Affordable Housing V. Stratford Neighbours

There’s no arguing that there is a concentration of public housing units in the Cawston/Buckingham area of Stratford. But does adding another 30 units really represent creating a ghetto as some residents in the area suggest?

Some of the comments from the recent public meeting included:

"There are too many people of low income and no income in the area.”

"A very large increase in criminal activities in all the current facilities and surrounding area which have greatly perplexed many of the past and present senior residents and local private property owners."

And my favourite:

“The increased density will only add to an already explosive environment."

An explosive environment? Wow that is scary. And what are they trying to say? “If you put too many poor people together, crime and degenerate behaviour will become the norm.”

There’s no arguing that dispersing public housing throughout a community and having mixed-income neighbourhoods is good planning. Mixed income neighbourhoods foster greater opportunities for social interaction and understanding, while ghettoizing people according to income tends to breed misunderstanding and contempt.

From a design standpoint, you shouldn’t be able to tell public housing from market housing. Both should be designed in such a way as to contribute to the overall warmth of the community. But given bad design carriers for both the architecture of market and affordable housing these days, it seems if both revel in mediocrity at least there is balance.

Which brings us to whether or not building an additional 30 units (of the 41 unit proposed apartment building) really will result in a ghetto in Stratford?

My answer would be no.

Yes, a majority of the city’s 445 public housing units are in this area of town. But remember the area is also dominated with single-family housing that interspersed and surrounds the area in question. Some of these single-family homes are worth in excess of $300,000. You don’t find many of those in ghettos.

I can understand people’s fears when it comes to change within their neighbourhood. Their concerns, while they don’t necessarily admit it, are centred on property values - the perceived threat that poor people in the neighbourhood will drag down property values.

I’ve done some research in the area of property values and public housing. The studies are varied and utilize different methodologies. But the predominant findings, when utilizing hedonic price modeling, centre on no real change in property values due to the introduction of public housing. And, these same studies, seem to indicate that if good design is utilized, there can be an overall benefit for neighbouring property values.

Given Stratford needs more affordable housing and it can surely use better design in its newer neighbourhoods – you know the ones with garages as the preeminent architecture feature – the residents opposing this development should be riding the good design horse, as opposed to the anti-poor people bandwagon.