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Rivertowne — The first step in a new social housing experiment

Barry Hertz – National Post Blog

This week, city council will vote to start remaking Lawrence Heights, where market-value housing will be put amid public housing. In the National Post, Zosia Bielski looks at the mixed-income development that will replace Riverdale’s Don Mount Court.

An excerpt of her feature follows:

The sales centre for Rivertowne, a new mixed-income community going up in Riverdale, is a sunny dream. Perched on a residential stretch of Dundas Street just east of the Don Valley, it offers an astonishingly unobstructed view of the downtown skyline and the quaint boutiques and well-reviewed bistros of nearby Leslieville.

Smiling down from Rivertowne’s construction boarding are giant cut-outs depicting the type of people its creators are hoping will move here: There is Elena, an artist turned bike courier; Jeff, a Swedish-Chinese copywriter; and Leo, a grandfatherly retiree. “Inclusive, not exclusive,” one slogan reads.

One recent afternoon, the centre bustled with fathers helping daughters pick out their starter homes. With some townhouses going as cheap as $219,990, Rivertowne is now 75% sold.

A rep who walked them through sleek sample kitchens casually mentioned that developers Intracorp and Marion Hill are now building 232 rent-geared-to-income (RGI) units on the site for the neighbourhood’s “working people,” whose social housing, Don Mount Court, was razed four years ago in preparation for Rivertowne. Their homes, the rep noted, would be “identical” to the 187 red brick Victorians up for sale.

These comments went largely unnoticed, the daughters more preoccupied with terraces and parking garage security, perks available with many of the market units. Rivertowne’s most expensive townhome is going for $389,000. To many prospective buyers, the new community is just a great steal. The fact that it’s at the helm of the city’s next experiment in social housing seems secondary.

Because occupancy is slated for next summer, Rivertowne will be Toronto’s first attempt to remake one of its many gloomy, mid-century housing projects — in this case, Don Mount Court — into a thriving mixed income community. It will also serve as a forerunner to the Regent Park and Lawrence Heights revitalizations.

Outside the sales centre, one prospective buyer was wary. Impressed with the downtown location, a man who would only give his first name, Solomon, couldn’t help but wonder: Would the market value of his townhome drop if it turned out his neighbours weren’t as amicable as the faces peering down from the hoarding?

“It’s a unique concept,” he says, referring to mixed-income housing. “But I have to think about my investment.”

Rivertowne’s “inclusive” ad campaign is likely the most telling note in the city’s relentlessly optimistic mission to heal its public housing by mixing neighbours of different social and economic classes in homes that don’t tell the difference.

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