The Blue Mountains council has officially appointed two of its members to serve on the board of directors of the Blue Mountains Attainable Housing Corporation.
Mayor Andrea Matrosovs and Coun. Shawn McKinlay (both were not present for the meeting due to their attendance at the Rural Ontario Municipalities Association conference in Toronto) will be the council representatives on the nine-member board for the housing corporation.
Council made the appointments at its meeting on Jan. 23 after a lengthy and ranging discussion with Gavin Leitch, housing corporation board chair and corporation executive director Jennifer Bisley. Matrosovs and McKinlay had put their names forward for the positions at a previous committee of the whole meeting.
Council made the appointments with the provisos that Matrosovs and McKinlay will serve two-year terms on the board and neither will seek to become chair of the board of directors.
Leitch and Bisley were a deputation at the meeting in an effort to work out any differences, concerns or misunderstandings there may have been between the new council and the housing corporation regarding the proposed Gateway attainable housing project to be located on the former grocery store property on King Street.
“We are at a critical moment. We are in negotiations with a preferred proponent for the Gateway site,” said Leitch.
During the conversation, Leitch covered a number of topics including: the governance structure of the board and the housing corporation, the roles and responsibilities of the members of council appointed to serve on the board and the general relationship between the town and the corporation.
Leitch also advocated in favour of the town appointing a staff member to act as a liaison between the corporation and council. He said such an appointment would be a big step towards opening the lines of communication between the two organizations and would relieve pressure on the councillors serving on the board. He said it’s important to remember the town created the housing corporation to address the housing issue in the community.
“We want to do something about the housing crisis we face,” he said.
In turn, members of council were not shy about sharing criticisms they have heard about the corporation.
“There has been a lot of money invested in (the housing corporation) and not a lot of information coming back,” said Coun. Paula Hope. “We’re not really clear on what you’re doing.”
Coun. June Porter agreed and cited “angst” in the public about the corporation’s activities.
“There is a thirst for information. The town has a lot of skin in the game,” she said.
Coun. Gail Ardiel said the public is getting impatient.
“We seem to be worrying in silos. I want the community to work as a whole,” she said. “There are no shovels in the ground and it’s been four years. What I’m hearing from the taxpayers is they’re just not happy.”
Leitch acknowledged that there have been “challenges” the past few years. He said it’s a goal of the corporation to renew and reframe the relationship with the town to create “a more positive dynamic.”
“This is the dawn of a new chapter for the corporation,” he said, noting that attainable housing continues to be an issue in the town. “It’s not going away.”
During the course of the deputation, council also tried to address the tricky question of how council appointees to the corporation’s board of directors use their votes. On multiple occasions, it was suggested the votes that council appointees cast should represent the “will of council.”
CAO Shawn Everitt, who joined the meeting virtually from the ROMA conference in Toronto, said he would prepare a report in consultation with town legal staff to address that concern.
“Members of the corporation should be voting for what’s best for the corporation,” said Everitt. “This is where council members not being the chair will be helpful. It’s important to understand the nuances.”
Deputy Mayor Peter Bordignon said the council appointees avoiding the board chair role would be “paramount” and allow more “runway” for the housing corporation to conduct its business. The deputy mayor said he was pleased with the results of council’s conversation with the housing corporation representatives.
“My level of confidence has gone up quite a bit after the deputation today,” he said.