Jane and Finch residents, shopkeepers fear gentrification through redevelopment

Click to play video: 'Jane, Finch redevelopment sparks fears of gentrification'
Jane, Finch redevelopment sparks fears of gentrification
WATCH ABOVE: Several malls and condos in the Jane and Finch area are attempting to redevelop their buildings in preparation for an upcoming light rail project. For small businesses and residents, it has led to fears of gentrification. Ahmar Khan reports – Jul 11, 2022

After years of hard work, Huzainatu Bangura finally had her dream come to fruition when she opened her clothing store in 2021.

The shop, Fab Boutique, has clothes from western African countries and is located in Jane Finch Mall.

Despite her rousing success as a business owner, Bangura now fears that with the redevelopment of the mall, the cost to stay will be too much.

“In areas where this kind of development happens, they push people away,” Bangura said.

Currently, Jane Finch Mall is undergoing consultations with the community so it can move ahead with a plan to begin redeveloping the 40-year-old mall sometime in 2023. It’s not the only mall or building that is getting a facelift, with the light rail transit (LRT) running along Finch spurring the redevelopments.

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The LRT, which is supposed to be completed and fully operational by 2023, extends from Humber College’s north campus to Finch Avenue and Keele Street. The track cuts along the iconic Jane and Finch.

Recently Yorkgate Mall, which is adjacent to Jane and Finch, announced redevelopment plans.

The LRT, as with any major transit project, is expected to boost nearby land prices and home values.

In Yorkgate Mall’s case, community consultation and input were limited to non-existent, which led Bangura to wonder if her mall will listen to its tenants or opt for higher-end stores.

“We’re just worried that businesses like ours won’t survive all these major changes coming to Jane and Finch,” she said.

Bangura said her store is in the right place given the demographics and large Black population that resides in and around Jane and Finch. Right now the shop is mostly operated by Bangura, her daughters Fatima and Teresa, and cousin Miriam. The community of small business owners in the mall has been supportive in helping them learn the ropes, too.

“Everyone is so helpful, they’ve made us feel like we’ve been here for 20 years. It’s a community unlike any other,” she said.

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As for Bangura, she doesn’t know what will happen if rent prices become unaffordable. The Sierra Leone native acknowledged that given the racial makeup of this neighbourhood, her business is thriving, but in different parts of the city or the suburbs, it may not have taken off the same way.

With redevelopment on the horizon, she hopes that management and mall owners can give the smaller shopkeepers a chance to stick around.

“My family and I, we have enjoyed every moment of being here and we just hope we continue to bring the very best to this community and for us to continue being a part of this Jane-Finch family,” she said.

Huzainatu Bangura (second to left) and her family pose for a photo in their store in Jane Finch Mall called Fab Boutique. Ahmar Khan / Global News

One of the owners of the Jane Finch Mall, Jay Feldman, who has controlled the property for 54 years, told Global News in an emailed statement that the owners “are committed to listening to and engaging with our community before proposing any changes.”

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“We will continue to keep our community informed every step of the way,” Feldman wrote.

“We are committed to working with tenants, neighbours, and our larger community to develop a shared vision for how the Jane Finch Mall property can continue to play an important role in our neighbourhood.

“We have hired a community engagement team, all of whom have deep roots in our community and who are passionate about this neighbourhood’s future, to engage with residents and key stakeholders to listen to their concerns and ideas. We have opened a storefront in Jane Finch Mall where people can come in, talk to us, share ideas and provide feedback.”

A consultation and community event is scheduled for Wednesday and the mall hosted a virtual community event in December 2021.

Anna-Kay Brown is an organizer with the Jane and Finch Family Foundation and has lived in the neighbourhood for 14 years. While Global News was setting up to interview Brown, an LRT train was on the tracks near Jane and Finch.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen it here,” she said.

The community organizer said she’s not against redevelopment, but has fears that similar to Regent Park, which experienced gentrification, the lifeblood and soul of the neighbourhood could be lost by all the remodelling. If there is a rent spike, Brown fears that thousands could be forced to relocate.

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“There’s a high amount of poor, working-class people that are working to meet their everyday needs and now there’s a possibility of displacement, of gentrification that we’ve seen happening through many of these developments,” she said.

With a community so diverse and many who live here continuing to work in the neighbourhood, Brown said the incentive behind the mall redevelopment or any others should be about giving those people financial incentives to support the changes.

“There’s nothing wrong with redevelopment. It’s all about how we make it equitable for the current residents and the future residents that will be here. The community is asking for a seat at the table in these conversations and a piece of the pie,” she said.

“We have a lot of stakeholders in the community. How do we create an environment through the city and the province to create employment and opportunities?”

With the majority of Jane and Finch residents being low-wage earners and racialized, Brown said all the promises to do better as a society need to start here.

“These social changes that we’re talking about, if they can’t happen in this community in this moment of wokeness we’ve found, I don’t think it can happen anywhere,” she said.

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