Coun. John Filion reveals next phase of city’s modular supportive housing will see a site for the homeless in Willowdale

·3 min read

Toronto staff have tapped a location in Willowdale for the next phase of the city’s modular supportive housing effort, area councillor John Filion wrote in a newsletter Friday evening. The news pre-empts a report from city staff expected to be released publicly next week.

The construction, on city-owned land at 175 Cummer Ave., would aim to offer about 60 units of supportive housing for the city’s homeless population, Filion wrote to constituents.

The staff report next week is expected to reveal two locations for the new housing projects, Coun. Ana Bailao, Mayor John Tory’s advocate for affordable housing, told the Star.

While she declined to reveal the other location, she said it would be located somewhere in east-end Toronto.

Both of the newly planned modular sites are expected to open this year, with a target date set of September outlined in a recent briefing note to the city’s budget committee.

Together, the two sites would have roughly 128 units, Bailao said.

“I see it as good news,” wrote Filion in his newsletter. He noted that he learned of the proposal last week that “some priority” would go to vulnerable groups, including seniors and pregnant women, and that an online and phone information session was scheduled for March 9.

“In recent years, and especially during the pandemic, finding solutions to Toronto’s homeless crisis has become both more urgent and more complex. With this month’s extreme cold weather, it is hard for those of us living in warm, comfortable surroundings to even imagine what it would be like to sleep on a subway grate or in a bus shelter,” he wrote.

Supportive housing has been identified as a more less expensive option, costing approximately $2,000 per month versus $6,600 a month for a shelter bed since COVID-19 hit.

But the new modular sites’ future as supportive housing hinges on funding that hasn't yet been secured. While the city has capital funding locked down — it’s a combination of local and federal money — officials are pushing the province for funds to cover support services such as healthcare and employment help within the facility. For the second phase of the modular builds, the city estimates it’ll need $3.6 million per year.

The units are part of a larger city plan to introduce more than 1,200 new supportive housing units in 2021 to tackle chronic homelessness, which would require about $15.4 million this year, and $26.3 million annually.

If the funding doesn’t come through, the units would be handed over to the rental market for affordable housing.

The city’s first modular housing projects, at 11 Macey Ave., near Victoria Park subway station, and 150 Harrison St., near Dundas St. W. and Dovercourt Rd., opened in recent weeks.

Modular construction means the structures are built in a factory, and assembled on-site. The full capital cost for the two current locations was given as $20.9 million last fall, with a projected cost for all planned units of $47.5 million.

A spokesperson declined to comment on the address Filion identified on Friday night, saying the city didn’t comment on staff reports until they were made public.

To Bailao, moving ahead with the second phase showed a commitment to moving quickly on new supportive units. “There’s a great need, and the city continues to respond to the need as fast as we can,” she said.

Victoria Gibson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star