PhD candidate explores potential uneven impacts in transit investment along Eglinton LRT

Robert Arku
Robert Arku's research project on transit investments in being supported by Mobilizing Justice, a research partnership housed at U of T Scarborough that is focused on addressing transportation inequities across Canada (Submitted photo)

Tina Adamopoulos

When Robert Arku moved to Toronto’s Davenport neighbourhood three years ago, he couldn’t help but feel curious about the future of his new home. 

During daily commutes on public transportation, he wondered how fellow residents and small establishments – largely Black-owned businesses – were affected by the development of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT. 

Set to make travel across Toronto up to 60 per cent faster, the LRT’s decade-long construction has facilitated concern about financial struggles, and several closures, for small-businesses in neighbourhoods such as Little Jamaica. 

“In addition to the potential alteration in neighbourhood character and sense of place, the question is how you can mitigate fiscal effects of displacement,” says Arku, a PhD candidate in the department of geography and planning. 

“If people have to move, they may lose access to job opportunities, which could lower their income, especially if compelled to relocate to areas with limited job prospects and low transit access. There is a need to recognize these factors.” 

Arku’s research explores how transportation and land use decisions affect people in urban areas, especially regarding housing, gentrification, and displacement.

To understand how communities can face uneven impacts in transit investment, Arku begins by conducting an exploratory analysis of the average value of single-family homes and the sociodemographic characteristics along the Eglinton Crosstown LRT’s 25 stations. 

Although the analysis doesn’t directly link the observed property prices in the station communities to the LRT, it highlights the importance of considering various community types and potential uneven impacts from transit investment.

The project is funded by Mobilizing Justice, a national coalition of researchers, industry leaders and non-profits, housed at U of T Scarborough. Arku is supervised by U of T Scarborough professors Christopher Higgins and Steven Farber of the department of human geography. 

In an early analysis published by Mobilizing Justice, data from the 2016 Canadian Census of Population showed that stations serving Visible Minority (VM) communities are located at the east and west ends of the route. Communities surrounding Forest Hill to Laird Stations, towards the route’s center, has a low presence of VM communities, where prices of single-family homes were also higher.

If people have to move, they may lose access to job opportunities, which could lower their income, especially if compelled to relocate to areas with limited job prospects and low transit access. There is a need to recognize these factors.

Using data from RPS Real Property Solutions (RPS), Arku explored the average price of single-family detached homes along the LRT route to compare the announcement (the first quarter of 2007 to the third quarter 2011) and construction phase (fourth quarter of 2011 to the second quarter of 2016) of the project.

During the announcement phase, a single-family detached home, across all stations, cost an average of $805,000, compared to $1.08 million during the construction phase – an increase of 34 per cent.

Meanwhile, homes located in the east and west ends (VM communities) of the route cost approximately $390,000 in the announcement phase, compared to $580,000 during construction. Properties near Wynford, Aga Khan and Science Centre stations are purpose-built rental or commercial properties.

Arku also found that the average price of homes towards the center of the LRT route (non-VM communities) remained unchanged at $1.2 million across both project phases. Prices reached $2 million around Chaplin and Forest Hill stations during the construction phase.

While his PhD research adopts more advanced methods for determining causal impacts, the Eglinton analysis offers some early insights:  

“Housing has skyrocketed in a lot of North American cities. While those general trends in housing markets weren’t surprising, it is concerning for communities whose income is not increasing while the cost of living is – especially for visible minority communities,” Arku explains.

Arku is a recipient of the 2022 and 2023 Geography and Planning Award for Black Students. The award provides support to conduct further research, share research findings with both academic and professional communities as well as build a strong foundation for future professional opportunities. 

After the Eglinton Crosstown LRT opens, Arku hopes to conduct further equity-focused research. This includes examining the LRT’s impacts on transit accessibility to employment and urban amenities, its impact on the housing market, as well as the distribution of these impacts on different population groups, including VM and non-VM communities.  

With 140 reported business closures in 2020, Arku says that the option of relocating to another neighbourhood still leaves a financial burden on business owners. 

“I hope, even after completing my PhD research, to keep track of how the LRT affects marginalized communities. I want to show how their quality-of-life shifts before and after the LRT opens,” Arku says. “This can support equitable planning, like promoting affordable housing and mitigating gentrification and displacement effects.”

Read the story at the Black Research Network