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York Region, Aurora residents at odds over new emergency housing

February 15, 2023

Posted on: February 8th, 2023. By: Joseph Quigley,, Original Article.

‘We hope that councillors make the right choice and not just the popular choice,’ Blue Door CEO says as Aurora weighs new facility proposal on Yonge Street

Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite said residents criticizing and expressing concern about new transitional housing is typical.

Aurora residents came out in force to a public planning meeting last month to oppose a Housing York proposal to build a new 55-unit transitional and emergency facility at 14452 Yonge St., meant to replace Blue Door’s aging Porter Place facility. Many area residents made arguments against the location and its proximity to train tracks and a sewage station, and expressed concern about decreased property values and increased crime.

Braithwaite said opposition always emerges when building new housing facilities, but proponents have got through it by “pulling the community together, by creating an understanding.”

“We were able to push these projects forward too, so I have great hope for this one.”

The project is in limbo after the Aurora council opted not to approve a zoning bylaw amendment due to concerns. Instead, council indicated they want another public meeting on the proposal for the building that would be by a sewage pumping station on the York Region-owned property.

Area resident Mike Zelyony is one of the residents opposed to the project at this location and told the council residents have “lawyered up” to fight it. He said there are plans to form a ratepayers association and that “all options remain on the table” for future opposition.

“It was clear in the meeting that there are countless issues with this proposal,” Zelyony said. “It was evident at the end of the public planning meeting that the application could not move forward.”

Region planners have said they examined other spots but chose this property due to its central location, with proximity to transit, employment and services. It is also land already owned by York Region, versus purchasing something elsewhere at a high cost.

York Region commissioner of community and health services Katherine Chislett said they will consider the concerns raised and work to address them.

“Housing is a human right and is a foundation of strong, caring, safe communities. We look forward to continuing to work with the Town of Aurora and our community partners to build a safe space for men experiencing homelessness where they can access the supports and services they need to find and keep housing,” she said.

In its council presentation, the region has also said that properties next to Housing York buildings have still appreciated in value. It also said there is no evidence to substantiate the idea that this kind of housing leads to increased crime, and there would be trained staff on-site 24 hours a day.

But some area residents believe the location needs further study. Zelyony said it could be better placed closer to a denser population centre.

He said the opposition is not strictly because of residents not wanting proximity but due to the “inappropriateness of the location.”

“The specific site issues mentioned of zoning, planning, environmental, noise and proximity to the high-capacity sewage pumping station and train tracks, rise far beyond the simple question of its proximity to the residents,” he said. “It seems the location was chosen for expediency rather than suitability.”

Blue Door hopes to be chosen by the region to run the new facility, but there is a process for Housing York to decide that.

But Braithwaite said he supports more transitional housing regardless. He said he trusts in the processes of York Region and Housing York planners and they do not “take this kind of thing lightly.”

People say “we understand the need. We just don’t think this is the right spot,” he said. “It’s never, in my experience, ‘This is the perfect spot.’”

The current location of Porter Place in East Gwillimbury is an issue in how distant it is for its clients to access some services, Braithwaite said.

However, he said he is empathetic to the concerns, and there is a need to answer questions. As far as worries about the homeless population itself, such as the concern raised by some residents about increased criminality, Braithwaite said bringing in someone who can offer lived experiences could help.

Regardless, the decision will be with Aurora council. But Braithwaite said he hopes they will properly consider the building if questions and concerns can be answered sufficiently.

“You hope that the councillors make the right choice and not just the popular choice.”