Brock Township council is formally opposing the Region’s plan to build a 50-unit supportive housing complex in Beaverton due to a lack of information and public consultation.
Late last month, regional councillors approved an Expedited Supportive Housing Report, which outlines a pair of projects designed to address the needs of Durham’s unsheltered residents.
The Beaverton project will be located on land owned by the Region at 133 Main Street – on the grounds of Lakeview Manor, beside Gillespie Gardens – subject to the approval of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
“Residents will have access to wraparound services to promote life stabilization. To expedite the development process, the Region is pursuing a modular construction technique that has seen significant success in western Canada and is growing in popularity in Ontario,” reads a press release from the Region.
The news came as a surprise to many on township council, who were unaware that such a project was even being considered by the Region.
After a presentation at a special meeting of Brock council Thursday (Aug. 20) yielded few concrete answers from Regional staff, Ward 1 representative Mike Jubb brought forward a motion calling for the Township to formally oppose the project for the time being.
“I honestly believe that this is the wrong location,” he said.
The motion calls for the Region to undertake a formal process for public consultation, as well as completing “studies and research” that would support the site as the optimal location for such a project.
The primary concerns raised by councillors involved the current lack of social services, healthcare and transportation in the community.
While Regional Councillor Ted Smith attempted to table the motion, that effort was defeated in a recorded vote.
Coun. Jubb’s motion was approved by a 4-3 margin with Claire Doble (Ward 2), Walter Schummer (Ward 3) and Cria Pettingill (Ward 4) voting in support.
Mayor Debbie Bath-Hadden, Coun. Smith and Ward 5 Councillor Lynn Campbell voted against.
“My concern is the use of the strong word ‘oppose’,” Mayor Bath-Hadden said.
The motion came following a lengthy presentation from Regional officials that provided a broad overview of the project but few specifics.
While a design has not really even been considered, much less finalized, the project will be comprised of 50 bachelor-type units – transitional and long-term – for unsheltered residents from across Durham.
Based on similar projects in Ottawa and Toronto, the units will be modular and pre-constructed with the Region eying the fall of 2021 for occupancy.
It carries an estimated cost of $14.5 million.
“There’s a lack of supportive housing in North Durham,” said Stella Danos-Papaconstantinou, the Region’s commissioner of social services.
She noted that residents of the facility will receive “24/7 support” depending on their needs, with a virtual public consultation session coming in September for residents to offer feedback on the types of services offered.
That list could include medical practitioners (such as a registered nurse), dental services, addiction treatment resources, a personal support worker and a mental health counsellor. Services could be offered both on-site and virtually.
“Community need has to be assessed,” Danos-Papaconstantinou said.
Coun. Smith was the first member of council to comment and offered up support for the project.
“There are some concerns in Brock about this installation but I think it’s something we need,” he said.
Coun. Jubb didn’t quite share that assessment, saying the project represented “poor planning” and appeared to be “not well thought out.”
“There’s a lot of unknowns in this presentation,” he said.
Durham Region CAO Elaine Baxter-Trahair seemed to indicate that the Region would proceed regardless of whether municipal council was on board or not.
“We are committed to this project,” she said.
While acknowledging that the municipality is basically powerless to stop the project from proceeding, Coun. Jubb said that he has heard no shortage of concerns from residents thus far.
“I haven’t seen one positive message from my constituents.”
Coun. Doble echoed many of the same sentiments.
“The unknowns are definitely a concern,” she said, highlighting the lack of employment locally as a primary hurdle for those living at the facility.
“For a lot of the residents, employment will not be a focus – not for a very long time,” Danos-Papaconstantinou replied, noting that some of the residents will likely be living there permanently.
“It’s really a recovery space,” added Alan Robbins, the acting director of housing services for Durham Region.
Residents would be required to sign a lease and support agreement and “would be treated no differently than those at any other apartment building,” Robbins continued.
“These are vulnerable people – they aren’t dangerous,” Baxter-Trehair added, noting that there would be no requirement for additional security at the site.
While the majority of councillors did not support the location, Coun. Smith said it was “no-brainer” because it’s already owned by the Region.
Coun. Campbell also seemed in support, thanking Regional staff for their “clear and concise” presentation.