It’s all about the ‘big picture’ for a pair of Western researchers helping rethink social housing in London.
Take the Regent Park neighbourhood in Toronto, said Geography professor Michael Buzzelli, who teaches in Western’s Urban Development program.
By leveraging private capital, Canada’s oldest and largest social housing project is undergoing a major revitalization toward a more mixed-income population alongside varied land use. This well-known Toronto neighbourhood is just one of many urban renewals the London & Middlesex Housing Corporation (LMHC) is examining as a means of bolstering social housing in London.
“We built a lot of social public housing in the 1950s and 1960s, and for a whole host of reasons, that housing is getting to a stage now where it requires a significant injection of resources for maintenance and upkeep,” said Buzzelli, who was named to the LMHC Board of Directors in December. “LMHC is not in a position to inject capital for new developments; the focus will be to redevelop stock we already hold.
“But the board is also at a time where there’s an opportunity to reintegrate those communities with the wider fabric of London. That requires some strategic thinking around planning and urban development.”
With four new members on the board this year, LMHC is moving away from day-to-day operational tasks and hoping to adopt a strategic mandate to address systemic issues affecting social housing, Buzzelli explained.
“We want to get the board to think about how reintegration happens,” he said.
LMHC is the biggest social housing provider in the region.
The corporation provides subsidized public housing for London and Middlesex, with more than 3,200 housing units providing homes for more than 5,000 people in London, Strathroy, Dorchester, Newbury, Parkhill and Glencoe.
A large portion of LMHC housing goes to individuals who are exiting homelessness – moving out of a shelter into stable housing, which can contribute to their health, said Nursing professor Abe Oudshoorn.
Oudshoorn chairs London’s Homeless Coalition and, like Buzzelli, was recently appointed to LMHC’s Board of Directors.
“I’m very interested in how the housing we provide can fit within all of the other services in London around homelessness,” he continued. “How can we enhance availability of social housing and look to long-term opportunities to redevelop older housing stock into quality neighborhoods that have good and healthy social outcomes for the residents?”
The board is looking to connect with other social agencies within London, as well as with youth, homeless and at-risk communities, he added. While funding will always be a challenge, the more difficult hurdle is getting past the perception that providing housing alone is enough.
“There are other supports needed to get people to their success, rather than just providing a key, four walls and a roof. We need to integrate housing with other movements that support their aspirations, provide training,” Buzzelli said.
“It’s a long road. There will be challenges. These are real people, living in real homes. They have some needs. But they also have qualities we haven’t always appreciated, that they themselves understand and appreciate, and they will want to contribute. It’s up to us to cultivate those, to leverage them and see what we can make of them.”