Tory defends length of lease for new homeless shelter

4:41 p.m. June 22, 2017. “For Lease” signs pictured in the windows of the former Goodwill building at Runnymede and St. Clair, the location of the city’s newest temporary shelter.

June 22, 2017

The mayor’s Executive Committee moved to approve the conditions of a 10-year lease for a new temporary homeless shelter on Runnymede Road south of St. Clair Avenue, despite a heated debate over the actual length of time the shelter will exist in the community.

The lease conditions before council are for a 10-year period, with two options to extend the lease for five years each, “at the then-fair market basic rent rate for comparable unimproved premises,” the report said.

City staff explained the lease is actually in the city’s interest because it gives the option to continue leasing the location for another purpose. However, council members were skeptical that this wasn’t actually a plan to have the shelter stay there longer than intended. Councillor Cesar Palacio brought a motion on local Councillor Frances Nunziata’s behalf to authorize the lease, but amended staff’s recommendations to have “no options to extend.” That motion was never voted on. Instead, Councillor David Shiner passed a motion to “request the Chief Corporate Officer to seek City Council authority prior to exercising any option to extend the lease.”

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong defended that motion. “This is not the agreement that we had with the community,” Minnan-Wong said. “Firstly, they’re asked to accept something they really don’t want… I think the community is right and I think the councillor is right to view this with a healthy degree of skepticism if not suspicion. I’m going to support Councillor Palacio’s motion. We said it’s going to be temporary. It should be temporary. Ten years turns into 15 years and then what does it turn into? Temporary starts to become permanent and that’s not what they were told. There was a bargain made with the community and the community had some serious concerns, and we should do the best that we can to keep that bargain.”

Other committee members defended staff recommendations, including Mayor John Tory and Councillors Ana Bailao, Mary-Margaret McMahon, and Frank Di Giorgio. “Staff are very, very sensitive to finding locations that are reasonable to introduce shelters… they need to be embraced, unfortunately,” Di Giorgio said.

Councillor Nunziata said in response that she does support shelters. “It’s the way we communicated to the community. It’s wrong. And if it was your community you would be just as upset as I am,” Nunziata said, calling out particular councillors on the committee. “If you say something to your community and then you retract it, then you have to justify that. And that’s wrong. That’s what’s wrong about this whole process.”

Mayor Tory reminded the committee that the process of community consultation has changed, but stood behind his support for this location, saying the city needs more than just this shelter.

On Wednesday, Tory told reporters, “The need is now… my conscience is not only clear, I am positive that – notwithstanding there’ll be some people unhappy with my saying this – this is one of the right places to do this. It is absolutely needed as you point out to me, quite properly, all the time, and we’re going to move forward with it, and I’m gratified that members of my executive committee, in the end, supported this.”

In response to questions about whether the communication with the community had been transparent, Tory spoke about the process. “I went out there as the mayor of the City of Toronto twice, to that neighbourhood, to sit privately with the neighbours, and we secured for them, in response to every one of their concerns, a full-page list of different kinds of services, and I think it will make this one of the best shelters in the entire city, if not in the country, and I’m proud of that.

“There are people that are very vulnerable and that are struggling in this city and we have to provide a place for them and that’s that. And so we’ll go forward doing that, in a sensitive way, in a consultative way, but we’re going to do it, because that’s what great cities do.”

Toronto City Council passed the item first thing at its July meeting. Councillors Frances Nunziata and Maria Augimeri voted against the item.

This story was updated July 4, 2017.