Public engagement coming soon around town's affordable housing issues

·4 min read

Midland residents will soon be able to interact with the municipal affordable housing committee through Engaging Midland.

As soon as the committee's page is ready on the portal, said Gord McKay, chair of Council's Task Force on Affordable Housing, it will be available to the public.

"It's our intention to be out there within weeks with the information required and tools available to engage the people around affordable housing," he said, answering a question at a recent meeting. "Over the next few months, we expect to use its abilities to hold town halls. We expect to use surveys."

But before that happens, it seems there is need for some clarification around the committee's terms of reference, which outline its mandate and what it can and can't do.

Tina Lococo, executive director of corporate services/town solicitor, was among the staff members attending the meeting to provide more information in both a public and closed session.

"One of the things we need to establish is that any processes that are followed by the committee lie within the authority of the committee," she said. "There have been some instances where there's been some confusion as to what those roles are, so moving forward, my office is available to provide clarity, particularly when it comes to procurement processes. The committee does not have the authority to go outside of those processes or to engage on those processes on their own."

McKay said the committee has authority through council to undertake certain actions, but asked if it should use staff resources for any outreach around procurement.

Lococo said there's a caveat to that.

"As any other advisory committee, your mandate is to explore ways to deal with affordable housing issues," she said. "Your mandate and terms of reference do not permit you to act on behalf of the town in engaging in procurement processes or other actions. It provides you with use of staff support, however, if how, and when that is utilized, needs to go through appropriate processes to secure those resources so they're aligned with other priorities of the town."

Without going into specifics, McKay said, the committee chose the mechanism of request for proposals (RFP) or expression of interest (EOI) to carry out its mandate of exploring options for affordable housing.

"Do we have to go back to council and ask for permission for all of these things?" he asked.

Lococo was hesitant in answering the general question.

"It would really depend on the specifics of what you're trying to do and whether or not it's within your mandate and can be provided through staff support," she said. "If it's something so vast that requires huge amounts of resources or engaging in the purchase/sale of a property, if that isn't accounted for through the budget or council process, you would be required to bring it back to council."

McKay summarized the information Lococo shared.

"If it entails significant staff resources, we go to council," he said. "If it binds the town and its assets anyway, it should go to council."

Lococo said her department plans to go over the terms of reference this year with a report coming back in June.

With that the committee then began discussing the progress on its RFP process, which was put out to architects to gather information for what could be done on the two properties identified in the document to help pave the way for a later ROI.

"At this point, I have been instructed to cancel the current RFP," said Kim Crewson, the town's procurement coordinator. "We have to wait 10-15 business days in case we receive any challenges. From there, if the committee, with approval from the senior leadership team, requires another RFP, it will go on the list. There's a conflict of what actual properties are to be in that RFP, so we need to review the specifications in detail before we build another document."

Mayor Stewart Strathearn thought it would be a good idea to do one after the other.

"We should hit the pause button, since we're going to be 15 business days before we've closed out that RFP," he said. "We should probably understand what properties are going to be surplus and to look at municipal assets within the downtown to see if they're required for the revitalization of downtown."

The committee meets every two weeks, with the next meeting planned for April 13. The previous meetings are available on the town's YouTube channel for public viewing.

Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com