Toronto building up to 250 modular supportive housing units on city-owned sites

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Ontario Construction News staff writer

Toronto is tackling homelessness with a $47.5 million plan to build 250 modular housing units to help those living in the overcrowded shelter system.

The city announced the details of the supportive housing initiative last week, including a target to create 110 modular homes on two city-owned sites by September 2020. Horizon North, the business that recently constructed similar housing units in Vancouver, will design and build the units.

“We know helping people with supportive housing is good for everyone and modular housing is a way to make that happen faster,” said Mayor John Tory. “The pandemic has heightened the need for supportive housing and I have asked staff to move this project at an urgent pace.”

According to staff reports, the first phase will cost $20.9 million – including $8.25 million in grants and loans from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). The second phase of the pilot will build an additional 140 units built by April 2021.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff planned to bring forward a report to the March 23 Planning and Housing Committee meeting outlining the proposed implementation plan. However, as a result of the pandemic, regular committee and council meetings have been cancelled and the need for supportive housing, while significant before, increased considerably.

Staff will now speed up the modular pilot and expedite delivery through negotiations with Horizon North for the manufacturing, design and installation of up to 110 modular homes in two, three-storey developments. The terms of the proposed contract will be reviewed and considered by council at its April 30 meeting.

“Every Canadian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. Today’s announcement will build new housing quickly for those individuals experiencing homelessness,” said Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

“Projects like these are even more important as we work together to address the COVID-19 pandemic. This announcement builds on the over $150 million the Government of Canada provided to help cities across Canada deal with the impacts of COVID-19 on the homeless population.”

A full request for proposal (RFP) will be issued in summer 2020 for the second phase of the pilot, representing an additional 140 modular supportive homes to be completed by April 2021.

The full capital costs for Phase I of the pilot is estimated at $20.9 million. Funding would come from the City’s Development Charges Reserve Fund for Subsidized Housing, and from the Government of Canada through Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s Affordable Housing Innovation Fund, which has committed $8.25 million in grants and recoverable loans.

Operating funding for health-related support services and housing subsidies will be requested from the Province, so that deeply affordable supportive homes can be delivered at the sites.

Modular housing, prefabricated in a factory and then transported to the site where it is assembled, can be implemented at a lower cost and shorter timeframe than traditional housing construction models. While this would be the first modular housing project by the City of Toronto, it has been used in many other jurisdictions in North America. Modular housing provides a unique opportunity to respond rapidly to the city’s urgent homelessness situation, while also reducing pressure on the City’s shelter system.

The guiding principles for the pilot are:

  • Provide a rapid, dignified response to connect people experiencing homelessness with homes and appropriate supports to help them achieve housing stability.
  • Develop a supportive housing model based on partnerships with other orders of government, the non-profit and the private sectors.
  • Create permanent, high quality, energy-efficient modular homes to ensure that people can establish housing stability and connect to their local community.
  • Prioritize the selection of sites that are close to both public transit and community and social services.
  • Prioritize the retention of City-owned sites by negotiating long-term land leases.
  • Achieve the highest possible public benefits from City-owned land.
  • Commit to meaningful public consultation and engagement.

Staff are in the process of identifying City-owned/controlled sites appropriate for the development of modular housing. As part of a future report, subject to Council approval, the City will offer the identified sites through 35-year leases for nominal sums to non-profit operators selected as part of a request for proposals process.

More details on the proposed implementation plan can be found in the staff report: app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2020.CC20.6

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