Property rezoned for affordable supportive housing

December 16, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Sam Odrowski

Affordable supportive housing is moving forward in the Orangeville area, following a recent rezoning amendment approved by Council last Monday (Dec. 9) on a former Knights Inn motel.

The property, located at 236 First Street, was purchased by Services and Housing in the Province (SHIP) in mid-March of this year and it was operated until November as transitional housing to address homelessness.

Now the property is being converted by SHIP into permanent affordable supportive housing, with studio and two-bedroom apartments to accommodate individuals and families with low to moderate incomes, which is meant to address a shortage in Orangeville.

“There will be a combination of housing and service supports that enable people to live as independently as possible in their community,” Lesley Nagoda, acting CEO of SHIP, told the Citizen via email.

“We intend to make exterior changes to the property as well, to better integrate the property into the community. We’re confident that the individuals who reside there will be able to close the door and say ‘I am home. I have a place to live’.”

SHIP is anticipating by the New Year construction will begin and an occupancy is expected in late 2022.

Residents’ concerns

During Council’s meeting last Monday, where councillors unanimously approved rezoning 236 First Street to be used as supportive housing, a lawyer and resident of Starview Crescent expressed several concerns with how the facility was operated.

“There has been a number of police on site all summer,” said Melodie Vella, resident of Starview Crescent. “There was up to 70 calls, which I think is absolutely ridiculous being that I’m a mother and I have children, just as many of the community members here – even the residents have their own children – witnessing the number of incidents that were occurring on site.”

Dufferin OPP confirmed there have been 67 calls for service to the property since it was taken over by SHIP in March, out of which, seven arrests and five charges were laid.

Nagoda said through discussions with neighbours of 236 First Street and community members, they acknowledge that there were some concerns for safety.

“For the community, the presence of police often indicated a concern for safety; however,many times it is proactive and not reactive,” said Nagoda. “At no time were there any concerns presented to us by police for the surrounding community.”

Meanwhile, Vella continued that due to the volume of incidents, her and other residents of her street, would like to see additional supports and services when the property is reopened to ensure those who stay there have what they need to be successful and in good standing with the neighbourhood.

Mayor Sandy Brown responded to Vella, noting that safety issues have been addressed, as SHIP brought a security guard on the property at the time and the former use of the property has ended, so it is now “water under the bridge”.

“What SHIP is planning is building 25 affordable housing units to house those who are less fortunate, and they are also going to have staff on site. They are building offices in that same building, so I think they’ve addressed everything,” said Mayor Brown.

Vella replied that had SHIP addressed their concerns with the 236 First Street property since the beginning, there would be less of an issue.

“The staff that’s there is Monday to Friday during business hours, they’re not there for the evening. We were given direction to call police. That is not a solution to helping people with serious mental health and addiction issues,” said Vella.

“No one wants to call police on people who are suffering, so they have not made assurances that they will have staff in the evenings or security, and so we are left to our own demise as are their own residents, and I don’t think that that’s a fair position.”

Nadia Chami, a lawyer representing residents of Starview Crescent, spoke after Vella, and noted Mayor Brown’s comments about there being a different population inhabiting the affordable transitional housing, it is still under the same management, which she doesn’t trust. The mistrust stems from Starview residents’ experiences since SHIP acquired and operated the facility, Chami noted.

She then asked what safety measures will be taken at the facility to avoid there being so many 9-1-1 calls to the premises going forward, adding that many of the individuals staying there will have some sort of mental health issue.

Mayor Brown said there’s no guarantee that everyone will have mental health problems and he’s not a security expert.

In an email response from Nagoda, she said safety is very important to SHIP for both their residents and the communities they reside in.

“Typically when safety issues occur, the person’s safety who is in jeopardy is our tenant. Not their neighbor directly beside them and not the neighbours across the street,” she said. “There is a lot of research and our own experience that demonstrates affordable and supportive housing do not negatively impact crime rates,”

In terms of ways to ensure there’s less police calls going forward, Nagoda said they encourage safety by encouraging tenants to have pride in their home, sign tenancy agreements, facilitate tenant engagement, and provide on-site educational programs for tenants from local police and the fire department.

“We strongly believe that our 30+ years of experience in both housing and service support has demonstrated our success in becoming part of the fabric of the communities we are in,” Nagoda noted.

Meanwhile Vella ended her delegation to Council, where she expressed her concerns, by saying, “Everything that they [SHIP] presented was very polished, very corporate, and it doesn’t address the needs that we saw in person, in practice.”

Adding, “That’s where the mistrust and the concerns are coming from, and continually we have been dismissed even by yourself Mayor Brown, so that is very unfortunate, given your position.”

Request for Apology from Mayor

Vella’s comment regarding Mayor Brown being dismissive stems from an email exchange between him and Chami, who sent a letter to Orangeville and Mono Council outlining Starview residents’ concerns about 236 First Street. Mayor Brown replied to the email saying, “The fact that some well-to-do folks are looking down their noses at Affordable Housing is of absolutely no concern to me”.

However, in Mayor Brown’s response to Vella’s comments about him continually being dismissive, he said this isn’t the case.

“I responded to a letter from a lawyer who we’re about to hear from whose letter was full of inaccuracies and painted town staff and the SHIP organization in a poor light, so my specific comments were after receipt of that letter, which I think was completely offside,” he remarked.

Coun. Todd Taylor followed up by saying he would like to side with the resident.

“I found your comments to be rude and condescending to the residents and inappropriate. That’s all I have to say. But just to sit here and listen to you talk that way to the resident, when clearly that’s not the case. I think it’s inappropriate,” he said.

Chami then asked Mayor Brown for an apology for his “well-to-do folks” comment.

“This comment has obviously insulted the character of the good residents of [Starview Crescent] Mono, who voiced their concerns,” said Chami. “You obviously have not considered their concerns, and instead have attacked their characters. That is absolutely unacceptable, and we request a formal apology from you today. I will wait.”

Mayor Brown responded by saying he will not be apologizing and to carry on with her delegation.

Meanwhile, Coun. Taylor later in the meeting, clarified that he thinks SHIP has done a nice job of putting together the affordable transitional housing plan and it is something that will make a difference in the community.

“In the short-term history of it, it’s been confrontations and police calls and it’s been difficult to live there for sure, but I do agree with the rest of Council. And that is moving forward, we’ve got high hopes for this property,” he said. “We think that we have a solution to the security piece, and the reality is even if we don’t, even if there is issues moving forward, I think that we’ll course correct as we go.”

Coun. Taylor added, “I think this is the correct path. I just want to be sympathetic and make sure that those residents who live in the front of Starview are heard.”

Town Staff comments on rezoning approval

Coun. Debbie Sherwood noted that the conversation was getting heated, dwelling on what the property was used for previously, and should instead be focused on how it will be used going forward.

She then asked Brandon Ward, Orangeville’s manager of planning and infrastructure services, if there is anything in the Town’s bylaws that states Council has to address the security of zoning applications.

Ward responded with, “The matter at hand is a land use matter. It’s a land use decision with respect to a proposed residential use. It’s an affordable housing use, it’s defined as supportive housing because there’s going to be some support service elements interchange with this support or this affordable housing use.”

Adding, “The concerns with respect to safety and security are perceptions of behaviour of occupants, and in a planning decision, the decision needs to be made on matter of fact, with respect to the proposed use adherence to the applicable policy framework.”

On that basis, when making the decision, Council has to look at the use’s appropriateness for the subject lands and its relationship with its surroundings and does not look at behavioural elements of future inhabitants or occupants of that residential use, Ward noted.

To use this in the evaluation of a planning matter is not appropriate, he concluded.

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