Toronto

First families return to renewed Regent Park

The long-anticipated renewal of Regent Park begins on Tuesday when the first families move back into their public housing units.

The long-anticipated renewal of Regent Park begins on Tuesday when the first families move back into their public housing units.

The 15-year, $1-billion redevelopment of the neighbourhood began in earnest in 2005 when the city decided to replace the crumbling, crime-ridden buildings with new apartments and condominiums.

The first families to benefit from the changes start moving in on May 5. The first 60 units in an eight-storey building at the corner of Dundas Street East and Sackville Avenue will soon be occupied. 

Regent Park is North America's oldest social housing complex, built in the 1950s.

Since that time the neighbourhood has become a run-down slum with many of the homes uninhabitable and the neighbourhood crowded with drug dealers, prostitutes and their customers.

Omar Abduraham, who came to Toronto from Somalia eight years ago, will be moving with his wife and five children into one of the new units at 246 Sackville St. 

And although the family is excited about their new home, they also understand that while the apartments may be cleaner and newer, the surrounding neighbourhood hasn't changed much. 

"I see everyday since I moved here people selling drugs and guns and that sort of stuff," said Abduraham.

Abduraham, now  a third-year economics student at Ryerson University, says he still gets stopped by police when he comes home late. 

"They interrogated me for no reason," he said.

In spite of the challenges the family is optimistic about Regent Park's future and its changing demographics.

The Toronto Community Housing Corporation which is overseeing the project, will tear down 2,500 public housing units and replace them with 5,100 new units, of which 1,779 will be subsidized apartments. Another 300 subsidized units will be built off-site.

Private condo owners will move in this fall and over the next decade it is hoped Regent Park will gradually become a  mixed income neighbourhood.

"This is just the beginning," said Abduraham.

now