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A view of Regent Park is seen from 230 Sackville St., Toronto Community Housing's newest rental building, on Sept. 20, 2013. (MATTHEW SHERWOOD FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
A view of Regent Park is seen from 230 Sackville St., Toronto Community Housing's newest rental building, on Sept. 20, 2013. (MATTHEW SHERWOOD FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Regent Park residents feel happier and safer with new homes, study says Add to ...

Residents of the newly redeveloped community housing units at Regent Park feel happier and safer in their new homes, according to a new study.

More than 90 per cent of those surveyed said their home is now a good place to live, up from just over 70 per cent in the period before they moved. Ninety-three per cent said they are proud to show their home to visitors, up from 49 per cent. And 95 per cent said they felt very or somewhat safe, up from 73 per cent when they lived in the old Regent Park.

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Over all, the 59 people interviewed for the study reported remarkably high levels of satisfaction with the new homes. They also showed some small improvements in mental health, according to James Dunn, an urban geographer and professor at McMaster University who is also affiliated with the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital.

“The things directly related to housing satisfaction are things we would expect to change and they did. That’s good news,” Dr. Dunn said.

“They had greater satisfaction with their housing, greater sense of satisfaction with their neighbourhood, improved sense of safety, and in addition to that, they also experienced a small improvement in depression.”

The Regent Park revitalization is taking place over about 15 years. It involves replacing more than 2,000 subsidized housing units, mostly built in the 1950s, and adding several thousand market condominiums in a blended, mixed-income neighbourhood.

The people interviewed for the study moved directly from old Regent Park buildings to new ones. They were interviewed in 2009-10 and again a year after moving into their new units.

Their views on neighbourhood safety changed significantly over that period.

Just 14 per cent said gang activity was now having a high impact on community safety, down from 34 per cent. And 79 per cent said they now feel safe from crime when walking alone after dark, up from 48 per cent. Views of discrimination, drug activity and how police treat youth also improved.

But many things did not change, including important issues related to mental and physical health, the research found. While the study found respondents less likely to report having felt depressed in the previous week, it also indicated they were no less likely to report feeling stressed or bothered by emotional issues and no more likely to say they were satisfied with their life or in good health.

“A number of critics say [the redevelopment] hasn’t come anywhere near what was promised and I don’t think that’s an unfair criticism. … There was a lot of promises, it was going to completely transform peoples’ economic lives and lead to new jobs and a whole host of other things,” Dr. Dunn said.

“What really changed in peoples’ lives? They live in a new housing unit. Everything else that might affect their health probably didn’t change.”

The number of people diagnosed with high blood pressure or heart disease increased, but Dr. Dunn said that is attributable to aging.

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