In a disadvantaged part of Toronto teetering on the edge of major redevelopment, a new construction company that is majority-owned by a local non-profit is hoping to the tip the economic scales in favour of residents.
Aecon–Golden Mile, a partnership between the construction giant Aecon Group Inc. and the Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity (CIEO), an umbrella organization of community groups, intends to take on a variety of building projects in the city’s Greater Golden Mile neighbourhood, at Eglinton Avenue East and Warden Avenue.
The neighbourhood will be a stop on the yet-to-be-completed Eglinton Crosstown light rail line. The city expects the improved transit access to drive land development and lure about 40,000 additional residents to the Golden Mile within the next 20 years. There are currently 12 development applications for sites in the area. Together, they propose about 28,000 new housing units.
Aecon–Golden Mile’s stated mission is to direct some of the wealth from all that new construction back to the neighbourhood’s residents, who have been affected by decades of inequality. The company is 51-per-cent owned by the non-profit CIEO, meaning local residents will have a majority say over decision making. More than half of the company’s revenue will flow directly back into the neighbourhood. Aecon will train locals in both administration and trades.
The pandemic has worsened poverty over the past two years in the Golden Mile, where many residents cope with food insecurity, lack of internet access and isolation. Locals have long expressed concerns about being pushed out by gentrification.
The new construction company could be a lifeline for many residents, said Joshua Adedamola, an executive committee member for the project.
“This is life changing. It’s empowering. It will help us build a better world for our children,” he said.
During the 1940s, the Golden Mile was an industrial milieu. At first, its factories produced munitions – then, consumer goods. Later, as industry fled the neighbourhood in search of cheaper real estate, the factories were replaced by big box stores – a retail format that now dominates the neighbourhood.
Today, many residents leave the neighbourhood for work, often in precarious or front-line jobs. Despite a higher-than-average education rate, income and employment rates in the Golden Mile are below average compared with the rest of the city, according to the United Way.
A 2018 survey by the city found the median household income in the area was $57,552 before taxes, nearly $10,000 less than the city average.
Those hired by the construction company could see their incomes raised to $100,000 a year, and they will receive pensions, Mr. Adedamola said. He expects the company to employ 100 people, and to provide workers with opportunities to enter the trades industry for the first time, or train as students.
Mr. Adedamola expects the company will start taking on projects in January.
The venture began in 2018 after United Way Greater Toronto launched Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity, a joint initiative with the Bank of Montreal aimed at tackling growing inequality in Toronto. The construction company is just one of five projects taking place in the Golden Mile neighbourhood under the initiative. If successful, the company’s business model could be expanded to other Toronto communities.
“We realized that the demographic of this Greater Golden Mile – who are disproportionally newcomers and immigrants, people living in poverty, racialized communities – have been disproportionately impacted by the lack of local economic opportunities,” said Daniele Zanotti, United Way president for the Greater Toronto Area.
BMO chief executive officer Darryl White said the Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity initiative is unique in the way it brings together locals, business leaders and local government.
“We all bring such different skills and leverage to this equation. I didn’t realize how much more leverage you could have when you convene your resources,” he said.
While corporations are often well-intentioned, Mr. White said, having local community members, non-profit agencies and urban planners at the same table has been key to making meaningful progress that is focused on the needs of residents, within the bounds of what is possible.
According to Laura Hammond, a Golden Mile resident and executive director of a local tenant association called the Birchmount Community Action Council, the construction company will benefit not just those who work directly for it, but also the rest of the neighbourhood.
“Whether they’re given training for new jobs, business incubation opportunities or affordable commercial spaces, people will be able to work close to where they live and really foster community,” Ms. Hammond said.
With stable employment, she said, residents could have opportunities to move out of subsidized housing and start building wealth through home ownership as the neighbourhood’s property values rise.
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