Beaverton supportive housing building wins Canadian Architect Excellence Award

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Published April 12, 2022 at 1:36 pm

The Region of Durham has been honoured with the Canadian Architect Award of Excellence for the first time in recognition of its design for the coming modular supportive housing building in Beaverton.

Canadian Architect is the journal of record for the the country’s two largest architectural professional associations; the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) and the American Institute of Architects Canada Society.

They have handed out Awards for Excellence for the last 55 years to honour the “highest recognition for excellence in the design stage in the Canadian architectural sector.”

This year, Durham was selected as one of five winners out of more than 200 submissions for the honour in recognition of the design of Beaverton’s supportive housing building.

The development is designed to house 47 of Durham’s unsheltered people in an environment where they can receive round-the-clock medical treatment for any physical or mental health ailments they may have. Counsellors, nurses, and personal support workers will all work on-site to deliver this care. 

The project comes at a time of great need, as the amount of people living on the street in the Region continues to trend upward. Throughout the last year, roughly 80 people were on the Region’s by-name list of those enrolled in social services, peaking at around 100 last April.

The by-name list is a more accurately trackable registry of people living rough, but does not include those unable or unwilling to engage with social services. Those on the list tend to see success, however, as the Region reports high ‘outflow’ from services.

While social services sees success for those enrolled, new people continue to either become homeless or migrate to the Region, keeping the number of people registered at any given time around the same.

In light of these issues, the Region has committed to building 1,000 affordable housing units in their quest to end homelessness in Durham by 2024. Projects like Beaverton’s and Oshawa’s micro-home project form part of this initiative.

In its Jury Comment for the project’s selection, Canadian Architect said, “At a time where homelessness, along with the lack of affordable and transitional housing, is visibly present in communities throughout Canada, this proposal seeks solutions that can be rapidly implemented and seamlessly knitted into existing neighbourhoods.”

The publication cited the project’s goal of destigmatizing the struggles faced by those experiencing homelessness, its aim to encourage residents to “live and share” together, and the hope to provide residents with a renewed sense of dignity as reason for the award.

The jury also acclaimed the project’s modular design which is set to ease construction process and extend the season in which it can be built. Modular design will also create less of a disruption to the community and make the build more affordable for the Region.

The energy use of the building also scored major points. The building is set to be completely electric and powered in part by 300 solar panels on the roof, which will power the heating and cooling systems

“It’s a thoughtful plan on a number of levels, resulting in a dynamic environment with a village-like typology and a sense of supportive community,” the jury said.

While the project has been acclaimed in some corners, as Canadian Architect demonstrates, it has also faced fierce resistance from some residents of the 3,000 person town.

Numerous residents petitioned the Township of Brock, which Beaverton is part of, to block the construction. Much of the concern involved the belief that Beaverton was too small a town to host such a development.

This pressure resulted in Brock passing a by-law to block all modular construction in the township to halt the project. This sabotage from the municipality resulted in an indefinite construction delay.

Others such as Brock Mayor John Grant were concerned that larger health supports were too far away in case of an emergency. The nearest hospital is 40 km away in Orillia.

The project is based on a “housing-first” approach, which aims to get people sheltered, and then engage with services. The concept often sees great success. However, it does not require residents to stop drug use while living in the building.

This has led to some concern regarding potential for overdoses and potentially delayed treatment as a result of the building’s distance from an emergency room.

Back in September, psychiatrist Dr. Mark Katz, who has many years experience in addiction treatment, voiced concern for the Region’s approach and called for reforms to the project. ““We can build this and it will be populated, but without intensive onsite support…the Region is risking severe adverse health outcomes,” he said at the time.

Katz also stressed this project is the first of its kind, to his knowledge, to be built in a community as small as Beaverton, lending some credence to concerns from residents. Once fully occupied, the construction would increase the town’s population by 1.5 per cent.

Shortly thereafter, the Region sued its own municipality over the by-law that blocked construction. Durham claimed the by-law amounted to “people-zoning,” the illegal practice of designating land based on who will use it instead of what it will be used for.

After all this legal in-fighting, Brock and Durham came to an agreement with numerous concession to the township, such as a finding a family doctor, 24 hour security and treatment option, as well as enhanced local policing, among others.

Reassured by these concessions, Brock allowed the construction to proceed, and the Region dropped it’s lawsuit as part of the new agreement.

The acclaim voiced by Canadian Architect was received warmly by Durham Region. Commissioner of Social Services Stella Danos-Papaconstantinou said, “Life circumstances can result in crisis and, when this happens, people need support and a stepping stone to life stabilization.”

“The Beaverton Supportive Housing Project will address the urgent need for supportive housing and the thoughtful design by Montgomery Sisam Architects, which earned a Canadian Architect Award of Excellence, will hopefully make residents feel warm and welcome,” she concluded.

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