Black creatives in Toronto welcome initiative for affordable housing
Jamaican creatives in Toronto are praising a cultural centre-led initiative that will provide affordable housing for black cultural creators in the new Mirvish Village being built in the historically black and immigrant neighbourhood at Bathurst and Bloor streets.
Blackhurst Cultural Centre (BCC), formerly A Different Booklist Cultural Centre – in partnership with WoodGreen Community Housing, the housing agency of WoodGreen Community Services, Westbank Corp, and the city of Toronto – announced the collaboration which aims to provide opportunities for the black community to be an intrinsic part of the housing community within the new development.
Over the past year, the cultural centre, Woodgreen Community Housing and Westbank have been working on the plan that will provide 12 units – one-bed, two-bedroom, and studio – at 80 per cent average market rate dedicated for black cultural creators.
Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s minister of housing, diversity and inclusion, said since he made an announcement at the site of the Mirvish Village in 2019 there have been subsequent increases in the budget for affordable housing which includes bringing a black Canadian lens to what is done through the National Housing Strategy.
“I hope this is a signal that our government is making sure that the National Housing Strategy works for everyone and that means making sure there are affordable housing options and opportunities to leverage federal dollars to work with organisations like WoodGreen, the city of Toronto, Westbank and our community members. That those opportunities are not only considered but also prioritised.”
Judith Brooks Chair of the BCC, said, “As we move forward to our permanent home in the new Mirvish Village, we have sought ways to bring others along with us on this journey as we build community and capacity. This is a proud moment for Blackhurst Cultural Centre and we thank WoodGreen Community Housing and its team for their due diligence and expertise. Westbank can also be commended for embracing the vision.”
CREATE A MODEL
The mission of the cultural centre is to create a world-class model for preserving and building on the historic cultural identity of evolving neighbourhoods. It will also provide opportunities for Canadians and visitors to Canada to celebrate and engage in the rich cultural legacy and history of Canadians of African and Caribbean ancestry.
“This is one of our ancestors’ wildest dream come true. For us to have a space for culture and art and supportive housing – all in one gift wrap – is phenomenal. What I’m hoping that this will do is really create a model for our community,” says author Aina-Nia Ayo’dele who wants to see it replicated in other parts of the city and the country.
“This is just such a win for our community and it is my hope that people will continue to support this vision. This is not A Different Booklist vision, this is not a Blackhurst vision, this is a black community vision and to be able to have 12 units and possibly more, what a dream come true for us.”
Veteran musician Jay Douglas says this is a step in the right direction “because we have to preserve our history and our culture especially for the grandchildren, it’s a positive.”
Kevin Ormsby, founder and artistic director of KasheDance, is excited by the news and thinks it is timely and should have happened before because black people have contributed to that Bathurst community for a very long time.
“And so it’s really important to also provide visibility of black people in that particular space again as The Annex neighbourhood also has been priced out of black bodies and black populations economically.”
Marcia Brown, playwright, actor and director, welcomes the initiative. “In Toronto, we have so many different cultures, ambassadors and persons who are giving their all. We have Caribana, we have dance, we have literature, so much that’s going on, and there are persons that may not have another source of income. They are so immersed in what they’re doing and believing in what they do that they live a substandard live,” she said.