More than 600 residents from Firgrove-Grassways were relocated. What will they come home to?
After being forced to vacate by Toronto Community Housing, majority moved outside of Jane and Finch area
Stephanie Lucas is staring at a large demolition site — a fleet of excavators moving around what remains of the Firgrove-Grassways community she called home for 19 years.
She still works in the area, but now lives at a Toronto Community Housing (TCH) property in the Leslie Street and Sheppard Avenue East area — a 30-minute drive away. She was forced to move in 2021 as part of a TCH revitalization project. Around 630 residents were relocated in total, the housing agency says.
Those residents will have priority to come back when new units are built and Lucas is eager to return.
"If I'm still under TCH, I'm coming right back," Lucas says. "I still work here in Jane and Finch. I love my community. I will come back."
But while Lucas isn't sure when she's going to be able to move back in, she and other community members are sure of one thing: Firgrove will be a different place from the one they left. There will still be TCH units but there will also be market-rate housing, which many expect to lead to gentrification in the area.
TCH's master plan for revitalization includes replacing all 236 demolished units with rent-geared-to-income homes. It also allows for up to 600 market-rate units — part of a mixed-income vision for the community.
Lorraine Anderson, executive director for the Firgrove Learning and Innovation Community Centre, says it's "not necessarily what people want, but it's what's going to happen whether we like it or not."
Anderson has been part of TCH's community engagement meetings, where residents were encouraged to give input into the master plan.
"We know when developers come in, it's going to be based on what they need," she says. "I'm hoping that residents' voices will be respected and also be honoured."
While the plan is in place, the funding is not.
The Firgrove revitalization is happening under the city's new approvals framework. That process includes a staged progression for all revitalization projects and Firgrove hasn't cleared the funding stage.
That means there's no construction timeline for former residents like Lucas — leaving her dreams of returning to Firgrove in limbo. For now, she can keep staring at a large lot of dirt that was once her home.
Lucas's eldest daughter spent her first year in the community, learning to walk and talk.
"When she gets older, I can't come back and be like, 'Hey, this is where you were born. This is where you grew up.'"
Former residents say the experience in Firgrove was unique. The buildings walled residents in somewhat, creating a greater sense of community.
Lucas misses being able to go outside where everyone knows each other, "like me and my family, the mom with the four Latina girls and the boy," she says.
TCH says about 90 households, or 46 per cent of the families, were relocated within the Jane and Finch area.
But it's not the same as living in Firgrove, says long-time resident Tiffany Ford. "It's a community within a community."
The thousands of families who lived and grew up in Firgrove call it "connections" because of how the three buildings were structured with roofs that can be accessed from each other.
"They're all connected together even though they're three different addresses," Ford says.
Ford founded an online memorial called Firgrove Connections where former prominent residents can share their memories of growing up in the tight-knit community.
She also takes time to post about funeral services for residents who've died.
"Our site is able to not only gain information about memories, but also share information to people who are connected with connections."
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