoods like Lawrence Heights and Regent Park.

"We've seen in Regent Park and we've learned from Regent Park how successful these partnerships can be between Toronto Community Housing and the ingenuity and financing amd marketing savvy of people in the private sector who can work with us to transform Lawrence Heights by building better homes and a better neighbourhood," Tory said.

Tory praised Howard Cohen and Howard Sokolowski, the heads of Heights Development Inc., for their commitment to the project.

Tory said Cohen and Sokolowski are "among the finest businesspeople and finest citizens we have in Toronto. They won't just care about getting a building built or getting units sold or rented. I assure you they will understand the concerns you will have going forward."

Both Tory and Coun. Josh Colle, who represents the ward, also praised local residents for their involvement in the planning process.

Built in the 1950s, Lawrence Heights is located in an area north of Lawrence Ave. between Bathurst and Dufferin, near Lawrence West subway station.