United Way aims to help Toronto’s Golden Mile recover from decades of job losses

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Joshua Adedamola, board member of the Aecon Golden Mile Joint Venture, stands along the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line in Toronto on December 15th.Christopher Katsarov / The Globe and Mail

In a deprived part of Toronto on the verge of major redevelopment, a new construction company majority-owned by a local non-profit organization is hoping to tip the economic balance in favor of the residents.

Aecon-Golden Mile, a partnership between construction giant Aecon Group Inc. and the Center for Inclusive Economic Opportunity (CIEO), an umbrella organization of community groups, plans to undertake a variety of construction projects in the Greater Golden Mile neighborhood. on Eglinton Avenue East and Warden Avenue.

The neighborhood will be a stop on the unfinished Eglinton Crosstown light rail line. The city expects that the improved transport links will drive rural development and will attract around 40,000 additional residents to the Golden Mile within the next 20 years. There are currently 12 development applications for locations in the region. Together they propose around 28,000 new residential units.

Aecon-Golden Mile’s stated mission is to return some of the wealth from all these new buildings to the neighborhood’s residents, who have been affected by decades of inequality. The company is 51 percent owned by the nonprofit CIEO, which means local residents have a majority in decision-making. More than half of the company’s income goes straight back to the neighborhood. Aecon will train local people in administration and handicrafts.

The pandemic has exacerbated poverty in the Golden Mile over the past two years, where many residents are faced with food insecurity, lack of internet access and isolation. Locals have long voiced concerns about being displaced by gentrification.

The new construction company could be a lifeline for many local residents, said Joshua Adedamola, a board member on the project.

“That changes life. It strengthens. It will help us create a better world for our children, ”he said.

In the 1940s, the Golden Mile was an industrial milieu. His factories first produced ammunition, then consumer goods. Later, when industry fled the neighborhood in search of cheaper real estate, the factories were replaced with big box stores – a retail format that now dominates the neighborhood.

Today, many residents are leaving the neighborhood to work, often in precarious jobs or on the front lines. Despite an above-average education rate, the income and employment rates in the Golden Mile are below average compared to the rest of the city, according to United Way.

A 2018 poll by the city found that the median household income in the area was $ 57,552 before taxes, nearly $ 10,000 less than the city average.

The hired the construction company could raise their income to $ 100,000 a year and they will receive pensions, said Mr Adedamola. He expects the company to employ 100 people and provide opportunities for workers to enter the trade for the first time or to be trained as a student.

Mr. Adedamola expects the company to begin taking on projects in January.

Two people wait for a bus in Toronto’s Golden Mile neighborhood next to Eglinton Crosstown LRT on December 15.Christopher Katsarov / The Globe and Mail

The company began in 2018 after United Way Greater Toronto Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity launched a joint initiative with the Bank of Montreal aimed at tackling growing inequality in Toronto. The construction company is just one of five projects being carried out under the initiative in the Golden Mile district. If successful, the company’s business model could expand to other communities in Toronto.

“We found that the demographics of this Greater Golden Mile – which are disproportionately large in newcomers and immigrants, people living in poverty, are racialized communities – have been disproportionately affected by the lack of local economic opportunity,” said Daniele Zanotti, President of United Way for the Greater Toronto area.

BMO managing director Darryl White said the Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity initiative is unique in the way it brings together locals, business leaders and local governments.

“We all bring such different skills and influence into this equation. I didn’t realize how much more influence you could have by calling in your resources, ”he said.

While corporations often have good intentions, White said, the key is to make meaningful progress that focuses on the needs of residents within what local community members, nonprofit agencies, and city planners can get around the table.

According to Laura Hammond, a resident of the Golden Mile and director of a local tenants’ association called Birchmount Community Action Council, the construction company will benefit not only those who work for it directly, but the rest of the neighborhood as well.

“Whether they are trained for new jobs, business opportunities, or affordable commercial space, people will be able to work near where they live and really nurture the community,” said Ms. Hammond.

With stable employment, she said, residents could have the opportunity to emigrate from subsidized housing and start building wealth through home ownership as the neighborhood’s property value increases.

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