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York Region to examine repurposing its under-used properties, buildings

Aurora mayor suggests current regional headquarters underutilized and could be used for housing, Newmarket mayor fires back
20220210-York Region HQ-JQ
York Region's headquarters at 17150 Yonge St.

The Regional Municipality of York will be taking a closer look at its buildings and properties to determine if they could have other uses, potentially even housing.

Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas made a resolution at regional council requesting that staff examine regionally owned buildings and properties for potential other uses and report back to council. 

Mrakas said council could stand to get a more complete understanding of municipally owned properties in the region, and any opportunities for other uses.  

“Making sure that we’re appropriately using every tax dollar when it comes to properties and buildings in our municipalities,” he said to council April 11. “Whether it’s consolidating, whether it’s selling or repurposing these properties, I think that there’s lots of things that we can look at.”

Although the committee reduced the resolution, which initially included clauses referencing the York Region administrative centre in Newmarket. Those clauses noted that the headquarters on Yonge Street has sizeable underused space due to a hybrid work policy. Further, the original resolution states staff look at properties that could be repurposed for housing, though that wording was removed from the resolution.

The matter garnered some pushback from Newmarket Major John Taylor. He referenced Mrakas refusing a shelter in Aurora proposed by Housing York because it does not fit in with the Town of Aurora’s official plans. He noted that shifting the headquarters to housing would not fit in with current Newmarket official plans either, which would also possibly be the case for other York Region properties.

"Newmarket is the site of three shelters, two transitional housing locations, and your suggestion here, and in the media, is the one that’s not in Aurora should now come here and be housed in Newmarket,” Taylor said, questioning whether Mrakas’ stated standard that such projects must fit in with Aurora official plans be upheld elsewhere in York Region.

But Taylor later clarified that he does support the motion and does support rezoning and changing official plans in pursuit of housing.

"In this kind of a (housing) crisis with this kind of a challenge, we should be jumping out in front to change the zoning and the official plan designations if it works and it fits and the need is there,” he said.

Other council members spoke positively about the concept but also suggested removing some of the motion's specificity to the headquarters. 

“I would prefer to house people in appropriate housing spaces and in safe spaces that were designed for housing,” Georgina Regional Councillor Naomi Davison said.

Mrakas said he accepted that idea and changed the wording for the resolution to pass.

Vaughan Mayor Steven Del Duca said it is a concept worth backing.

“The general intent and thrust and content of Mayor Mrakas’ idea is something that I do think we should all support strongly,” he said.

Citizens group approaches council

Adam Mobbs approached council on the motion, representing the group Aurora Cares.

He said the citizens group formed following Aurora’s decision to refuse the Housing York shelter, to better give those experiencing homelessness a voice.

Mobbs said the group supported Mrakas’ motion. But they made a specific request that the motion include wording that regional staff work with Aurora town staff to find viable sites in Aurora for housing, following a resolution passed by Aurora town council to that effect Feb. 27.

“We believe that additional language may position Aurora, centrally located … to be an appropriate partner to advance alternative housing in the most efficient and appropriate manner possible,” Mobbs said.

That language did not make it into the resolution, but region chair and CEO Wayne Emmerson said it is something the region is already aware of.

”I can assure you staff will continue to work with all municipalities going forward, and their staff, to find a solution and to find places for us to build,” Emmerson said.