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Report offers first health data on Regent Park revitalization project

Toronto, February 14, 2013

By Kate Taylor

Dr. James Dunn
Dr. James Dunn

The first data on how Regent Park residents’ health and well-being has been affected by the revitalization in the community has been released.

Since 2005, Dr. James Dunn, a scientist at St. Michael's Hospital’s Centre for Research on Inner City Health and his team have been studying what kind of difference revitalization makes to the health of adults and children. The study is the first-of-its-kind in Canada.

The Regent Park revitalization is a 15-year project that involves replacing the original 2,083 social housing units and adding 700 affordable housing and condominium units to make a mixed-income community of over 5,000 units. Retail and commercial space is being constructed, street designs are being updated and new amenities like an aquatic centre and an arts and cultural centre have been added.

“One of the initial goals of the revitalization was to build healthy communities,” said Dr. Dunn, who is also an associate professor at McMaster University. “So we’re conducting a study to determine if Regent Park residents’ health changed when they moved from relocation housing to new housing in Regent Park.”

The results from the first group of residents one year after they moved into the new development show a significant improvement in neighbourhood satisfaction, housing satisfaction, psychological sense of community and sense of personal safety and a reduction in fear of crime. These changes are likely responsible for the small, but statistically significant improvement in anxiety symptoms that were observed in the residents.

Although the health effect is modest, Dr. Dunn said that this is understandable, since “health is determined by a large number of factors, and housing is just one of them.” He said “the bulk of the results suggest positive improvements on factors that are directly affected by housing and neighborhood improvement.”

Dr. Dunn and his team interviewed the residents twice: first between 2008 and 2009 while they were temporarily living in a relocation unit, and again after the same people had moved into their new Regent Park unit and had been living there for a year.

Interviews included questions about their mental and physical health, the need for services and how accessible services were and perception of safety and crime in the neighbourhood. Dr. Dunn and his team have also interviewed residents who are affected by the second phase of the revitalization.

“Because the same people that moved out are returning to the community, from a research perspective we can study the effects of the revitalization very reliably,” Dr. Dunn said. “We hope it will inform the design of subsequent phases of the Regent Park revitalization and other revitalization initiatives.”

Partners of the study include Toronto Community Housing, the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Housing Services Corporation, the City of Toronto, the Regent Park Community Health Centre and Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiatives.

Initial seed finding was provided by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH), and this has leveraged funding of over $1 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (of Chicago).

About St. Michael’s Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 23 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, and care of the homeless are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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