Report of the August 6th, 2020, Regent Park Community Benefits Virtual Townhall
The Regent Park Community Benefits Virtual Townhall meeting was put together as an opportunity for residents in the community to learn about the Community Benefits and Phase 4 & 5 Revitalization, hear from RPNA’s Community Benefits Coalition and Toronto Community Housing and how to get involved and make a difference in the community. The virtual meeting also included interactive components such as polling and Q&A with the panelists.
Some of the panelists included: Walied Khogali Ali, Suzanne El-Makkaw (RPNA), Deany Peters (Regent Park Health Centre), Kelly Skith (TCHC), Jonella Evangelista, Sean Major (TCHC), Marlene DeGenova (RPNA Advocacy Co-Chair), Annisha Abdul, Touhida, Miguel, Wendy Belcourt, Sam Maloney-Lee (TCHC), Ismail Afrah, Daniel Amin (Revite Working Group) and youth from Regent Park.
The Virtual Townhall Meeting started off by giving a history of the various committees that were formed, which led to the inclusion of Community Benefits for Regent Park. From the origins in 2018 to collaborations and conversions in 2019 and community engagement & advocacy in 2019 to 2020. Here is just a brief description of some of the items discussed.
The Forming of the Regent Park Community Benefits Coalition and Network
At the townhall, Ismail Afrah, a resident of Regent Park, recalled being at a workshop in city-hall where he was flipping through some cards and one of them read “Community Benefits”. As he flipped the card around and it said, “when development happens the community should benefit directly”.
Ismail at the time then asked himself, “This was wow, Regent Park is going through a billion dollar revitalization, do we have community benefits?”
During the workshop, Ismail was introduced to the Committee Benefits Network and through those conversations it was decided that Community Benefits are needed here in Regent Park.
What are Community Benefits
During the town hall, Kumsa Baker from the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN), introduced himself and explained what Community Benefits are. First, he began with a brief description of the TCBN. The Toronto Community Benefits Network is a coalition of community groups, labor organizations, neighbourhood associations and social enterprises. The goal of the network is to support neighborhoods across the city that are facing redevelopment.
The Toronto Community Benefits Network helps community members explore the ways their community, especially residents, are going to be impacted by new development and how they can really be part of a revitalization process that includes their vision and addresses local priorities and local needs.
So what are Community Benefits? According to Kumsa, community benefits are usually additional physical, social and or economic benefits that are leveraged from major infrastructure and land development projects in the city of Toronto. Toronto Community Benefits Network has many projects that already include community benefits. As way of example, Kumsa highlights the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (Light Rail Transit). A video was later played in the townhall virtual meeting highlighting the great work that was done in incorporating Community Benefits into the development plans of the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit Metrolinx project.
Kumsa explained that the Toronto Community Benefits Network also has other public projects like the West Park Health Care Centre and the Mcdonald Block Reconstruction Project. The involvement of TCBN in these redevelopment projects have helped ensure equitable economic opportunities that promote economic inclusion for people for historically disadvantaged communities and equity seeking groups. Community benefits in these projects have contributed to the development of a system of training and workforce development programs that have enable economic inclusion and will contribute to sustainable communities, neighborhood improvements as well as environmental improvements.
Lastly, Kumsa explained that what he feels is the most important component of Community Benefits, is that it ensures clear commitments targets, monitoring as well as accountability mechanisms from all parties to deliver on Community Benefits.
Kumsa ended his presentation by simply concluding that Community Benefits are financial or in-kind investments made by the selected developer that would be beneficial to Regent Park residents and the overall well-being of the community.
At the virtual town hall, viewers were informed that in March of 2020, The Regent Park Community Benefits Coalition signed a Community Benefits Framework Agreement with Toronto Community Housing for Phases 4 + 5 revitalization in Regent Park. The framework revolves around the following key principals and values:
Outlines key principles and values for the revitalization process
Secures TCHC commitments to the use of the Community Priorities report themes in negotiations with selected developer partner
Outlines roles and responsibilities of TCHC, City of Toronto and Coalition throughout Phase 4 + 5 revitalization
Identifies how the selected developer will engage the community to co-develop a Community Benefits - Plan that will be formalized into a legally binding agreement
After the presentations, participants of the town hall were given the opportunity to ask the panelists questions.
To watch the full Virtual Town-hall Meeting, click the link below:
By Tyrone MacLean-Wilson
Tyrone is a staff member of the FOCUS Media Arts Centre