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‘It’s brutal out there’: Newmarket mayor spearheads new land trust for affordable housing in public hands

August 24, 2023

Posted on: August 21st, 2023. Posted by: Lisa Queen,, Original Article.

‘We know the private market is not going to solve the housing problem,’ United Way Vice-President says

Gary Collier rented an affordable room in a Richmond Hill basement for four years until the landlord evicted the tenants to increase the prices for new renters.

Once a hydro utility contractor, heart disease has put an end to his working life.

Collier, 60, found himself at Blue Door’s Kevin’s Place shelter in Newmarket before moving into a subsidized room in the organization’s transitional housing program while he searches for an affordable place to rent.

Easier said than done in an era of soaring rents and when the wait on Housing York’s list for subsidized housing is a decade long.

“It’s just the way the market is. It’s brutal out there,” said Collier, who receives $733 a month on Ontario Works and is hoping to be approved for the $1,300-a-month Ontario Disability Support Program.

Shelters are great at providing short-term housing for people experiencing homelessness, but are often a revolving door of people in crisis finding a place to rest their heads for a few weeks before they end up on the street again, Collier said.

He is applauding a move to set up a York Region land trust this fall that would bring properties and housing units into public and non-profit ownership and management, to create permanent affordable housing.

Unlike housing in private hands, which owners can sell or find new tenants for, properties in the trust would forever be in public ownership.

Spearheaded by Newmarket Mayor John Taylor, the Land Trust For All will see Blue Door bring together partners like Yellow Brick House, Inn from the Cold, 360°kids, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Community Living and other not-for-profits, which would use the umbrella land trust to provide affordable housing solutions for their clients.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the United Way Greater Toronto are providing seed funding.

Taylor and Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite are meeting this month with other York Region mayors, who are all looking for affordable housing solutions in their communities, to bring them on board.

The trust would be similar to the Oak Ridges Moraine Land Trust, where people donate their land to ensure it remains green space permanently, Taylor said.

Similarly, under the Land Trust for All, property owners would donate housing units or buildings. That would include developers, who could donate a home or two in a new subdivision.

The idea was born when Braithwaite explained the trouble Blue Door has renting housing for its clients due to the stigma of homelessness, even when the organization is prepared with a year’s rent in advance.

In the middle of the GTA’s housing crisis, the land trust is one mechanism to provide York Region with much-needed permanent affordable housing, according to Taylor, Braithwaite and Ruth Crammond, the United Way’s vice-president of community investment and development.

“We’ve got to get creative and we’ve got to move more quickly, so this is another piece of the puzzle,” Taylor said.

“What I hear from people predominantly is they want people to live in dignity. They want people to be housed properly and safely. I’m not hearing the opposite. I’m not hearing, ‘Hey, just let them hang out in the park.’ They want us to do our part. They want us to do a bigger part, they want us to play a bigger role and lean in even more.”

The land trust is a way to go beyond piecemeal solutions to homelessness, Braithwaite said.

“We need to stop looking for a better sleeping bag, a better tent, and look for better housing, real housing options, because everyone deserves that dignity,” he said.

“I think we’re patching it through. We need to stop patching it through. That’s how we got here in the first place, settling for just good enough.”

Crammond, who points out that there are hundreds of York Region residents in shelters or living rough, applauds the trust as social-purpose real estate that keeps community wealth in public hands.

“We know the private market is not going to solve the housing problem. It’s on fire,” she said, adding that there are many people on the losing end of the GTA’s growth economy.

“This is where we need it — in the non-profit and public sector, for those who are the most vulnerable.”