Shocked. Anxious. Worried.
That’s how tenants at two Peterborough Housing Corporation (PHC) townhouse complexes say they feel after learning that the social housing provider is moving forward with plans to demolish their homes as part of a major redevelopment plan.
The two sites — 30 Alexander Avenue and 1190 Hilliard Street — have a total of 75 rent-geared-to-income (RGI) townhouse units that are intended for families. The City’s plan is to tear down the townhouses to make way for mixed-income apartment buildings that will house more people.
Eric Ryckman, a long-time tenant at 30 Alexander, said he has unanswered questions about the redevelopment.
“I see the surveyors coming in,” said Ryckman, who lives in a 5-bedroom unit with his wife and children. “So obviously it’s going to happen. But there’s been no conversation, and no talk with us.”
Ryckman said he would like to know if PHC has a plan for where to move his 10-member family once their home is torn down. “I think they’re scrambling right now to find a spot for everybody,” he said. “They might have something already set up. I don’t know. They haven’t talked to us.”
Tenants at the two sites received letters from PHC informing them of the redevelopment earlier this year. Construction could begin within 18 to 24 months, according to the letters.
“We will communicate directly and regularly with you, and we will work hard to identify and address your needs throughout the project,” the letters stated. But they didn’t give any details as to where families might be relocated.
PHC has considered tearing down its ageing RGI townhouse complexes and replacing them with bigger, denser apartment buildings since at least 2016. Doing so would make “a substantial contribution to the City’s housing targets,” a City report from 2021 stated. “It would also provide much-needed regeneration for buildings in PHC’s portfolio that are reaching the end of their useful life.”
The exact details of the proposal — including the timing of the developments and how many new affordable units there will be — have shifted over the years and haven’t always been made public. But an early version of the plan envisioned building over 1,000 new “affordable” and market-rate units on about six PHC properties, in addition to replacing the rent-geared-to-income units that will be demolished in the process.
PHC’s board of directors has discussed the redevelopment plan in closed session meetings on multiple occasions, according to agendas posted online. PHC board meeting minutes and staff reports, which may include more details about the plan, are not made readily available to the public.
With the first phase of the redevelopment now moving forward, tenants say they are still in the dark about what PHC and the City have planned. “They never told us what they’re doing,” said Lynn Bradford, who lives at 1190 Hilliard.
Currents asked PHC CEO Hope Lee what the interim plan is for the displaced families, but Lee declined to answer. “We need to share information with our tenants first,” she wrote. “We will meet with them later this year at which time we will have answers to the tenants’ concerns.”
Tenants need large units for their big families
Brandi, another tenant at 30 Alexander, said she was “excited” when she first heard about the redevelopment plans. She currently lives in a 3-bedroom townhouse with her partner and three children, she said. She hoped the redevelopment might mean she’d get a bigger, better home.
“But when I found out that they were turning them all into apartments and they’re only one, two and three [bedrooms], that was kind of nerve-wracking,” said Brandi, who preferred not to provide her last name.
As a five-person household, Brandi said her family needs more space than they currently have, so she’s on a waitlist for a bigger unit. But the list moves slowly. “People aren’t moving out of the places that they’re in,” Brandi said. “So [PHC] said the waiting list could be up to five to ten years.”
The same dynamic is playing out at the Hilliard site, according to one tenant there.
“We have families here that are under-housed that have been on waiting lists for a space with more bedrooms,” wrote a resident at 1190 Hilliard who preferred not to provide their name. The resident was worried PHC wouldn’t be able to locate enough large units for the displaced families to occupy. “If PHC has been unable to meet those needs and requests so far, how will they all of the sudden come up?” they asked.
According to reporting in the Peterborough Examiner, a confidential report for PHC’s board of directors stated that tenants of 30 Alexander and 1190 Hilliard will be temporarily relocated to 681 Monaghan, where the City is planning to build a 53-unit “affordable” apartment building. But that will make for a very tight squeeze: that building is proposed to have almost entirely one- and two-bedroom units. Currents has not seen the confidential report or otherwise verified the Examiner’s reporting.
Including the units at 30 Alexander and 1190 Hilliard, PHC has 15 five-bedrooms and 38 4-bedrooms in its rent-geared-to-income portfolio, according to the directory of properties on its website.
Until recently, it also had 50 semi-detached duplex units in the Collison Heights neighbourhood, which according to a 2017 press release were “predominantly 4-5 bedroom units.” However, PHC is in the midst of selling those properties, most to private market buyers. As of this spring, 36 of the units had been sold.
Eric Ryckman’s family occupies one of PHC’s few five-bedroom units — and with ten people under one roof, they need all those bedrooms. “Everybody kind of doubles up,” said Ryckman.
Ryckman isn’t thrilled about the idea of moving from a townhouse to an apartment. “I don’t think there would be an apartment building big enough for ten people,” he said. But if an apartment is all PHC offers his family, Ryckman said they’d have to take it. Otherwise, they’d “be at the mercy of the rental market.”
Lynn and Bernie Bradford also aren’t keen on the possibility of losing their townhouse and yard, which is adjacent to a communal courtyard where the neighbourhood kids play. “We don’t want to move into apartments. It’s too crowded,” said Lynn, as her dog ran about her feet and her neighbours’ two pigs oinked in the next yard over.
“We all get along,” Lynn elaborated. “We all help each other. Look out for each other’s kids.”
“And pigs,” Bernie interjected. “We babysit the pigs while [the neighbours] are gone.”
Prioritize families, current tenants say
Lee, PHC’s CEO, did not provide any details on what the redesigned buildings might look like and what kinds of housing units they might include.
Tenants have some ideas of their own.
Ryckman agreed that the townhouses at 30 Alexander are in bad need of repair, and maybe even need to be replaced. “I understand the reasoning behind it,” he said.
But he said the site is a great place for kids to grow up, and any new development should focus on families. “It’s kind of tucked [away] back here, it’s very safe for children because it’s a long walk to the main roads,” he said. He would like to see the site redeveloped to include more 4- and 5-bedroom family units, he said.
Brandi had the same idea: “I think it should just be torn down in parts and rebuilt and have more 4- to 5-bedrooms.” Brandi added that she’d like to see more parking and a more child-friendly playground.
“While I know there is a huge need for more affordable housing in Peterborough, I can’t help but feel like we’re being taken from in order to give that to others,” wrote the tenant from 1190 Hilliard Street who didn’t want to be identified. “I think the only thing that would help that blow is to be given options and choice on where we raise our families,” the tenant added.