Alexandra Park residents 'gaining a home' as first phase of revitalization wraps up
On Saturday, 40 families will celebrate their move into brand-new townhouses
Sixteen years after he first arrived in Canada, Waseem Tahir has completed another big move. This time, it was back into his beloved Alexandra Park community, the revitalization of which he helped to spearhead.
Tahir, who first moved to Alexandra Park with his wife and four children in 2004, had become so active in the community that he was one of the leaders of the revitalization that began in 2009.
The first phase is now complete, and 40 families, including the Tahirs, have moved into their new units. Residents will gather at 3 p.m. today to celebrate the milestone.
Convincing residents to support the revitalization was a challenge, Tahir said, given that they would have to move temporarily while their old houses were torn down and new homes constructed.
"So I told them, 'You're not losing a house,'" Tahir told CBC News on Friday. "I told them, 'You are gaining a home.'"
'It's like a mini-Canada'
Tahir had been an electrical engineer in Pakistan when he decided to seek better opportunities for him, his wife and their three sons in Canada. They landed in Toronto in July of 2000.
But, in a tale familiar to many immigrants, Tahir could not find engineering work here and had to support his family on a security guard's income. In 2002, the family added a fourth child, a girl.
By then he was spending between 60 and 70 per cent of his income on rent, and knew something had to change. The wait list for community housing was long, but in 2004 he got the call offering space in Alexandra Park.
The family had found its home.
Tahir threw himself into community work and joined the board of the Atkinson Co-op, a resident-led, non-profit co-operative for developing and managing Alexandra Park.
"It's like a mini-Canada," Tahir said of the co-op, noting the diversity of the community's residents.
"I know our colours are different, but the colour of our blood is the same."
Today's move-in celebration is more than seven years in the making.
The idea to re-imagine Alexandra Park was first pitched in 2009. A series of consultations and heated public meetings took place over a number of years, before ground broke in 2014.
Toronto Community Housing said units were in such a state of disrepair, a re-build was necessary. Costs to renovate would have been extensive.
Watch a time lapse video of the demolition below:
A Long History
Alexandra Park covers more than seven hectares of land, between Kensington Market and Queen Street.
The public-housing project was established in 1966 and has often made the news for the wrong reasons: gangs, drugs and guns.
The area is now home to 40 new townhouses, a mix of three and four bedrooms.
"They're beautiful units," said Leslie Gash, acting vice-president of development with Toronto Housing.
Gash said residents collaborated with architects, making suggestions on everything from kitchen design to bedroom size.
"They're very well-designed units. Clean and secure," said Gash. "They don't have any of the issues we've had before. Failing roofs, foundations, leaky windows and doors."
This is only phase one of Alexandra Park's revitalization.
A new public park, basketball courts and community centre will be built in the coming years.
'We feel like a family'
Tahir likes the fact that the family doesn't have to open all the windows every time someone cooks. Their old house didn't have exhaust fans, and they had to improvise for simple ventilation.
But he most enjoys his new home's open-concept floor plan, which allows his family to feel like they are spending time together even when they are doing different tasks.
"When I came home [tonight], I was sitting on the bar stool and my kids were watching TV in the living room and my daughter was sitting at the dining table doing homework and my wife was in the kitchen," he said.
"We feel like a family."