Photo credit: Martin Kwok

Nearly 20 recommendations were delivered by the Committee for an Age-Friendly Markham (the committee), Tuesday Feb. 26. Jack Heath, Regional Councillor was joined by committee co-chair, Andy Langer at a press conference in the Unionville Community Centre for Seniors.

Other members of the committee are Diane Gabay, Andy Langer, Gail Leet, and Christl Reeh, who made up the rest of the panel.  

There, they laid out various ideas and suggestions around making Markham more senior-friendly. One of these was converting city-owned parking lots into age-friendly homes and replacing the lost spaces with underground parking.

When Don Hamilton, Deputy Mayor, stood up to ask “what do you got in mind for us to look at as a council to help you with this plan?”, Heath responded as follows:

“Let me give you an example, for all the time I’ve been a Councillor the parking issues at Thornhill Community Centre have been serious. They probably only have 30 spots left at this moment, let alone in the evening when there’s a hockey game on. What this proposal would do is say to the City of Markham – the city owns it, anyway – is we’re going to build some affordable housing for seniors.”

These recommendation also require that the land be handed over by the city at no cost, with Heath citing the potential benefits:

“We will take the parking spots removed and build a floor or two or maybe even three under the building, either underground or (inaudible) to provide for the parking that Markham has just lost and above that will be the seniors housing. So, what you’ve done is ensured that Thornhill maybe even gets more parking – the community centre – and at the same time, there’s no cost for the land.”

Heath went on to highlight the availability of parking lot space as potential land for affordable housing, based on a flight he took over the city:

“I’ve flown over Markham a couple of times, I remember I got a $25 flight over at Buttonville, and there’s two things that jump out at you. One of them is the number of swimming pools in the backyards, which is not in my backyard but I was stunned with them. The other is the amount of surface parking in the City of Markham. The biggest parking lot I can imagine in the city if around Markville, but that’s privately owned. The second biggest around the hospital and the hospital doesn’t want to build structured parking, it can be expensive, so you turn around and say ‘maybe we can find a way to get you at least the same or more parking and we can also use the land for affordable housing.”

He also claimed to have tested this theory with “a couple of developers” who said it was a reasonable trade for the cost of land.”

Hamilton later asked about the federal government’s role in funding or supporting an age-friendly Markham. Heath responded by explaining that the region, as opposed to the city, often deal with the federal government, directly.

He did coin his response by saying the “federal government is providing great resources.”

Karen Rea, Ward 4 Councillor, addressed the homes proposed to be going up around Unionvilla saying “seniors also like to have a little garden. They like to sit out there and have a coffee and have a few flowers out there. Not every senior wants to live up in the sky, I wouldn’t like to. There are three-story town homes on the back here and these bungalows should stay.”

One of the suggestions call for age-friendly condominiums and purpose-built rentals, to which some Unionville seniors may be averse to.

Heath replied that the final decision depends on council’s DSC (development services committee), but that he was in favour of basement free homes.

Other interesting points within the committee’s 19 suggestions include Always Homes to encompass 10% of all future developments. Among these are homes with basements, without basements and multi-residential units that embody the always homes guidelines.

They are also asking the city to legalize all secondary suites, as long as parking accommodations already exist. This could potentially bring into question the affordability of basement-free homes, and beg the option of renting out one’s basement as a secondary suite.

Another suggestion that stood out was for more nurses and personal support workers (PSW) providing at-home-care. The reasoning based itself on easier registration, qualifications, training and the availability of financial assistance.

The shortage of nurses and PSW’s may have been factored into the individual registration portion of the suggestion, but was not pointed out, specifically. Several long-term care homes are facing tremendous staff shortage challenges. If home-care is a more appealing option for service providers, then this suggestion could possibly serve as a pilot project on solving other seniors care issues.

The key challenge faced by the committee, and the city, is preparing for the onslaught of baby boomers who are now treading into their senior years.

The overarching goal is for more local homes and rentals that are affordable, accessible and attainable to a larger group of buyers and renters. 

Below is the full list of suggestions around improving the affordability and quality of life for local seniors.

Time will tell if and how these suggestions will come to light, regardless of how well-thought-out they may or may not be:

#1: ALWAYS HOME.  It is recommended that all future single, semi, and townhome developments approved in Markham contain a minimum portion of “Always” homes, those which allow owners the option of aging longer in their home. An “Always” home is one with no impediments for people with accessibility or health issues which may require them to live on the ground floor of their home now or at a later point in their lives. Proposal:  

  • 10% of new home developments be “Always” homes and built on grade with no basement thus ensuring greater affordability, 
  • 10% of new home developments be “Always” homes and built on grade with a full basement, and  
  • 10% of new multi-residential units being developed meet the “Always” guidelines as well.    

#2: ALWAYS GUIDELINES.  It is recommended that the City develop standards for Always homes and units for implementation as soon as possible in all new developments, having consideration for such matters as:  

  • wheelchair accessibility including hallway widths,  
  • better kitchen and bathroom design,  
  • a shower on the main floor,  
  • proper door handles,  
  • a location for short-term sleeping quarters on the main floor,  
  • no steps from grade up to the front door, and to the main floor inside, and  
  • railing and ramp locations for future installation if required.    

#3: HOME ELEVATORS AND CHAIR LIFTS FOR NEW HOMES.  It is recommended that, to improve mobility for seniors and others within their own homes thus allowing them to remain in them longer, the City require that all new singles, semis and townhouses being built in Markham include space and structural supports for future installation of home elevators and / or chair lifts if needed.    

#4: HOME ELEVATORS AND CHAIR LIFTS FOR EXISTING HOMES.  It is recommended that, to improve mobility for seniors and others within their own homes for those living in the City’s existing homes, Markham and York Region conduct a pilot retrofit home elevator and chair lift program for different types of existing homes to determine the best ways to retrofit them. The expectation is that the recommendations at the end of the pilot will transition into significant improvements in current programs.    

#5: NURSING AND PERSONAL SUPPORT SERVICES.  It is recommended that York Region and the Province dramatically ramp-up at-home care for both nursing and personal support services including corporate and individual registration and qualifications, training, financial assistance, etc., in order to encourage seniors needing lower levels of such care to remain in their homes longer before being required to transfer to a facility with higher levels of care.    

#6: HOSPICE.  It is recommended that, in order to meet the need for palliative, end-of-life, services in Markham, the City:  

  • support the establishment of 2 to 4 residential hospices over the next 12 years with a target of 30 or more independent hospice beds,  
  • provide the land at little or no cost for the first hospice site, and  
  • endorse the first hospice for 10 or more beds being built as quickly as possible.     

#7: THE SUPPLY OF LAND.  It is recommended that, since the cost and availability of land are the largest impediments to significantly increasing the supply of affordable housing for seniors and others, the City obtain land, presently being used for surface parking, at no cost for the purpose of building affordable townhouses, condo apartments and purpose-built rentals. In order to replace the lost parking, the new housing development would provide the former owner an equal number of underground and / or structured parking spaces within the new development at no cost.  The largest parking lots that fit this category can be found at:  

  • public utility companies,  
  • school boards,  
  • hospitals,  
  • public transportation agencies  
  • governments at all levels, and  
  • possibly, places of worship.  

#8: PREFERABLE LOCATIONS.  It is recommended that the City, in order to reduce the requirement for an automobile, concentrate on finding location opportunities for Recommendation #7 near: 

  • good transit,  
  • important services such as medical and dental, and  
  • amenities such as grocery stores, pharmacies and other retail shops.    

#9: MARKHAM PARKING AUTHORITY.  It is recommended that the City create a Markham Parking Authority with one of their responsibilities being the development of an “Off-Hours Parking Program” for overnight parking permits on lots listed in Recommendation #7 above to assist the nearby development of affordable housing for seniors and others by reducing the number of underground and / or structured parking spaces needed by the new housing development.    

#10: SURPLUS SCHOOL PROPERTY.  It is recommended that the Province, in order to reduce the price of land and increase its availability for affordable housing for seniors and others, introduce a requirement that the sale of surplus school board property to municipal governments or agencies, if for affordable housing purposes, be at the value of the original land purchase plus carrying costs as opposed to current market value.     

#11: INCLUSIONARY ZONING.  It is recommended that the City implement an inclusionary zoning policy for Markham so that all future apartment developments, and other types of housing if possible, contain a reasonable percentage of affordable housing units. The percentage would be set by Council after input by the public and stakeholders.    

#12: SECONDARY SUITES.  It is recommended that the City, in order to maintain and provide housing options for a larger range of residents: 

  • permit secondary suites by right across the city, 
  • legalize all secondary suites in the municipality which meet the parking requirements and establish a five-year program to register them thus ensuring that those already in existence meet safety and reasonable living standards as set out in the fire and building codes, and 
  • develop a program to encourage the provision of more secondary suites in the future.     

#13: COACH HOUSES.  It is recommended that the City encourage the building, within the current urban boundary and in the Future Urban Area, of a significantly increased number of smaller homes such as Coach Houses, which are defined as homes above garages not attached to the main house, in order to provide greater opportunities for affordable rentals and purchases for seniors and others.    

#14: LIVE / WORK OPPORTUNITIES.  It is recommended that future developments in the City include increased allotments for live / work opportunities for neighbourhood services and small businesses in residential areas in order that nearby residents, especially seniors, can walk to local services. It is also recommended that the City look for opportunities to increase live / work opportunities within its existing urban boundary.    

#15: SENIORS’ SNOW CLEARING SERVICE.  It is recommended that, if the City does not provide a city-wide windrow clearance service in the near future, Markham improve the current service for seniors by making it quicker.    

#16: SIDEWALK COMPLETION.  It is recommended that, in order to provide a safe environment for seniors and others wishing to walk for exercise and / or walk to services, the City target the “Finish-Date” of its Sidewalk Completion Program for Arterial and Collector Roads as 2026 or earlier.     

#17: IMPLEMENTATION.  It is recommended that City staff suggest an appropriate organization or organizations to oversee the projects envisioned above. Possibly:  

  • an independent non-profit agency, or  
  • a current or new City / Regional agency, or  
  • a special section within the Development Services Commission.    

#18: THE FUTURE URBAN AREA.  It is recommended that Markham’s FUA being developed in the Woodbine, Warden, and Kennedy areas north of Major Mackenzie, be designed with the above recommendations in mind.  

#19: PROCESS.  It is recommended that these 19 Recommendations for an Age-Friendly Markham be presented to Development Services Committee and then sent to staff for public and stakeholder input with a draft report coming back to DSC by June 2019, and that staff in Markham and York Region also give consideration to developing further incentive programs if required to accomplish the above. 

Also in attendance were Andrew Keyes, Ward 5 Councillor (pictured); Reid McAlpine, Ward 3 Councillor (pictured); Don Hamilton, Deputy Mayor (pictured); and Karen Rea, Ward 4 Councillor (not pictured).