Emergency housing provider Blue Door proposes to build a new transitional housing facility in Newmarket by demolishing its existing one called Kevin’s Place.
The non-profit agency is asking the town for a ministerial zoning order to speed the process along, which council is to review Jan. 16. The proposal includes demolishing the existing 12-unit home at 835 Gorham St., to be replaced by stacked townhouses with 14 units on the same property.
Blue Door CEO Michael Braithwaite said there is a significant need for affordable housing, and the existing facility is limited.
“Blue Door has this large piece of land with a small house that could be so much more. If we look at our purpose, whom we serve and what we’re trying to do, it’s almost a disservice not to do more with the land,” he said.
Kevin’s Place has served Blue Door for more than 20 years, offering 12 emergency and transitional housing spaces for male youth. The new proposal would be 14 units, similarly providing emergency and transitional housing for families, primarily three and two-bedroom units. Braithwaite said people could potentially stay there on an emergency basis for 30 days, and up to a year at an affordable rate after that.
The existing facility requires two people per room, Braithwaite said. That posed an issue in the pandemic with the need for physical distancing, effectively cutting the unit capacity down to five.
The place has “served us well over the past 20-some odd years,” Braithwaite said. “The challenge is that house, as it stands, was never designed for that type of purpose … We had an opportunity to take that house down to do youth housing in a different way that will be much more efficient and effective.”
Blue Door planning experts determined the number of units based on what works under the town’s planning regime, Braithwaite said.
“It has to fit in with the neighbourhood and the type of housing that’s there,” he said.
To help fund the approximately $8-million project, Blue Door is looking to get Rapid Housing Initiative funding from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which requires the project to be “shovel ready.” Blue Door is asking for a ministerial zoning order to speed the planning process in hopes of successfully applying for that funding.
“This is the type of housing it's designed for,” Braithwaite said. “MZOs were introduced to speed up the process because we need affordable housing.”
Council will consider it next week, but town staff is recommending a motion to support the MZO and expedite the planning process. The current zoning in a residential neighbourhood does not allow stacked townhomes.
“Due to the Rapid Housing Initiative funding and the length of time to process planning approvals, it is the planning staff’s opinion that an MZO is appropriate in this instance,” a staff report said.
If the council OKs it, the MZO would then require provincial approval. Assuming that happens and Blue Door gets the grant funding, Braithwaite said the project could be complete in three years, for a 2026 opening. Otherwise, the project might take five years, or be held off if the funding cannot be secured.
If it does happen, Braithwaite said they would ensure a seamless transition and places to stay for any residents of Kevin’s Place.
The new facility will respond to the community needs, he said.
“We are seeing more and more people working full time using the shelter system simply because they don’t have affordable housing,” he said. “They simply can’t afford the rent, and so we need to develop this type of affordable housing, and we need to do it now."