Debate Over Massey Commons Transitional Housing Location Suitability

Jason Setnyk
Debate Over Massey Commons Transitional Housing Location Suitability
MCCC Members (front row, left to right) Jocelyn Savard, Angie Baker, Pauline Bookhout, Ariane Carriere, Ian Poapst, (back row, left to right) Janice Poapst, George Bourdeau, Fred Carriere, Gary Hopwood-Jones. (Photo : Jason Setnyk)

Cornwall, Ontario – The redevelopment of the former Vincent Massey school into Massey Commons, a transitional housing project, has stirred debate among some of Cornwall’s residents. While city officials tout the project as a much-needed solution to housing challenges, the Massey Concerned Citizens Committee (MCCC) has voiced their apprehensions about the project’s impact on the surrounding neighbourhood.

Angie Baker, a local resident and co-chair, has emerged as a spokesperson for the group. “We’re just a group of concerned people who reached out to one another after attending the information session and shaking our heads,” Baker explained. Their apprehensions center on the project’s proximity to local schools and the potential impact on student safety and the safety of other vulnerable populations nearby. “There are still a lot of people that don’t know the details or the potential issues that could arise,” Baker added, highlighting a perceived lack of transparency and community engagement in the planning process.

Mayor Justin Towndale has staunchly defended the initiative, emphasizing its potential to address Cornwall’s housing challenges. In an op-ed, he clarified, “Transitional housing is not the same as a shelter. In transitional housing, children will live in family units, providing a more stable environment.” He also assured the community that a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) study would be conducted to address safety concerns. In addition, schools already have safety protocols in place. Furthermore, this type of housing can help protect victims of human trafficking. “Detective Casselman has reported on the issue of human trafficking and highlighted the need for transitional housing to provide a safe environment for victims to recover and get back on their feet,” Towndale added in an interview.

Despite these assurances, skepticism remains. The MCCC argues that the project was planned without adequate community consultation and may not fit into the neighborhood’s fabric. They also suggest that alternative locations, such as the Parisien Manor, should be considered. “The Parisien Manor building is currently for sale, but it would require extensive renovations, as many of its essential components are nearing the 30-year mark. Additionally, the building lacks a sprinkler system, and installing one from scratch would be very expensive,” Towndale explained.

The MCCC wants the community to be invited to the table to discuss the Massey Commons project. “They need to invite us to the table prior to community changes of this size and scope. They keep saying this is going to fit into the fabric of our neighbourhood. This is definitely not going to fit into the fabric of this specific neighbourhood with the fact that there are schools, senior homes, and before and after school daycare. The mayor is going to argue that we don’t consult with the community on everything, no, but maybe something of this nature, you should have,” Baker stated.

Mayor Justin Towndale explained the rationale for choosing the former Vincent Massey school site for the Massey Commons transitional housing project. “The school board had initially leased the property to a hospital for a mental health and addictions program. When the lease ended, we were informed that the property was for sale. We took an interest in the property in June 2023, as it was available and suitable for affordable housing. The site, with an old schoolyard, offered potential for growth in the area. Additionally, city-owned land is scarce, and purchasing private property can be far more expensive. The location, cost, and future growth potential made the site an ideal choice for transitional housing, and the building itself was in good condition,” Towndale added.

Addressing the criticism surrounding the proposed site for Massey Commons, United Way Executive Director Juliette Labossiere emphasized the importance of accessibility to support services for vulnerable groups: “Although the UWC SDG recognizes the concerns about Massey Commons’ location, the families with young children, seniors, and other vulnerable populations across our region who may be facing homelessness for the first time deserve a location that will provide necessary support and access to services. Families, seniors, and individuals need to be in a safe neighbourhood and near amenities and services to rebuild their lives with dignity and this location is well suited to provide for these needs.”


Re: Traditional Housing – 3 Minutes with the Mayor Article

Letter to the Editor

I begin with saying it is March 11, 2024 and no one from MCCC has yet to get acknowledgment from the Mayor of Cornwall regarding our Feb 29th letter of concern surrounding the Massey Commons Redevelopment project. I would like to state that our main concerns revolve around three important points.

– Zero Community Consultation – total disregard for community input prior to or after the purchase of this property. A project of this scope, concept and costs should have involved community input.

– Location – We asked and continue to ask, “Help us to understand why this location was chosen for this development project and do you believe it is the best location for this development”.

– Costs- What is the cost of this redevelopment? We asked that question Feb 22, 2024 at the info session and we were told “ We do not have that information yet” What about underlying associated costs , providing services on site to residents, security, etc. Where is this money coming from? Is it in this year’s approved City Budget?

I’d now like to comment on the 3 Minutes with the Mayor Article in the Seaway News March 6, 2024.

The Mayor was not at the Feb 22 info session as he was at a meeting in Toronto that our city officials have never attended nor obligated to attend. I can only assume he felt that meeting was more important than facing the citizens of Cornwall to answer our concerns.

We are continually told this is not a homeless shelter and the phrase “transitional housing” is what we are asked to believe it is. It was also stated “We will know who is living on site” With that said, are you then able to tell us that not one person who lived homeless at one of the encampments this past summer will reside there? Are they not considered homeless? Will a complete background check be done on anyone who resides there? If yes, who will do this and at what cost and who’s expense?

The article goes on to say that the city Housing Response Team will provide access to resources such as mental health, medical health and addiction services along with plans to have security on site. This raises even more questions on costs and on whose dime? Are we affording other citizens the same delivered to your door services or do they have to fend for themselves like everyone else who needs these services? IV drug use is not condoned by the City with proposed treatment being provided literally 35-40 feet from elementary schools.

The Mayor clearly states “The city is taking the concerns of the neighbourhood seriously and that he is listening” Please explain to me how you are doing that when you have yet to acknowledge the letter sent directly to your inbox and to every councillor dated Feb 29 –Subject: Massey Place ( Commons ) Redevelopment Project from Massey Concerned Citizen Committee – MCCC

The MCCC group or any citizen who has expressed concern or simply asks a question is labelled by you as Nimby’s (Nimbyism) not-in-my-backyard. We are also being told we are stereotyping. Mayor goes on to say “This is shameless” Who of us is in a position to judge unless we’ve experienced homelessness ourselves” So because we are asking questions on why this location, we are Nimby’s? If this is a “Nimby” issue then it is for everybody in the city who prioritizes children’s safety above all else!

The Mayor closes his article by saying “ I do believe that Massey Commons is in the right place” I’ll go back to the first question asked at the Feb 22 info session “ What is the single biggest reason this location was chosen for this redevelopment project and do you believe this is the best location for this development? I’m still waiting for the answer as is the rest of the community.

We are aware that Ontario is the only province in Canada that holds municipalities responsible for community housing. Are we mandated to provide a solution as complex as homelessness?

June 27, 2023 Standard Freeholder article – Transitional Housing is often for people who have need to access accommodations for shorter periods of time; it’s residents often move into other forms of subsidized or market rate housing” Encampments are not encouraged or sanctioned by the City. Yet, the city allowed encampments to multiply and provided daily support from the Housing Crisis Team which included daily tent visits to provide income and housing support, created a Name- list , did wellness checks and then proceeded to work on this project behind closed doors.

I close with a final comment. I believe and support the idea of assisting homeless people but I also believe it needs to be done properly, with community input, a strategic plan, a cost analysis and within the capacity that our city can afford. All we are asking for is to have input with this critical project. All elected officials should remember, you are all supposed to be working for the citizens who voted you into your roles. This is not a one man show who gets to decide what can or can’t be done without valuable input from others who call Cornwall their home.

Signed Angie Baker – MCCC Committee

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