Gore Bay mayor grills Aboriginal Housing rep, says senior, not social housing needed in Gore Bay

Woods Lane Apartments in Gore Bay.
Woods Lane Apartments in Gore Bay.

GORE BAY—What was designed as a meeting to get public input into the design of a proposed new 20-unit apartment building being constructed through Ontario Aboriginal Housing Services (OAHS) in the town of Gore Bay turned into several major concerns being raised by members of the town, volunteer fire department and a local resident. Only a handful of people attended the meeting as it was not advertised.

“I’m the new mayor of Gore Bay and to my knowledge all you (OAHS) have at this point is conditional approval,” stated Gore Bay Mayor Ron Lane. “You don’t have all the studies completed that the town had requested. I would suggest that OAHS start providing this. This is not a done deal, I can tell you that. No one in this town approached your organization to look at this.”

Cathy Connor, director of housing development for OAHS told the meeting that the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Social Services Board (DSB) had issued a request for proposals.

Ms. Connor explained that OAHS’ “objective/mandate is providing safe, affordable housing to Indigenous people. Creating homes is our goal.” “We help community members, clients, and tenants meet their needs of personal and financial security, health, and spiritual well-being through the direct provision of housing services by partnering with Indigenous and community services organizations,” an OAHS pamphlet explains. OAHS works with the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres (OFIFC), Ontario Native Women’s Association (ONWA) and Metis Nation of Ontario (MNO). “The main reason we are here tonight is to get public input and involvement into the design of the building and then we will come back later when our architects have an updated plan,” said Ms. Connor.

“My point is, so people have the facts, this development has not been approved by the Town of Gore Bay,” said Mayor Ron Lane. “At this point (OAHS) only has conditional approval. And until we receive everything we need and are in agreement with it, you won’t get it. You can’t guarantee the town is going to give final approvals for the building.” Mayor Lane noted that the town, “had reached out to OAHS (about selling the Woods Lane Apartment building to the town) so that we could use it for seniors and single-family housing, but this was turned down.”

Ms. Connor pointed out OAHS was not interested in selling the Woods Lane property noting, “our waiting list for housing is very high,” said Ms. Connor.

“So, you want us to help you with this housing project but, quite frankly, social housing is something we don’t need—we need senior and single-family housing,” said Mayor Lane.

Local resident Lori Addison said, “I am concerned all the studies the town had requested have not been completed or sent to the town, including the water flow capacity report.”

Ms. Connor noted that all studies the town has requested have been completed. “In the study that engineers had carried out, the water flow capacity exceeded flow and levels,” she said. “Our engineers tested the water levels and flows and they tested higher than is needed (for the capacity of a 20-unit apartment building),” said Ms. Connor.

Ms. Addison noted she had been on the scene when the environmental water testing was undertaken at the proposed location for the building. “It was done in July at the time of the year when the water levels in Bickell’s Creek are extremely low and there is no indication of where the high-water level is.”

“I thought the point of tonight’s meeting was to get public input for the aesthetics of the new building, if it is going ahead,” said one resident.

“It is going ahead,” Ms. Connor flatly stated.

“We haven’t been told by our own town that all of this has been approved,” said Ms. Addison. “So, you are going to have an architect develop designs for the building and you are not sure if the building plan is getting approved?”

Ms. Connor noted, “yes, we take the risk on this. We still need to get the final building permits and get the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted. The town would need to have a reason to not approve construction of the building.”

Duncan Sinclair, deputy fire chief of Gore Bay, used an example of a house fire a few years ago in the area where the new building is to be located. “There was inadequate water flow for the fire department to use and the resident was in jeopardy. I don’t know how any water level flow report could be passed. It’s impossible.”

Mike Addison, Gore Bay fire chief, said only a handful of people were at the meeting because neither OAHS or the town had advertised the meeting was taking place. “We also have a predicament here because the town has two doctors who are retiring soon and we will be down to having one doctor in town and the OAHS is looking at adding 20 more residents to the town with the development. He noted as well there are no mental health services and no addiction services close to town. “And there are no transportation services. And at the Woods Lane Apartments there are 10 housing units but only one resident has a vehicle.”

“People need somewhere to live,” stated Ms. Connor. “We have a lot of people on a waiting list that indicated they would like to live here in Gore Bay. Some who are looking for housing may already live here with their mom and dad. Most of the people on the waiting list want to live in Gore Bay.”

Mr. Addison reiterated the water line in place to the new apartment location won’t support the proposed development. “As a fire department, we can’t potentially perform rescues at 3 Water Street if a fire occurs, which is my biggest fear as a volunteer firefighter. We just don’t have the water there.”

“We are not here to get into technical issues,” said Ms. Connor. “I am guessing that no one wants to provide input to help us design this building.”

“A lot of people would like to help, but it is maybe too early in the process for this before all the other issues are clarified first,” said Ms. Addison.

“We don’t want to build an ugly building,” said Ms. Connor, “we want the building to be aesthetically pleasing and fit the town needs. We are not here to argue or fight. By having this development, we create jobs and help the economy of the community and provide housing. We hope to engage with local people and help design the building.” Ms. Connor added, “we will make sure all reports have been provided to the town. We want to be welcomed in town and provide affordable housing.”

“My concerns are with the water flow,” said Ms. Addison. “We already have a large unit in that location. I agree housing is needed, but not at that location. Things are becoming a bottleneck there in that area of Water Street.”

In the traffic impact study carried out for the project, Ms. Connor said it was deemed the development would not adversely impact on traffic congestion.

“Unfortunately (OAHS) already has units in town that are not being managed well,” said Mr. Addison. He explained at Woods Lane Apartments, the OPP is at the building about three times a week, as there have been violent incidents there and there are concerns with addiction, cases of hoarding, stockpiling of garbage. “And you guys don’t do anything about any of this. You don’t have a good reputation for the buildings you already have here.”

Ms. Connor noted that this is a property management issue, but indicated that building management would be contacted to remedy any concerns.

“We have central application registry,” said Ms. Connor. “We’ll be back with design renderings from the architects when they complete this work.” “We deal and serve 10,400 people on any given day, both Native and non-Native,” said Ms. Connor. OAHS was incorporated in 1994 with two representatives of each organization (OFIFC, ONWA and MNO) forming the board of directors from those three. “OAHS has worked with hundreds of municipalities. Many people, including municipalities, come to us to drive affordable housing.”

Ms. Connor provided many different examples of housing units OAHS has developed in other areas of Ontario such as White River, North Bay, Sioux Lookout, Sarnia, London, Atikokan, Kenora, Marathon, Thunder Bay, and others.

For Gore Bay, the plans are for a two-storey walk-up building. The 20 affordable apartment units would include 14 one-bedroom units, four-two-bedroom units, and two-three bedroom units. Construction would start in 2023.

Justin Marchand, chief executive officer (CEO) of OAHS told The Expositor after the meeting, “there was nothing that came out of the meeting to suggest that this project will not go ahead. We own the land, the property is zoned and the housing need is there. Certainly, this will be moving ahead.”

On the issue of the water flow capacity, “in the urban planning review we had done, it shows there is more than enough capacity to meet the firefighting needs,” said Mr. Marchand.

As for concerns at Woods Lane Apartment building, “I want to be careful and not make statements based on rumours. I will say that if there are any issues with the way it is being operated, people should contact our office.” He also explained, “when we purchased the (Woods Lane Apartments in 2019) seven of the 10 units were vacant, and the property was not in very good shape. OAHS invested significantly, making an investment of over $300,000 in the property. We wanted everything brought up to standards, and we were happy and proud to make this investment when it was needed. If anyone has any concerns, we would ask that they bring them forward and we will review them.”

Mr. Marchand said the new build is prioritized for Indigenous people, however, “we serve about 11,000 people every day, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. It is well documented here that there is a need for this type of housing, Indigenous people don’t have the same access to this type of affordable housing as non-Indigenous people do. Our mandate is to try and close this gap.”