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Undergraduate students compete at U of T this weekend to tackle affordable housing challenges

Regent Park, Canada's oldest and largest social housing development, is being revitalized with a mixture of condominiums, market-rate rental apartments and public housing (photo by the City of Toronto via Flickr)

The students behind CivicSpark – a University of Toronto group devoted to fostering the next generation of city builders – will bring 13 undergraduate teams from universities across the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area (GTHA) together this weekend to offer solutions to the area’s affordable housing problem.

“With the cost of housing constantly increasing, there is a real concern that people, especially marginalized and vulnerable groups can be pushed out of their homes,” said CivicSpark’s co-founder Edwin White Chacon, a fifth-year Arts & Science undergrad who is majoring in political science, and ethics, society and law.

The competition comes at a time when the University of Toronto is exploring different housing approaches to help make the city more livable and sustainable. U of T President Meric Gertler is working with the presidents of three other GTA universities to tackle affordable housing through a call for research proposals. U of T is also looking into building laneway houses in the Huron-Sussex neighbourhood bordering the St. George campus.

Read more about the call for research proposals on affordable housing 

Read more about laneway housing initiatives

Student teams have each had one month to analyse a specific case and prepare a 20-minute presentation that includes innovative and tangible solutions. They will be judged by a panel of urban experts and city planners, as well as professionals from Toronto Community Housing Corporation and the Ontario Ministry of Housing.

The top two teams of the day will go head-to-head in solving a surprise case under the pressure of a very tight time frame.

“The finalist teams will be given the same case, and 60 minutes to prepare their solutions and present them,” said Chacon.  

Last year’s competition, which focused on transportation and public space, saw the final teams competing on ways to revitalize the space under Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway.

For student participants, the benefits include professional development, insight into the complexities of regional issues, as well as valuable connections with experts and professionals in urban planning. The winning team gets the opportunity to have an informational interview with decision-makers in the GTHA’s public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

CivicSpark was co-founded in 2015 as a chapter of CivicAction, a local city-building organization, by Chacon and undergraduate students Sara Urbina, who is majoring in economics and geography, and Joe Becker, who is studying political science and Canadian studies.