On 13 February 2024, Aurora council considered a proposal from York Regional Council to locate a new 55-unit transitional housing/ emergency shelter for men at 14452 Yonge Street on land owned by the Region. 

The Mayor, Tom Mrakas, voted against the proposal and the new shelter - which had been in the works for years - was rejected by Aurora Council 4-3

In an on-line post the day after the vote, Mrakas claims he asked the Regional Council a year before – in January 2023 – to look for alternative sites. Where is the evidence for this?  

No Objections

In fact, for long enough, Mrakas didn’t raise any objections to the proposed shelter until nearby residents expressed alarm. They feared their neighbourhood would be changed for the worst with property values tumbling and crime soaring following an invasion of wild homeless men. In the blink of an eye Mrakas became the residents’ vociferous champion.

He challenged York Regional Council to find accommodation for the homeless in their own underused properties, pointing to the new Regional HQ in Newmarket. 

He promises to bring a motion to York Regional Council to force the issue. (See bottom right for original motion)

High noon is Thursday 11 April 2024

Muscular Mrakas

I expected a muscular Mrakas to come out swinging in defence of his outraged residents. Instead, we saw a low-key and hesitant Mrakas calling simply for a review of the Region’s property portfolio to ensure it was providing “value for money” for taxpayers. 

No mention of putting homeless men in the Regional HQ.  

After reading his media posts I felt rather let down. This is the Mayor who famously tells us he stands by his residents, right or wrong. And if they don’t want a Regionally owned and operated shelter for homeless men in their neighbourhood - with round-the-clock supervision by trained and qualified staff – then that’s good enough for him. The homeless men have gotta go somewhere else. 


At last week’s meeting, Mrakas dodged questions from Newmarket’s John Taylor. 

When Taylor asks him what he meant by the term “supportive housing” Mrakas can’t answer and instead makes a snide remark about wordsmithing.

Taylor quizzes Mrakas on his reasons for rejecting the shelter in Aurora. Mrakas said it did not fit “seamlessly” into the Town’s Official Plan and Zoning regulations. But, by the same token, would putting homeless men in the Regional HQ – an office building – fit “seamlessly” into Newmarket’s own Official Plan and zoning regulations?


Mrakas is asked by the Chair if he wants to respond to Taylor’s points. But a feeble Mrakas stays silent. 

In his Tweet following the meeting, Mrakas boasts his motion had been agreed unanimously. But, here again, he is being economical with the actualité. He timidly allows his motion to be gutted, removing all trace of the context which inspired the motion in the first place.
Georgina’s Naomi Davison says she would be more comfortable supporting the motion if it simply restricted itself to an inventory of buildings owned by the Region together with their current zoning rather than the motion: 

“that specifically speaks to housing in this building”.

Mrakas says if the reference offends anyone he would have no problem taking it out.


Richmond Hill Mayor, David West, agrees that drawing up an inventory of what the Region owns is a “no-brainer”. Everyone agrees with that. 

He calls for an analysis of the implications of converting office buildings to residential.

Good point.

I am still waiting to hear if Aurora Town Hall can accommodate homeless men.

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Update on 18 April 2024 from the Aurora Banner: Residents' Group "extremely disappointed"

Click "read more" for transcript of the exchanges at the Committee of the Whole on 11 April 2024.

Mayor Tom Mrakas moved the following motion:

WHEREAS York Region has recently adopted a true hybrid work policy where 60% of the staff will work only 50% of their work week on site;  

WHEREAS Regional office buildings, including the 422,000 square foot Regional Head Office on Yonge Street will now, as a consequence, have sizeable areas of under and unused taxpayer funded office space available for other purposes;

Regional Staff be directed to undertake a review of all Regionally-owned buildings for the purposes of identifying those that are under and/or unused and provide an analysis of those that can be potentially repurposed for other regional priorities including supportive housing.

Regional Chair Wayne Emmerson: Mayor Mrakas, I’ve got your motion on the floor. It’s here for council deliberation and it’s really a directive to undertake a review of all Regionally-owned buildings for the purposes of identifying those that are under and/or unused and provide an analysis of those that can be potentially repurposed for other regional priorities including supportive housing.

So the motion is on the floor. Is there any comments or questions? Mayor Taylor? No. Do you want to speak to it Mayor Mrakas?

Mayor Tom Mrakas: Sure

Wayne Emmerson: I just thought you may want sum up. But go ahead.

Mayor Mrakas:  I can sum up after, I think. Thank you, Mr Chairman. Quite frankly, I think it's pretty simple and straightforward. I think this is a good exercise. And I've talked to Commissioner Basso (Commissioner of Corporate Services) as well as our CAO (Chief Administrative Officer) and to you, Mr Chairman. And I appreciate those conversations in regards to this. 

And, essentially, what I'm looking for and what I hope that Regional Council will get out of a possible report that comes back… Just, you know, for me… I think it's about having a full understanding of the properties that are owned or leased in each of our municipalities. I don't think that every single one of us has a full understanding of how many properties the region owns in our municipalites and I think it's a good exercise to have that understanding - as well as including, you know, parking lots and those types of properties that are within our municipalities… And then ultimately looking at how they're being utilized right now and what we can do as a council, as a region, moving forward to make sure that they are utilized… (in the) basically most efficient way possible, making sure that we're appropriately using every tax dollar when it comes to properties and buildings in our municipalities.

You know, I look at whether it's consolidating, whether it's selling or re purposing these properties… I think that there's lots of things that we can look at doing and then ultimately I'm looking forward to getting a report - hopefully if this passes - from staff in regards to all of these properties and we can make a decision with all the information in front of us.

Wayne Emmerson: Thank you, Sir. And, yes, this is something that Mr Basso has been looking at going forward and he will be bringing something for us, probably in the fall of this year. It's really just a bit different than what Mayor Taylor’s motion was a week or two ago regarding the homelessness and what we can do now going forward. 

I know the commissioner… I think it's June Ms Chislitt (Commissioner of Community and Health Services) is coming with a report (staff confirms) and a presentation about how we can do things now. And I think that was what Mayor Taylor’s motion was: What can we do now to provide housing for the homeless? That is coming and it's a good report.

This is along the same lines as what Mayor Quirk and Councillor Davison is also (are asking for) but you'll see that next month what they're asking (us) to do… they (are asking) the same. How can we move things forward and continue to do things 'cause we do a pilot project up there… So anyways… Mayor Taylor.

Mayor John Taylor: Thanks very much. The first one is just a question of clarification - either to the mover or to staff. I know it's only an example but it's the only example including “supportive” housing.

I guess I'm just curious. That term has, I think, connotations. Typically it would be around provincial jurisdiction right? And so I don't know if we're wanting to step into building and funding housing that's typically within provincial jurisdiction. I just want to clarify that.

Wayne Emmerson: Go ahead Sir

Mayor Mrakas:  Thanks for the question Mayor Taylor. I mean if we want to wordsmith and we can correct language I have no problem with that.

Wayne Emmerson: So the words missing would be…

Mayor Taylor: I'm not trying to wordsmith. I am just trying to find out…

Wayne Emmerson: OK

Mayor Taylor: …what was your intent? I don't know what your intent was with supportive housing.

Mayor Mrakas: My intent Mayor Taylor was to look at all possible perspectives. I mean I could include the language “including but not limited to” housing, supportive housing, transitional housing, community housing. I mean we could use any word. It’s up to this council.

Mayor Taylor: OK. I mean… I guess I would ask maybe staff to just help because I think it’s important. We've had deputations here of people asking us to provide funding for supportive housing. Right? And I believe I’m correct (when) we said no. That's not what we do.

So I think we just want to make sure we're not opening a Pandora's box by mistaking the type of housing we are seeking to explore.

Wayne Emmerson: OK. Madam Commissioner.

Katherine Chislett (Commissioner of Community and Health Services): Excuse me for my voice. Yes. Supportive housing is provincial jurisdiction. Perhaps language such as “affordable housing” or “housing with support services on site” might be acceptable.

Wayne Emmerson: OK.

Mayor Taylor: And my other question is, I guess, also to Mayor Mrakas. I would ask whether you would want to see, or whether you think it advisable, to have an amendment that directs staff to only look at only those sites that fit seamlessly with the intent of the official plan and zoning regulations within the municipality (the site) is located so to only look at sites where the zoning and the official plan support the use.

Mayor Mrakas: Through you Mr Chairman and thanks for that question, Mayor Taylor. Absolutely, if we are looking at repurposing it (the property) from a housing perspective. But I think the value of us seeing all properties… because, as I mentioned, it could be for the purpose of selling that property or consolidating, bringing people in and or leasing it… whatever those options are. So it's not limited to a housing perspective. But the housing ones – absolutely. They should fit within the official plan and zoning requirements within each of the municipalities.

Mayor Taylor: So then your description suggests that the regional head office and office buildings could be used for housing purposes at least seems to suggest… are you suggesting… and certainly you’ve written online… that you think that they should be looked at for housing purposes. But they do not fit the zoning official plan just as the site in Aurora for emergency/transitional housing did not.

So do you still think we should look at the offices in this building in Newmarket (the Regional HQ) as they don't fit seamlessly into the official plan and zoning regulations. 

Mayor Mrakas: Mr Chairman, I didn't realize we had debates back and forth. But that's fine (if) we want to get into the debate.

I don't pretend to understand Newmarket’s official plan as I don't expect anyone sitting at this table to understand Aurora’s official plan and zoning requirements within our municipality. I expect as everyone… I've been a long time advocate that things should fit with in our official plan.

Obviously, there's flexibility and we can look at things. Whether this building (the Regional HQ) can be repurposed or the building beside it for housing within Newmarket’s official plan that's something, Mayor Taylor, that you could answer not me. I don't pretend to understand (and have) the full knowledge of Newmarket’s official plan.

Mayor Taylor: OK. So I won't ask questions then I won't debate. I'll just make a statement. You know Mayor Mrakas rejected (an) emergency and transitional housing site in…

Wayne Emmerson: No.

Mayor Taylor: I can speak!

Wayne Emmerson: OK. OK.

Mayor Mrakas?: (indistinct)

Mayor Taylor: What’s that got to do with it? Let me finish and I’ll make the point.

Wayne Emmerson: OK. Come on gentlemen. I just assume that this is something that a report will come back to to us… so go ahead…

Mayor Taylor:  I’d like to make a point of order. I think I can speak…

Wayne Emmerson: Yeah. You can speak, Sir. 

Mayor Taylor: Without being interrupted.

Wayne Emmerson: OK so let's go. Come on. Let’s go. Go ahead Mayor Taylor 

Mayor Taylor: Thank you. The point I'm making is that this motion is asking staff to look at all sites and to look at it (these sites) for purposes including housing. 

And it mentions the regional offices here in Newmarket. Mayor Mrakas rejected the transitional housing and emergency shelter in Aurora - which would utilize an existing site more fully and he rejected it because and I quote. It didn’t fit:

“seamlessly within the intent of the official plan and zoning regulations.”


There is no way that anybody could interpret this location (the Regional HQ) as fitting “seamlessly” into the official plan and zoning regulations of Newmarket. And anybody knows that with common sense.

And so I'm asking if we should have staff to look at these sites. If you do not support Aurora you do not support, anywhere, housing in places that don't fit in with the official plan and the zoning regulations.

And I'll finish by saying this. I think I have a right to speak up on this because Newmarket is the site of three shelters, two transitional housing locations. And your suggestion here and in the media is that the one that is not in Aurora should now come here and be housed in Newmarket.

And so I'm asking: Should your principle - that it has to fit seamlessly into the Town’s official plan and zoning regulations in Aurora -  also apply to Newmarket. Thank you. 

Wayne Emmerson: So. OK. (To Mayor Mrakas) You don't… you can answer if you want to or…. Thank you. OK. So… Mayor Quirk.

Mayor Margaret Quirk (Georgina): Kind of interesting to follow that conversation. I'm certainly supportive of looking at the properties that the region owns or leases. The Town of Georgina is currently in discussions with, or on behalf of, an organization to utilize, potentially, spaces… not sure to be honest… (indistinct) in the town for not housing purposes.

But for… I don't want to say the real intent… but for another purpose… from a community group that would be beneficial to the town. So I am interested to see what properties are owned and leased and see how they could be repurposed.

It might be interesting if, in that spreadsheet, that it says what the zoning is on that property. What is permitted and what isn't permitted. So we can look at it and say OK this office use also allows, you know this, this and this type of zoning but it doesn't permit housing or an aerodrome or whatever else might or might not be permitted. So I think we can look at it and see. 

But I do understand the concern that Mayor Taylor has raised. We need to make sure that if a property doesn't have the right zoning, what it would take to rezone and what that community - wherever that property is - what their feeling is towards that.

I know that the property that we’re talking with staff about certainly has the ability to be repurposed to the other use and it could be quite beneficial to the residents of the town of Georgina. So I'm all in favor of looking at it and understanding what the region owns or leases, what the zoning is and if there's a desire to re purpose it and it can work then I'm all for seeing what these opportunities are.

Wayne Emmerson: Thank you. Mayor Del Duca.

Mayor Steven Del Duca (Vaughan): Thanks very much Mr Chair. Not to belabour this point at all but I just I guess I wanted to echo what Mayor Quirk said a moment ago. I as a relatively still newcomer to this council it would be helpful, I think, for me to get a better handle…  and I'm certain that the taxpayers across the region would expect us to want to know, and have a full understanding of, the inventory of real estate so that collectively we can make decisions that actually defend their interests. So I'm very strongly in support of the spirit and the intent of Mayor Mrakas’s idea. But I do want to echo what Mayor Quirk said a moment ago - having a full understanding of what options are available… should there be any options available… I think makes a lot of sense.

But the general intent and thrust and content of Mayor Mrakas’s idea is something that I do think we should all support strongly. Thank you.

Wayne Emmerson: Thank you Mayor Del Duca. And you can't play that card anymore of just being a rookie. New to the city. You can't play that card. That card’s gone.

Mayor Del Duca: Just the first four years. (Laughter)

Wayne Emmerson: (laughter) It’s OK. No problem. OK. OK. I got you to speak once. What are we… The motion is on the floor. I'm not sure where we  go… I know… but I'm trying to do… you guys want me to do a different way of procedure? It’s coming now. OK I got Mayor Mrakas and then I got Mayor Taylor. Go ahead.

Mayor Mrakas: through you Mr Chairman. Mayor Del Duca. Absolutely. I think Mayor Quirk’s suggestion… I’d firmly expect the report that comes back to speak to the zoning requirements or what could be possible in each of those properties that come back. So I'm fine with that and looking forward to the report.

Wayne Emmerson: Mr Basso. I know you're looking into it. I'll come to you in a minute. OK? OK. Before Mayor Taylor, Councillor Davison. First time. Go ahead.

Regional Councillor Naomi Davison (Georgina).  Thank you, Mr Chair. Just the wording of the motion does lead towards specific buildings for specific purposes and I would be much more comfortable supporting the motion should it be more in the line of… having a report come back with an inventory of buildings that the region is in ownership and operation of… and what other uses might be available… rather than the motion that specifically speaks to housing in this building (the Regional HQ).

I would prefer to house people at appropriate housing spaces and in safe spaces that were designed for housing. And so if we could change the motion to just ask for a report from staff on our available buildings, our available resources. And the zoning - as Mayor Quirk mentioned - for each one.

And just have a more fulsome understanding and make some decisions from there I would be much more comfortable supporting it.

Wayne Emmerson:  Thank you. I'll come back to Mayor Mrakas’s motion. Mayor Taylor. The motion may be changing.

Mayor Taylor:  I would also support dropping the description. But, either way, I would support the motion and I just want to clarify what I said. It’s not about debate. And I’m really just going to speak to my comments.

I don't want anybody to misconstrue my comments to say that I don't think we should ever look at rezoning or creatively changing the official plan to support housing of any nature. I support it 100% and I'll look at any building and change the zoning and the official plan for any piece of land. 

And in fact I requested an MZO (Minister’s Zoning Order) on Yonge Street to get the “In from the Cold” location and we're going to receive that. And so it's not that I don't support it. I just think that to set that as a standard in one town but then say look at everything everywhere else… I think this is confusing.

But I absolutely support looking at any location and in this kind of a crisis. But this is a kind of a challenge and we should be jumping out in front to change zoning and official plan designations, if it works and if it fits and (where) the need is there.

And the other thing I think is really important to say… this isn't just about looking around and saying to others: “Oh! There’s an empty room over there.” This is also about making sure services are distributed appropriately across the region and serving the people it needs to serve. And not having everything simply in one location not providing services to other parts of the region. And I hope that's going to be considered as well. Thank you.

Wayne Emmerson: Thank you. Mayor Mrakas. Your motion, Sir

Mayor Mrakas: Mr Chairman I have no problem with Councillor Davison’s….

Wayne Emmerson: Just pull that microphone a little closer.

Mayor Mrakas:  I have no problem with Councillor Davison’s recommendation. I do think that the actual clause speaks to that. I mean we can drop the “Whereas’s” if we want it to come out of it. 

If it offends anyone I have no problem taking them out. 

The idea is that (the) “therefore” is pretty much the part of the motion that matters.

And so I think that getting that report and us being able to have the information to do what our residents and taxpayers expect us to do is, it's great. 

Wayne Emmerson.  I'm not trying to wordsmith but I gotta… so if we drop the “whereas’s”. OK? and so “regional staff be directed to undertake a review of regionally owned buildings for (the) purpose of identifying those that are underused/unused and provide an analysis of those that can be potentially repurposed for other regional priorities” and stop it there.

Mayor Mrakas: Sure. If that's what Regional Council would prefer as the wording I'm OK with that. 

Wayne Emmerson:  So let me go through this again, members of council, so  there's no “Whereas’s” and the motion moved by Mayor Mrakas that

“regional staff be directed to undertake a review of all regional owned buildings for the purposes of identifying those that are under or underused and provide an analysis of those that can be potentially repurposed for other regional priorities.”

Mr Basso are you OK with that Sir?

Dino Basso (Commissioner of Corporate Services): Yes that's been very helpful conversation to help clarify the expectations and I also will let you know that there's a lot of really good information that we currently have in dashboards that our staff of been working on for number of years that we can bring back in addition to partnerships with other partners that have been in some of our buildings that will help inform this conversation.

So I'm very comfortable with what you've been asking for and what the  committee has been asking for.

Wayne Emmerson: OK thank you. OK Councillor Vegh. On the motion now please.

Regional Councillor Tom Vegh (Newmarket): yeah just on motion just for clarification. My understanding was it was buildings and properties. We as a region own a number of properties that may not have buildings on them. I think that was part of this discussion.

Wayne Emmerson:  Yes. I missed “regionally owned buildings slash properties for the purposes…” Yes. Thank you. Mayor West.

Mayor David West (Richmond Hill): Thank you. I think this is a good discussion and I think we're in a place that I think provides us with a little bit more clarity on what we're going to be getting back.

And I also think it dovetails nicely with the work that I presume all of the individual municipalities….I know Richmond Hill for sure has been doing an inventory of what we own to make sure that we're maximizing the benefit that we can have for our buildings.

So I mean this is something that's a bit of a no-brainer in terms of us doing this for sure. The only thing I guess - and maybe I'm not as concerned about this now that we've changed the suggestion of some of the “Whereas’s” -  is (that) I think there also needs to be an analysis - and I'm sure there will be - of the implications of taking a purpose built office building for example and converting it to residential. Not just the zoning but just the physical building.

I'm not an expert in that area but any research that I've done on that speaks to the cost of doing that type of thing.

So I think it's important in a case like that, that staff comment back to us and give us the tools that we need to know what is the actual realistic best use of a particular building: the way it's laid out and constructed.

Wayne Emmerson: OK. Yep good point. Yeah.  

Mayor West?: 'cause that's economics. 

Wayne Emmerson: Right answer. I don’t see any others. (People wanting to speak) So… the motion is the way… I don't think I need to go over again. I think you all understand it. It’s  just a motion to bring back a report on regionally owned buildings/ properties for the purpose of identifying underused… and I guess Covid has done this. OK let's be honest. Not just here in York Region. It has been going on across the Province of Ontario and even all over. And even in your own municipalities. I'm sure you're doing the same thing - looking at your facilities whether they are underused or over and what properties are available.

So the motion is on the floor. Thank you Mayor Mrakas. All those in favour? Against? That motion is carried thank you.