Community members of an East York neighbourhood are up in arms about the City of Toronto‘s plans to replace a parking lot with 64 units of affordable housing for the region’s homeless population.
“This area is the children’s recreational hub for the whole of East York and there’s a lot of safety issues and concerns that we have,” said community member Mark Battenberg.
The parking lot is located on Cedarvale Avenue near Woodbine Avenue and O’Connor Drive.
Residents of the area point to the fact that the parking lot is surrounded by an elementary school, daycare, public pool, baseball diamonds and a hockey rink as part of the reason the City should not go ahead with the development.
“We’re not saying people don’t need support and people don’t need homes, but to increase the population density with… people going through the most troubling and difficult times of their lives with addiction and mental health issues, this may not be the appropriate place to do it,” said Steve Bland, who has been living in the neighbourhood for eleven years.
He also argues that the parking lot is heavily used by parents looking to drop their kids off to school, the pool or for sporting events at neighbouring baseball diamonds or hockey rinks.
“This parking lot is the hub, it’s the heart of the community. It provides everybody an opportunity to partake in everything that’s here,” said Bland.
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Residents also say they were not consulted by the City before the plans moved forward with the affordable housing development.
“We have no information at all except for what we’ve had to find for ourselves,” said Battenberg.
Earlier this week, the City of Toronto announced its Modular Housing Initiative, which would use two sites to create 64 units each aimed at “providing stable, affordable housing and support services to individuals experiencing homelessness.”
One is almost complete at Macey Avenue in the area of Pharmacy and Danforth avenues.
The second was announced initially for Harrison Street near Dovercourt Road and Dundas Street, but now that appears to have been moved to the disputed Cedarvale Avenue parking lot.
The City said it’s working on identifying a third location for another affordable housing development.
It added the federal government is committing $10.5 million to the initiative.
Coun. Brad Bradford said part of the rush to get the projects completed comes from the need to house the city’s homeless during the pandemic, but also because the federal funds have an expiration date.
“We’re also working with a federal grant and those dollars that we’ve received from the federal government must be spent by the end of the year,” said Bradford.
“You must build the housing and have the folks move in by the end of the year in order to use that grant — so we’re very much working on the federal government’s timeline.”
In response to questions posed by Global News, the City said a planning report will be considered by the Planning and Housing Committee on March 2 and city council on March 10. It added there will also be a “community engagement meeting in March” but did not provide a date.
Global News also asked whether the community consultations have the power to completely eliminate the affordable housing plans for the Cedarvale Avenue parking lot.
The City replied by saying the public engagement process will include collecting feedback on “building and site design elements (i.e. lighting, pathways, and landscaping); ideas for how to support and integrate the new residents into the neighbourhood and to answer any questions or concerns they may have about this project.”
It added that it is working to find alternate parking options for residents of the area.
Meanwhile, homeless advocates are asking East York residents for some compassion and to allow the affordable housing development to be built in their neighbourhood.
“This is a bit selfish of people,” said Alejandra Ruiz-Vargas with ACORN Toronto, an organization that helps low-income families in the city.
“It’s going to be a little inconvenient, but we’re talking about something that is life versus inconvenience.”
– with files from Melanie Zettler