If You Rebuild It… Public Housing Can Be So Much More

Good Places to Live
Poverty and Public Housing in Canada

By Jim Silver  

When public housing projects seem to become a social problem instead of a solution, Jim Silver argues that maybe everyone would be better off it they put the wrecking ball to bed, and consider an alternative: “rebuilding from within.”

In Good Places to Live: Poverty and Public Housing in Canada, Silver shows that residents working together to rebuild their community, is an innovative and proven concept.

“The rebuilding-from-within strategy starts from the belief that if we can create opportunities for people [in the projects] then some people will take advantage of those opportunities,” the University of Winnipeg professor explains.

There are no tricks here, no sleight of hand, just commitment and hard work. Silver volunteers with the North End Community Renewal Corporation (NECRC), and works side-by-side with community workers, students, and a lot of courageous people from Winnipeg’s Lord Slekirk Park housing project. Together they have been working on their neighbourhood rebuilding process despite a lack of ongoing support.

Silver says the focus is twofold; to provide different kinds of educational opportunities and to create jobs.

“We already have an adult learning centre that offers a mature Grade 12 and a literacy program that prepares people for entering the adult program.”

For phase two, the group is on the cusp of building a childcare centre, an initiative that should create jobs for about 20 workers from the neighbourhood. Hiring local is another goal of the project.

Silver believe that acquiring new skill sets while obtaining job readinss and work experience in the safety of your own bakyard is the solution for preparing for potential outside employment.

Although Silver is most closely involved in Winnipeg’s Lord Selkirk Park project, he also studied and reported on similar conditions in Little Mountain Housing in Vancouver (bulldozed in 2009 and 2010), Regent Park in Toronto, and Uniacke Square in Halifax. Unfortunately, these three communities were built on what has become prime gentrification property and are susceptible to “redevelopment,” or being taken over by higher-income residents from whom profits can be made.

In the book, Silver explains how urban poverty-which is spatially and racially concentrated-and the political ideology of neo-liberalism (with its penchant for tax cuts and consequent lowered government revenues and reduced social spending) helped create fertile ground for the level of poverty found in the four public housing projects in the study.

“The culture in Canda has been gradually heading in what I would call a mean-spirited direction,” he says.

But Silver is optimistic that if he continues with the research and writing then the information will get out there and persuade some people that there are solutions.

“And if only we invest in them,” he says, “we could make a serious dent in this problem.”-Jim Mullett, Prairie Books NOW, Summer 2011

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