Greening Community Housing Properties Grows More than Trees

May 15th, 2019 might have seemed like a regular Wednesday morning, just another spring day, but there was something celebratory in the air as the sun broke free from the clouds. Gathered by the community garden at 111 Kendleton Dr were a group of dedicated and inspired people, including LEAF staff, our program partners and local residents. Together, we were celebrating the successful completion of the first phase of a very special project which aims to increase tree canopy cover while increasing community engagement at Toronto Community Housing properties.


Recent studies show that low-income communities in Toronto tend to have a lower tree density than the city average, severely limiting the residents’ access to the many benefits of trees. Motivated to address this situation, LEAF partnered with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) and Park People to launch the Toronto Community Housing Planting and Stewardship Initiative. The project sought to increase tree canopy cover on TCHC properties, with community engagement and long-term tree survival at its core.



In 2018 approximately 80 trees were planted across three TCHC properties: 1901 Scarlettwood Ave W, 111 Kendleton Dr and Scarlettwood. These plantings fulfilled several goals:

  1. Help recover tree canopy cover lost due to the effects of the emerald ash borer and past ice storms
  2. Diversify the tree species on TCHC properties towards native species and away from non-native but commonly planted trees, like Norway maples and Austrian pines
  3. Increase access to green spaces and the benefits of living in close proximity to trees for tenants at Toronto Community Housing
  4. Engage tenants with the care and stewardship of the newly planted trees in order to build community and foster a sense of “ownership” over these trees.



To celebrate the tree plantings, representatives from all the partner and supporting organizations met with TCHC tenants to learn how to care for the new trees.


The event opened with key participants sharing a few words of welcome, congratulations and celebration. Among the speakers were Cutty Duncan, TCHC Manager of Capital Engagement and Conservation Program (CECP); Amory Ngan, Urban Forestry Project Manager at the City of Toronto; Minaz Asani-Kanji, Manager of Outreach at Park People, and Tomas Cohen, Director of Cohen & Master. They were not alone, however. They were joined by TCHC tenants Lisa Dells and Thomas Boehler who each spoke about the importance of the new trees and their stewardship in their respective communities.




This was followed by an interactive and educational tree tour led by LEAF Executive Director, Janet McKay. The group moved through the grounds of the property, learning about the interesting history, biology or environmental impact of the tree species planted the previous fall while tenants were invited to ask questions and add their own opinion.


The tour concluded with a demonstration of proper tree care. Kneeling by tree’s base, Janet explained the importance of weekly watering and adding mulch in the spring and fall. What ensued was an engaging question and answer period where tenants asked things like, “How do you know when to water?” (Check under the mulch, if it’s dry then it’s time to water) or “Why does the mulch have to be in a doughnut shape?” (If mulch is pushed up against the trunk, it can lead to rotting of the bark).



While all this was going on, Cohen & Master Tree and Shrub Services staff had been present at the site treating the newly planted trees with a natural soil additive that supports soil microbes and enhances root establishment. The event participants were treated to a demonstration of this treatment while Tomas Cohen spoke of the stressors faced by urban trees, especially poor soil quality and soil compaction.


Stewardship teams at each property have been put together to ensure the new trees are being cared for and the lessons learned in planting on such unique sites will not go to waste. The partners are excited that Toronto Community Housing Planting and Stewardship Initiative is expanding to further TCHC properties in 2019. 




More information on the Toronto Community Housing Planting and Stewardship Initiative can be found here.





Daniela Serodio is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator at LEAF.


The Toronto Community Housing Planting and Stewardship Initiative is supported by funds from Every Tree Counts, a partnership between Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation and the City of Toronto.