The history of Black communities housing in Canada is a story of persistent discrimination, segregation, and inequality. From Nova Scotia’s eastern shores on the coast of Africville in the early 1960s stretching across to as far west as Hogan’s Alley in British Columbia end of the 1960s, fast-forwarding to present-day Little Jamaica in Toronto, the Black population has endured and still endures housing discrimination that puts building Black communities at continuous risk.
What has it looked like over the years? Two tales, from Vancouver and Halifax
In the 1960s, years after the National Housing Act, Black communities were still facing everyday racial discrimination from landlords, real estate agents, and neighbours. A form of redlining was applied for the exclusion of lending financial services and residential mortgages to Black communities in an illegal discriminatory practice. The term redlining came about in reference to red marks on maps that loan corporations would use to outline mixed-race or Black neighbourhoods as zones of poor credit worthiness.
Black families in Vancouver had made a home out of Hogan’s Alley, a place of refuge side by side with diverse ethnicities in Strathcona neighbourhood. And despite it being a popular cultural hub for the Black community, Hogan’s Alley was portrayed as a place of poverty and crime in the Media. To make way for the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, and under the guise of urban renewal and “slum clearance,” the city began a series of tactics to displace residents and make way for an interurban freeway. A shift in city bylaws discouraged residential development in the area, making it difficult to obtain mortgages or make home improvements, feeding into the slum narratives as businesses and buildings fell into disrepair. As a result, most of Hogan’s Alley’s buildings were razed down. The community was dispersed. Today, few markers of the Black community remain.
On the other side of the country, the story of Africville begins somewhere in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Located on a rocky coast, Africville was home to a tight-knit community of around 500 people from the Black diaspora. Although the residents paid municipal taxes, the City of Halifax refused to provide the community with sewer services, clean water, or garbage disposal. In the 1960s, many Africville residents still didn’t have running water or a sewage system. The city declared that Africville “will always be an industrial district” and saddled it with a prison, an open-pit garbage dump, a slaughterhouse, and an infectious disease hospital. And just like Hogan’s Alley, the city rezoned the area with plans to displace residents and make way for industrial projects, namely an expressway that would never see the light of day.
From redlining to gentrification
Both Hogan’s Alley and Africville neighbourhoods made the best of the hand they were dealt with and had a deep pride in their communities that they saw being displaced and forever dispersed. Although the city of Halifax apologized for the demolition and restored the Africville name to the Seaview Park in 2011, and the city of Vancouver is looking into ways to make amends and to redevelop the area in a manner that recognizes Hogan’s Alley Black history, the wrong is far from being made right.
Furthermore, modern-day gentrification threatens to disperse another historically Black community, Little Jamaica, in the Eglinton Oakwood neighbourhood of Toronto. Once again, the construction of Eglinton LRT (Light Rail Train) is leading to the loss of many housing units and the displacement of households, the new buildings prices are skyrocketing. One of the clearest signs of gentrification is a neighbourhood’s sudden surge in housing prices.
Several Black and Caribbean-owned businesses in the neighbourhood were forced to shut down and the community continues to be at risk of displacement.
Where do we go from here?
It is time to address the historical and ongoing inequity experienced by Black communities in the housing sector. At the Centre, we understand the privilege we hold in the housing transformation space, and the responsibility that comes with this. Hence, we are part of an initiative with Black organizations across Canada to establish a Black Communities Housing Technical Resources Centre (BCHC), to ensure greater access to housing for Black communities and to strengthen their leadership in the sector.
Not only during Black History Month, but at all times we must work in allyship with Black communities to amplify the work of community professional and lived experts, to rebuild, fortify and create new and affordable housing stock. Through this commitment, the Centre will provide its pan-Canadian community housing expertise, its experience as a convenor and its organizational capacity to build momentum around this initiative.
We recognize this is only a small step towards the work that needs to be done. But we hope, in some way, that the beginning of this transformation would establish the path for a real change.