Oshawa Mayor wants help in dealing with homeless issues in the city

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Published June 9, 2021 at 8:51 pm

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The Region of Durham’s goal of reducing chronic homelessness to zero by 2024 is not moving fast enough for Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter, who wants Durham to use “every resource available” to help the city address the issue.

Staff with At Home in Durham, a joint project of Finance, Social Services and Planning & Economic Development, presented their annual report at Wednesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting and several representatives from Durham’s largest city expressed their concerns with the document.

Carter believes there needs to be a “re-think” and a re-design” of options, as well as a major infusion of new funds from the federal and provincial governments to solve the problem.

“We are at the point now where we don’t have the capacity,” Carter said. “This is a regional issue and we need your help.”

There are 6,400 social housing units in Durham – many of them in Oshawa – with another 6,000-plus on waiting lists and Carter noted there are 95-100 homeless people living in the city on any given day.

“How do we address this? This is impacting the other 175,000 people who live here,” he said, adding that Durham needs to do more to ensure other municipalities share the subsidized housing responsibilities.

Oshawa Councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri agreed and said the Region needs to adopt a philosophy of “fair play” when building affordable housing while being more “creative” in finding different housing options.

Alan Robins, Durham’s Director of Housing, assured committee members that all municipalities in the Region have been involved in the process. “No community has been left out,” he said, citing housing projects in the works in Ajax and Whitby and a 47-unit modular home project in Beaverton.

At Home in Durham is a 10-year project (that has now reached the halfway point) with some very ambitious goals. Besides ending homelessness, the plan calls for 1,000 new affordable housing units – with greater housing choices – over the next five years and wants to make affordable rent available for everyone in the Region.

The project also wants to increase the supply of medium to high-density housing and “regenerate” more community housing.

The Region has recently sold off three semi-detached affordable units in which the other half of the home was owned privately, and has another 92 semi-detached homes – all wholly owned by Durham and all located in Oshawa – on a list that will likely be sold in the future because they are deemed an “inefficient” use of regional resources.

That raised the ire of Oshawa Councillor Brian Nicholson, who called Durham’s decision to focus on high-density affordable housing “short-sighted” decision-making and demanded that the current residents of these homes be included in future discussions.

“The plan here is to remove affordable housing with front yards and back yards to finance high-density housing,” Nicholson said. “You’re removing families and destroying neighbourhoods.”

Robins assured Nicholson no decisions have been made on those units and called the report preliminary, which Nicholson, in turn, called “spin,” provoking a rebuke from Durham Chairman John Henry.

The high-density plan also drew criticism from Clarington Councillor Joe Neal, who called high-density projects like those built in the 1960s and 1970s a “social mistake,” but Robins said mixed-use housing are the desired options and they had “no intention” to return to outdated planning methods.

Recent affordable housing projects in Durham include a motel in Whitby acquired to provide transitional and supportive housing to 26 homeless individuals and families; a former office facility in downtown Oshawa to be converted to nine transitional housing units for people who have been chronically homeless; and a new project in Clarington that will provide 30 units for low-income seniors.

Under development is the aforementioned Beaverton Modular Home project, a permanent modular housing development that will provide 47 supportive housing units to vulnerable individuals; and the Oshawa Micro-Housing Pilot Project, which includes 10 micro-home units that will offer temporary transitional housing as well as financial assistance, employment services, mental health and addictions assistance, and life skills. The micro-homes, scheduled for occupancy this September, will be built on regional lands that will be required for a road realignment project in about five years, and the micro-homes will be relocated to a permanent location at that time.

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