Tenant-led engagement helps strengthen community and gives its members a voice

Tenant-led engagement helps strengthen community and gives its members a voice

March 08, 2017

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​When Laura moved into a Toronto Community Housing apartment at 1021 Birchmount Road four years ago, she had one goal in mind: to become part of a thriving community. But at that time, the community had experienced a number of setbacks, including a tragic incident of violence and the closure of a basketball court and swimming pool that had deteriorated beyond repair.

The building also had a number of common spaces that weren’t being used by tenants. People who did not live in the community were gathering in common areas, making tenants feel unsafe. Some local youth felt they were not valued by the broader community.

Tenant Laura Hammond Tenant Laura Hammo​nd

Laura knew a change was needed and that part of any change would come through tenant engagement. When she came across a flyer for a Youth Action Network grant offered by Toronto Community Housing she applied. Shortly after, she was taking part in several community beautification events and a back-to-school giveaway. Laura soon took on the role of co-chair of the Birchmount Community Action Council and helped set up a neighbourhood planning table.

City of Toronto Community Development Officer, Janvere Lyder, told the council about the City’s Partnership Opportunities Legacy (POL) fund. This fund supports capital projects and improvements developed by community-based partnerships in Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods.

The Birchmount Community Action Council working together with Toronto Community Housing, local youth and several community partners​ successfully gained approval for POL funding. 

“Our goal is to bring people who live and work in our neighbourhood together to make our neighbourhood an even better place to live,” said Laura. The new development will provide a safe place and meaningful activities for youth who are most vulnerable to serious crime and violence.

“Opportunities like POL are needed to strengthen and mobilize a community,” said Laura. “And when residents are treated a certain way, it builds self-esteem and prevents social isolation. I look forward to this community healing.”

The youth were very engaged in the planning and development of the new space. The new recreational room and basketball court were envisioned by youth in partnership with the resident council. Members of the local youth group also created a short video​ to showcase the space and provide more support for funding.

Recreational room inside 1021 Birchmount Rd. Area outside 1021 Birchmount Rd. to be redeveloped Recreational ro​om inside 1021 Birchmount Rd. and area to be redeveloped outside of building

During the summer the local area youth group led a community consultation to find out what tenants want to see in the new recreational room. The new room will be an inter-generational space welcoming a wide range of tenants. It will be a place where community groups can meet, plan and organize events. The new basketball court will also be able to be converted into a tennis court, a volleyball court, and an area for soccer.

“The work and effort that our community leader Laura and the youth have put into this new de​velopment is the greatest accomplishment for this community I have seen in a number of years,” said Suzanna Charles, Toronto Community Housing Community Services Coordinator.

This project also brings together community agencies offering their services in counselling, employment services, various arts, recreation, food security and S.T.E.M (Science Technology Engineering and Math) enrichment activities. The refurbished sites are scheduled to open at the end of March 2017, pending weather conditions.​

“The new development has been a lot of hard work and long hours, but it feels so good,” said Laura, who is now very much a part of the thriving community she had envisioned.

If you’re interested in learning more about POL funding, visit the Partn​ership Opportunities Legacy page on the city of Toronto website.​

Planning table partners

1021 Birchmount Road successfully gained approval for POL funding with help from all the partners at the planning table.  In addition to the Birchmount Community Action Council, the following members sat at the table:

  • Toronto Community Housing Community Service Coordinators Suzanna Charles, Mike Morgan and Esther Pyne and Facilities Management Program Manager Eric Philip
  • McGregor Park Community Centre youth outreach worker Ernestine Dunkley 
  • Co-founder of Artistic Unity Althea Pereira
  • Local Immigration Partnership Officer Melissa Waterman
  • ​Youth Action Network facilitator Kehinde Bah
  • Youth leaders: Kelvon Clarke, Rajeh Fuad, Niya Husband, Shaniya John, Cody Kydd, Matthew Norcia, Nicholas Robinson, Janakhan Sivapalalingham, Meidal Souleiman and Keyshawn Tomlinson​