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Let’s mention tenant retention at 40 Oaks – the affordable housing project of the CRC

Let’s mention tenant retention at 40 Oaks – the affordable housing project of the Toronto Christian Resource Centre (CRC)
June 2013
By Mary Middleton, Tenant Services Coordinator

It amazes me that I have lived to see the day that Toronto loves Regent Park.

The neighborhood, once considered a scary place to walk at night, has become the ‘go to Toronto neighborhood’ with not one, but two mentions in the most recent issue of Toronto Life – “Reasons to Love Toronto Now.” I’m not sure if that makes me lucky or old.

Within that ‘go to neighborhood’ you have 40 Oaks, the CRC’s response to the need for more affordable housing. Admired for our cutting-edge design and commended for our enlightened mandate, we’ve had our own fair share of good press.

But does good press alone make tenants stay put? Since the building opened a year and half ago, there has been little residential turn-over. Why? The answer seems, at first, to be obvious

I thought the definitive answer would come from those who were experts on the subject – the tenants themselves. Were they as thrilled with the building and the neighborhood as everyone else seemed to be? And was this the reason they wanted to keep 40 Oaks as home?

We’d just completed our first tenant survey – designed by tenants for tenants – and I was sure that the answer would be buried somewhere among the statistical returns.

To start with, thirty-five 40 Oak tenants responded to the survey. That’s a very decent return for a place with 87 units. The tenants answered questions about the building amenities – do you like your stove, is there enough hot water; questions about how it was to live here – do you know your neighbours, do you feel safe in the neighbourhood. The answers they gave were encouraging and enlightening.

Most everyone liked the building. “It’s brand new what’s not to like?” quipped one local joker. But as for the neighbourhood, it would seem old stigmas die hard. Few were convinced the redevelopment had actually changed much. Many still thought of Regent Park as not the safest place to live. And many concluded that, as the neighbourhood goes, so goes 40 Oaks.

So if it wasn’t the hype keeping people here, what was it?

Surely it wasn’t the paint job. And the novelty of a working stove wears thin if the neighbors are keeping you up at night. I looked closer and started to group the responses together and that’s when it struck me. Even the harshest critics of the neighbourhood answered they liked living here. Some said they loved it. Zero tenants responded that they’d move if they could. The contradiction drew me in.

Some mentioned how their neighbours had helped them or delivered them a meal or simply said hello and that that made them feel more at home, safer in a place they felt unsafe in. Some were looking to branch out. They knew their neighbours but they wondered about folks on other floors and they thought a way to meet them would be a good idea. Some were very critical of other people who lived here and they wanted to know what could be done to help them.

The overall theme was consistent and clear. The place is not without its problems, some specified, some alluded to, but everyone seemed to think they could be resolved by facing the problems and finding solutions together.

From the beginning staff, volunteers, and supporters have shared a vision of 40 Oaks as a community. It would seem that vision has been picked up by the people who live here and it fuels their desire to work at making 40 Oaks what they want it to be. I think it’s theirs now; and I think they plan to keep it.

The Equitable Trust Company’s and Rosedale United Church’s support for the CRC tenant service program at 40 Oaks has contributed to the growing sense of community amongst the tenants living here.

Previous articles:
Tenant Services Program at 40 Oaks – optimism and hope amidst deficiencies and challenges
Tenant Services Program at 40 Oaks – the affordable housing project of the Toronto Christian Resource Centre (CRC)

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