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Research project finds residents who moved directly from old housing to new housing at Regent Park feel safer, more connected to the community

Toronto, February 19, 2014

By Leslie Shepherd

Dr. James Dunn
Dr. James Dunn

Residents who moved directly from old housing to new housing as part of the revitalization of the Regent Park community housing project in downtown Toronto said one year later that they felt safer, more connected to their community and more satisfied with their new homes.

Those residents also felt better about their neighbourhood and had less distress—another word for mild depression—according to a study lead by the Centre for Research on Inner City Health of St. Michael’s Hospital.

In a first-of-its-kind study in Canada, CRICH scientist Dr. James Dunn has been studying since 2005 what kind of difference revitalization makes to the health of adults and children.

The Regent Park revitalization is a multi-year project that involves replacing the original 2,083 social housing units built in the 1940s and 1950s and adding additional affordable housing and 5,000 condominium units to make a mixed-income community of more than 7,000 households. New retail and commercial space has been constructed, street designs are being updated and new amenities such as an aquatic centre and an arts and cultural centre have been added.

Dr. Dunn and his team interviewed 59 Regent Park residents twice – once in 2009-10 when they were living in their old unit and again one year after they moved to a new unit built as part of the revitalization. The results, released today, are based on these 59 people.

“The improvements in housing and neighbourhood satisfaction we found directly reflect the improvement in the housing units that people live in and the new street designs and amenities they have available,” said Dr. Dunn, who is also an urban geographer and associate professor at McMaster University. “In addition, a significant number of people showed improvements in their levels of distress, a form of mild depression. There were a number of positive effects and very few negatives.”

One year after moving into a new unit, residents reported improvements in several areas:

  • They were more satisfied with their home (noise levels, cleanliness, pests, indoor air quality, repairs and maintenance) and neighbourhood
  • They felt a stronger sense of community and felt good about or had pride in their home (initially 49 per cent said they were proud to show their old home to visitors; that number rose to 93 per cent)
  • They felt safe in the neighbourhood (safe being at home alone after dark, safe from crime when walking alone after dark, property damage was down and fewer people felt gang and drug activity, discrimination or police treatment of youth had a high impact on community safety)
  • Fewer people felt distressed in the previous week.

But many other aspects of their life hadn’t changed, including their feelings about neighbours, access to social support, opinions on the need for services in the neighbourhood, physical health and most aspects of mental health.

In fact, self-reported rates of physician-diagnosed heart disease and high blood pressure rose, but this was attributable to a large number of people in the study who were in the prime age range for these conditions. Dr. Dunn noted it was possible that residents were now getting better medical care and were simply being diagnosed with conditions that existed previously.

He said he was not surprised that the revitalization project resulted in small improvements in mental health.

“A brand new housing unit in a revitalized neighbourhood should make a difference to how people feel about their home and community,” he said. “It’s much harder for those changes to have a positive impact on physical and mental health, employment and social support, since these things are caused by many different factors, and housing is probably only one of them.”

He said the fact that participants didn’t seen an improvement in neighbourhood services such as a grocery store bank, library, health care, parks and schools could be because these aspects of the community had already improved while residents were still living in their old unit, or they were still under construction after moving into their new unit, as was the case for the rec centre and parks.

The first data on how Regent Park residents’ health and well-being has been affected by the revitalization in the community was released last year. It was based on a different group of residents, those who were part of Phase 1 of the revitalization of Regent Park.

Partners of the study include Toronto Community Housing, the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, Housing Services Corp., the City of Toronto and Regent Park Neighbourhood Initiatives.

Initial seed finding was provided by the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and this has leveraged funding of more than $1 million from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 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 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health 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.

Media contacts

For more information, or to arrange an interview with Dr. Dunn, contact:

Leslie Shepherd
Manager, Media Strategy
416-864-6094
shepherdl@smh.ca