London wants to ‘reimagine’ public housing — by tearing some down to build anew | CBC News

London-Middlesex Community Housing (LMCH) says it wants to ‘reimagine’ its public housing community on Southdale Road East by tearing out old units and replacing them with new ones, but residents say it’s hard to reimagine their community when their basic needs still aren’t being met. 

LMCH kicked off “Reimagine Southdale,” the public face of its neighbourhood redevelopment campaign on Friday, with a community resource fair where residents could ask questions, connect with community resources and meet public housing officials face-to-face, including Paul Chisholm, the public housing corporation’s new CEO. 

“We’re here today to hear from the community, the kids, the families on what kind of community partnerships they want to see here, the services they like and how maybe we can improve what we do for them.”

The $25-million plan includes razing a number of the 166 three- and four-bedroom townhomes within the 50-year-old community to make way for a 90-unit low-rise apartment, which is set to begin construction in 2023. 

Event appeared sparsely attended 

Chisholm said the new building would address some of the accessibility issues with existing units and would include a community space on the main floor to accommodate functions and host community programming. 

Children play on the grass between rows of town homes on Southdale Road East. The London-Middlesex Community Housing Corporation says its seeking input on how to ‘reimagine’ the community. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Aside from neighbourhood children, who were taking advantage of free snacks and an opportunity to meet city fire crews, the event appeared to be sparsely attended by the hundreds of residents who live in the Southdale Road East public housing community.

CBC News spoke to six residents who did not want their names published because of the stigma associated with living in such a community.

Residents don’t want to engage with housing because it’s usually on negative terms.– Misty Murphy

Many said they have trouble re-imagining their community at all, especially when LMHC won’t address their basic needs, such as concerns around drug use, basic property maintenance and people living in units illegally. 

“Residents don’t want to engage with housing because it’s usually on negative terms,” said Misty Murphy, whose only source of income is the Ontario Disability Support Program.

“The only time we hear from them is when they want to evict us or there’s a problem,” she said, adding her townhouse is one of the units that needs to be torn down to make way for a new apartment building. 

“Our unit is up for demolition. I’m fretting because come July we’re supposed to be out.”

Murphy said she’s still waiting to hear from the housing corporation about her next home and has so far only been shown one unit: a mould-ridden apartment on Limberlost in the White Hills area. 

“They have placed me in a unit, but there’s a lack of communication about when it’s available, that kind of thing so it leaves a lot of stress and worry on my plate.” 

Praise from resident for new CEO

Murphy said she doubts the LMHC can reinvigorate the neighbourhood because the way it handled a past pest infestation at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that forced her and her son to throw out their oven and fridge, and had them living out of coolers for most of the year. 

A little girl stands beside her mother on the doorstep of her family’s townhouse at 1057 Southdale Road East in London, Ont. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“We went eight months without electricity in our kitchen and were operating out of coolers. Thank God for the chaplancy because they helped us out delivering all kinds of meals to us because we had no working kitchen.” 

“It was horrific. I was in a hotel for a week.” 

Still, looking forward, Murphy said at least the LMHC is doing something positive. She said that in the 17 years she’s lived in the Southdale Community Housing project, she’s never heard of the LMHC asking residents about anything. 

“This is nice that they’re finally doing something positive with Reimagine Southdale and bringing in the community and asking them what kind of partners they want,” she said. “That’s a positive note from housing.” 

“They could be turning a new leaf with their new CEO, but there still needs to be some bigger changes.”

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