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175 Cummer Ave: The journey is just as important as the destination

Many people will know this remains a controversial project that is currently awaiting an OLT hearing date that will be set at the end of this month. 175 Cummer is currently the address for Cummer Lodge which is a Long Term Care site with 391 residents as well as Willowdale Manor which houses 256 low income seniors.

I have spent a great deal of time listening to the seniors at Willowdale Manor and trying to understand the situation. Based on my assessments - there were three significant gaps in our process that we must acknowledge and learn from:

  • Units ordered before zoning was firm.

  • Lack of accessible consultation.

  • Site plan designed without adequate consideration of the seniors.

1. Units ordered and stored

The decision to order the units before firm zoning regulations were in place led to uncertainties and complications during the planning phase. We did not get the requested Ministerial Zoning Order (MZO), but $11 million dollars was received and spent to order the units which then sat in storage - first in a parking lot leased to the city by the TTC in Willowdale and later moved to indoor storage in Owen Sound at a cost of $325.5K. Since they were moved in August, 2022 we have been paying $71K per month to keep these units in storage. The rate recently increased to $77K per month. When the MZO was not provided, council changed the zoning through a motion. However, this is currently under appeal at the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT).

The case management date has been set for June 29, 2023 when a date will be set for the hearing. This could be as early as the end of this year, but could also happen some time next year. Currently, there is no Plan B for these units. Should the city lose at the OLT, we will have to scramble to figure out a new path which would extend the time we will need to pay for the storage of the units. We must ensure that our decisions are based on clear guidelines and thorough assessments to prevent unnecessary financial burdens and delays as well as an extended period of anxiety and uncertainty for those impacted by our decisions.

2. Lack of accessible consultation

The second flaw in our process was the absence of inclusive and accessible consultation methods. We failed to provide meaningful opportunities for the seniors residing at Willowdale Manor to express their concerns effectively. Further the residents at Cummer Lodge including their families have never been consulted. Going forward, we must implement measures that cater to the diverse needs of our community, including multilingual support and alternative means of engagement. When making significant decisions we must always make every effort to hear and respond to the concerns of those most impacted by our decisions.

3. Site Plan designed without adequate consideration of the seniors

The third issue lies in the insufficient consideration given to the existing vulnerable seniors on the premises. Their voices should have been sought, valued, and integrated into the site plan. By ignoring their perspectives, we missed crucial opportunities to address their specific needs and alleviate their fears early in this process, including the importance of green space and the pressures the seniors and their visitors already face for parking.

On April 24, 2023 my team and I hosted the first ever multilingual listening session attended by the Housing Secretariat and her staff. The Housing secretariat drew three conclusions from that session:

1. The green space holds immense importance to the seniors. They sit outside and look at the trees. Some use the green space when family visits on weekends. Others practice Tai-Chi outside during the spring and summer as weather allows.

2. The seniors are concerned about their safety. An incident occurred while we were at the listening session and it took 1.5 hours for security to arrive. This incident highlighted the need for enhanced security and timely responses to incidents.

3. The seniors expressed unease about the unknown impact on their current way of life.

Here is one of the written deputations from a senior from Willowdale Manor:

Because we are elderly, our world is our building and the green space in front. That is our entire world. In the back there is a parking lot and a sloped green space that is not accessible for us.” - 82 years old female

Recently the city has also been planning to remove the stage for programming and front sitting area of the seniors (which I have been trying to stop). The seniors feel no one is listening to them or cares about their needs. I hope that my efforts can show them that they matter and we care about a positive outcome for them as well as the unhoused.

Here is a brief description of the two motions I am moving. You can click on the titles to see all the details. The two motions will be discussed together at City Council. It is possible I could lose both motions, in which case we will continue to wait out the appeal process.

The first motion is to re-locate the units to another site in Willowdale. This would preserve green space and old growth trees that are precious to the seniors. I would work with the Housing Secretariat to find a suitable location in Willowdale and work on the necessary community engagement to ensure a smooth delivery. Research has shown that green spaces significantly benefit lower-income elderly populations, making it all the more vital to consider their needs in our decision-making. The same study concluded that there is a need to improve immediate outdoor green space near seniors’ residences.*

The second motion is to reconfigure the building to maximize the retention of green space that can be used by both the seniors and future residents. It also requests the supportive housing be scoped for seniors 59+ similar to the Cedarvale Supportive Housing location - which also matches the demographic housed at Willowdale Manor. The Bayview Cummer Neighbourhood Association has agreed to drop their appeal if this motion is passed.

The seniors deserved a better journey - one that listened and cared about their input. I recently brought Vincent Mak, the 86 year old lead of the tenant association as well as a member of the Bayview Cummer Neighbourhood Association to visit the Supportive Housing site at 540 Cedarvale Ave. It is a beautiful building run by an incredible team from Woodgreen. They are dedicated to ensuring a positive outcome for their residents and the surrounding community. They were gracious hosts and answered many questions. It was assuring to see such a positive implementation of supportive housing. The team acknowledged the challenges of our predicament in trying to preserve precious green space while also providing housing.

Instead of a genuine journey towards a positive resolution - the city turned its backs on these seniors leaving them to live in a state of anxious uncertainty. This should never have happened.

The fate of this project will be discussed at City Council next week. Let us hope we can arrive at a positive resolution.


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