Tall and serious, David Mitchell is the first chair of Toronto Community Housing to have actually grown up in one of the city’s projects.

His boyhood home, Lawrence Heights, has been deemed so ugly and isolated that TCH just announced a $350-million, 20-year teardown and rebuild.

But Mitchell is not going to slag it. “It was a very enjoyable life, really,” he says of the late 1970s and early ’80s, when he lived in a three-bedroom townhouse with his mother and four brothers.

Mitchell talks about shovelling snow to save money to buy a bike at Canadian Tire. He smiles when he mentions how sharing a room and a double bed helped him learn “co-operation skills.”

The 43-year-old is both the part-time chair of TCH and the full-time superintendent of Mimico Correctional Centre. He’s spent two decades working in jails and has a law enforcer’s measured speech.

Born in England, Mitchell moved to Canada with his parents when he was six, the oldest of his brothers.

For a while, the family lived in apartments and houses near the Don Mills “Peanut Plaza.” When he was nine, his parents split up as his mother was pregnant with her fifth son.

They moved to Lawrence Heights, and by high school, the differences between Mitchell’s area and the surrounding neighbourhoods started to become obvious, as his peers began to drop out of high school, get pregnant, or have run-ins with the law.

Mitchell credits his own will to stay on the straight and narrow to his Jamaican mother, who brought all of her sons to Seventh Day Adventist church, and who instilled her oldest with a sense of responsibility.

“There’s a likelihood that if I had ended up in the criminal justice system as a client ... that my brothers may have ended up there as well,” says Mitchell, who worked as a maid during high school.