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Affordable housing could come to Bradford church parking lot

“I believe in a hand-up, but I don’t want it to be a lifetime hand-out," says councillor while questioning the proposal
Line 9 Church
Bradford Community Church has trailers set up on their lot

With the construction of a new 50-unit affordable housing complex on the horizon in Bradford West Gwillimbury, councillors will be considering a less costly alternative in the near future.

WOW Living is looking to place four winterized trailers on the property of Bradford Community Church to act as affordable housing units. Associated costs with the entire project are estimated at $500,000, which is approximately the cost per unit to construct the complex at Simoce Road and Marshview Boulevard.

WOW Living’s Executive Director Jodi Greenstreet was in front of council at a public meeting July 19 to request a temporary zoning bylaw amendment to allow for the project to move forward. The church, located at 2465 Line 9, is currently zoned for institutional use. While that zoning is broad, it does not currently allow for temporary rental units to be placed on site.

Still, it temporarily housed displaced residents of 114 Holland St. W., following the March 2021 fire. The church offered to house families in Fifth Wheel trailers. As the year progressed though, and permanent housing had not been secured, thoughts of winterizing trailers on the property began to take shape.

Even before the fire, Greenstreet had become more acutely aware of the hardships faced by many in our community, especially those who are on Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The amount of money those on social assistance receive each month isn’t enough to adequately provide housing in nearly every municipality in the province, including Bradford West Gwillimbury.

For housing to be truly affordable, Greenstreet told councillors, rent must be within the shelter portion of their OW or ODSP, roughly $400-$500 for a single person or $800 for a couple, plus utilities.

It’s a proposal many councillors, including Coun. Mark Contois, are eager to at least pilot.

“We have to do something as a community; we can’t just stand idle and do nothing,” he said while lamenting projects such as this aren’t typically available to receive funding from the federal or provincial government. “I think maybe the province needs to evolve as well and look at new innovative ideas that are reasonable for municipalities to implement…. It’s temporary; it’s a pilot program; I would love to see if it works.”

Coun. Jonathan Scott echoed those sentiments.

“The worst case scenario is that if we approve this, people get housing for three years,” he said.

Coun. Gary Lamb apologized to his colleagues for being more “pragmatic” when it came to the proposal.

Lamb sees a different set of worst-case scenarios than Scott, including concerns with the potential for pop-up trailer parks where other residents or organizations with vacant land in town could turn their excess space into a for-profit endeavour, or that the church could not be paying tax for the town services used by these trailers, where other landowners would.

He wondered further if it was even the town’s place to be putting such a development together, given that social services are the purview of the upper tiers of government and that the town’s focus is much more on keeping the streets clean and snow ploughed.

“It’s not an anti-poverty thing or anything like that,” Lamb said. “I believe in a hand-up, but I don’t want it to be a lifetime hand-out.”

Coun. Ron Orr was concerned about the location of the church, situated away from urban amenities. That many residents wouldn’t have vehicles shouldn’t be seen as a deterrent, Greenstreet suggested.

“I think some of our middle-class mindset gets in the way,” she said. “If I had to take public transit or I had to walk from the church to No Frills, I am such a suck. (For) these people, it is not a problem and they are quite happy to have a safe home.”

Prior to the meeting, councillors each received a letter in opposition to the proposal, signed by 14 residents of Grandview Crescent, the housing development to the east of the church along Line 9. That correspondence shared Orr’s concerns about the location, not only in terms of access and safety but also due to a lack of compatibility with the area, as the trailers would not conform to the character of the surrounding homes and would face potential safety issues from the nearby industrial facilities.

Greenstreet has heard some of these concerns previously, as her family built the first garden suite in Bradford West Gwillimbury to house her mother.

“I understand the Grandview neighbours and their concerns; our own neighbours had concerns, and we have great neighbours,” Greenstreet said. “You picture trailer trash – let’s just be real. We are dedicated to making these look uniform… and make it look beautiful.”

Mayor Rob Keffer wondered how the church’s congregation felt about the proposal. A 10-year lease was signed with the church for $2 per year following a unanimous vote of support from the parishioners, Greenstreet said.  

Council’s decision on the matter will come following a staff report, to be delivered at a future meeting.