Today we present another guest post from Dean Macaskill, Senior Vice President at Lennard Commercial Realty. Dean has worked as a commercial realtor since 1980 and has years of industry insight into the Toronto real estate market. Having been through three cycles in the business, he has seen the highs and lows. He shares some of his insider information and insights with UrbanToronto on a semi-regular basis.

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I’ve worked with the City of Toronto for many years in real estate. Challenges come and go, but nothing has been more difficult than assisting the City in locating properties that can be converted to homeless shelter use. When I use the term "homeless shelter", certain stereotypes perpetuate. Change is never easy to accept, especially for subjects that are unfamiliar such as homeless shelters. Getting prospective owners to sell for intended shelter conversion further hinders progress as property devaluation for the immediate area is often assumed. Through this editorial, I hope to change the conversation about what the modern homeless shelter looks like, the reality behind integrating them into new areas, and get more prospective sellers to consider helping to provide more properties for consideration.

Real Estate Business For The Homeless Is Still Good Business!Emergency shelter being constructed at 1155 King West, image by Forum contributor smuncky

Toronto's shelter system is overwhelmed and at capacity. Another 1,000 beds are needed to keep pace with current demand by 2020. For every 20 properties that are identified, you are lucky to find one that meets the shelter by-laws, is not subject to 10 competitive offers, is priced realistically or there is a willing landlord/vendor that will accept the use. The deck is stacked against us.

Traditionally, shelters were located in the downtown east end of the city. The City has since made a concentrated effort to diversify homeless services across the Toronto core. I recall a building for sale on Peter Street, in the Entertainment District. There was a strong outcry from neighbouring owners and they made their voices heard. 11 years later, this shelter is fully integrated into the neighbourhood and few would know what the City operates within this building. In fact, thousands of new condos and a number of new office buildings have been constructed since the City opened at this location. Property values have in no way been impacted by this use.

This past winter, a similar problem occurred when I sold 348 Davenport Road to the City for use as a women's shelter. This building, located within the heart of the Annex, raised concerns from local investors yet there was an outpouring of support from residents welcoming the use. It was a rather polarizing, yet intriguing situation. I am confident that the positive outcome on Peter Street will similarly occur here. 

What many may not know is that the concept of a homeless shelter is changing. These facilities are modernized and intended to be integrated into the fabric of the neighbourhood. Shelters are designed for specific uses such as described at 348 Davenport with the community playing a more active part in creating an inclusive and safe environment for both homeless clients and residents.

As cost of living continues to rise, more people are at risk of homelessness. This crisis affects every neighbourhood and more shelters need to be placed in different areas to reflect this reality. I encourage all of you to consider helping the City of Toronto's search for prospective properties for shelter use. Together, we can all help create an environment where people get the help they need by just doing what we do best: real estate services.