‘Not a permanent fix’: Peel to consider modular housing units to relieve pressure on overcrowded shelter system 
Alexis Wright/The Pointer

‘Not a permanent fix’: Peel to consider modular housing units to relieve pressure on overcrowded shelter system 

Regional government is studying modular-style housing units as a means to provide emergency housing for vulnerable residents facing unprecedented barriers within Peel’s shelter system. 

“Temporary modular housing is a rapid way to be able to address this issue. It's not a permanent fix, it's not an ideal fix but it is something that allows somebody who is sleeping rough to have some dignity to have some personal space and to start the process of getting counselling if they need and getting other services that they may need, addiction services or whatever is required,” Councillor Joe Horneck explained to Regional councillors during a meeting on July 6.

A staff report to council revealed that as Peel residents are struggling with some of the most unaffordable housing costs in Ontario, the gap in the Region’s ability to provide  financial assistance to those in need is “large and growing”. The report revealed Peel is currently meeting only 19 percent of the community need for affordable housing, despite an estimated 91,000 households across the region who require assistance to meet their basic housing requirements; called core need — a classification used to identify families or individuals living in homes that are considered inadequate or unaffordable. The total cost of meeting that need is $50 billion, an amount “well outside the capacity of the Region of Peel,” Sean Baird, Commissioner of Human Services with the Region of Peel, said in the July meeting

On average, Peel’s shelters provide temporary relief to approximately 3,600 families, adults and youth experiencing homelessness annually. According to Regional data, approximately 17,700 households live in the affordable housing system in Peel and an additional 11,500 receive emergency shelter, financial assistance and other supports. But the gap between current service levels and the need is continuing to increase. 

A motion, moved by Mississauga councillors Horneck and Alvin Tedjo, was in response to a correspondence from Baird that showed the Region’s housing and homelessness systems are currently over capacity. It recognizes the need for help has far exceeded the Region’s capacity to deal with the crisis, something made clear by the growing number of families pushed into overflow hotel accommodations. According to recent data from the Region, there are 126 families, 53 single and 47 young people currently in overflow accommodations.

This is not a new revelation. Previous reporting from The Pointer highlighted the Region’s failure to meet the demand in the community for those in desperate need of a roof over their head and bed to sleep in. Peel councillors have lived with the haunting reality that more and more residents are living in precarious housing, or housing they can’t afford as costs of living soar and affordable housing increasingly becomes an unrealistic ideal. Despite this knowledge, repeated budgets at the region have routinely failed to adequately invest in housing relief. Instead, the upper-tier municipality has continuously passed the buck, relying on upper levels of government to provide the necessary funds for new affordable units. Recently, regional councillors approved a plan that may reduce the number of units built in the coming years, but signals a willingness to put regional dollars toward the crisis.  

“This method of addressing things on an emergency basis is really growing within municipalities because as our housing advocates just demonstrated, building permanent, brick and mortar housing to solve the affordability crisis, to solve the homelessness crisis, is just so long and so costly,” Horneck explained.

“We’re looking at allocating resources in a more significant way than we have in the past. Unfortunately, it scratches the surface, it's not a solution.”


Mississauga Councillor Joe Horneck introduced a motion to have the Region explore modular-style housing in Peel.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)  


The motion was inspired in part by a recent project introduced by the Region of Waterloo in response to the ongoing homelessness crisis that has led to highly visible encampments in public places.

The Region announced the location of its first outdoor shelter in December 2022, which would accommodate up to 50 individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness. The site, which began operating in February, is staffed 24/7, and includes support services and security. Services provided include mental health and addictions support, with a focus on connecting residents to permanent housing options. Each cabin is furnished and equipped with electricity, heating and cooling. A main cabin complex is also on site to provide amenities, including running water, common space, washrooms and laundry services.


A look inside the Region of Waterloo’s “cabin” style modular housing.



Vancouver—consistently named one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in—has also seen success with the implementation of modular housing projects. Starting as early as 2017, the municipality has approved 17 modular housing complexes around the city, combining for hundreds of spaces to help those in need. A survey conducted by BC Housing in 2018 and 2019 found 80 percent of the residents in these units reported their wellbeing had improved and 94 percent remained housed six months after moving in. 


Sarah Ross House, one of the City of Vancouver’s many modular housing complexes, contains 52 studio homes.

(City of Vancouver)


Horneck and Tedjo requested Regional staff report back to council on the feasibility of deploying similar modular housing approaches to address the local crisis; and that staff investigate sites based on demand in all three local municipalities (looking at a minimum of two locations per local municipality), and report back on the necessary budgeting, lands, and time necessary to implement the proposal. Staff estimated a report could come back in the fall with more information. 

The motion also recognizes the Region is currently unable to meet the demand and has not been able to honour its policy to never turn away those in need. Peel has been forced to break the policy as a result of  the current crisis. Just a few weeks ago Baird told council that over 300 people had to be turned away in the span of two weeks as a result of hitting capacity and running out of room in overflow spaces in local hotels. Those turned away are still offered food, transportation and referrals to other community support systems, like the food bank.  A staff report presented to council earlier this year revealed that the number of contracts between the Region and private hotel operators increased 113 percent. In 2019, Peel’s shelter system only had 60 family units and 244 standard beds, many of which were for men and youth. 

“This is something that’s been on our radar for a period of time,” Baird told the Region. According to the commissioner, the Region currently has over 500 individuals in its emergency shelters and at least 200 families and individuals in overflow hotels every night.

Without enough investments being made by the Region, the situation has become increasingly severe in recent years. The Region’s approved 2023 budget showed Peel’s Housing Supports would increase by 9.3 percent from $141.9 million in 2022 to $155.2 million for 2023, but based on the increasing number of residents in need in recent years, it’s not enough. This is on top of the 38 percent increase reported in April that the Region of Peel was set to receive from the provincial government in response to rising homelessness, bringing the total for 2023 to about $42.4 million.

Despite representing an approximate $11.7 million dollar increase in funding, the investment still fell short, leaving the Region to battle the increasingly wide gap as Peel experiences unprecedented housing pressures due to the lack of affordable supply, coupled with the daunting increases in cost of living. The Pointer previously reported that the provincial government would need to provide $320 million dollars to Peel in order to fulfill the Region’s goal of adding 2,200 new affordable units by 2028. Recently, after facing pressures from elected officials at various levels of government, the federal government committed an additional $212 million for the Interim Housing Assistance Program, allocating $97 million out of the total to Toronto. It’s not clear how much will go to Peel. 


TOP: This tent encampment in Mississauga was one of many that popped up across Peel during the pandemic. 

BOTTOM: Living conditions behind Kingspoint Plaza in Brampton after an encampment was raided last fall.

(The Pointer files) 


Michelle Bilek, a community member from the Peel Alliance to End Homelessness and national field organizer for the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, told councillors that, recognizing what is happening in Peel with people sleeping in parks and an obvious overflow of shelter capacity, she would be supportive of the modular housing motion.

“The way things are going, I don’t see any housing being built any time soon. So the opportunity to provide some sort of independent shelter where people feel safe, where people feel they have autonomy over their lives and they have the ability to seek out services when necessary and the supports they need on hand, I do support modular housing as an option,” she explained. “As long as it is near areas where folks can easily access services, get the food that they need, if necessary, and any other sort of essential needs that they have,” she said. “But at the cost of the modular housing in comparison to the longstanding cost of houses built, the fact of the matter is that we will never be able to catch up anytime soon… on what we actually need to service people.” 

While there’s been a lot of success stories in municipalities across Ontario that have experimented with these modular-style housing units, some have expressed instances that Peel should hope to avoid. 

In Oshawa, petitions to suspend the Oshawa Micro-Housing Pilot Project have surfaced after a man was found dead earlier this year at the Drew Street housing, which features 10 units for temporary, transitional housing. The units are part of the Region of Durham's micro-home pilot project aimed at offering transition housing to people experiencing chronic homelessness.

According to one of the petitions, residents who have argued the program has been “mismanaged from the start” and “exceeds tolerable levels of risk to the community,” met with the Region in November to discuss ongoing issues, including the “noticeable lack of protection for the occupants,” specifically the presence of “uninvited guests.” Residents requested more effective security measures to protect both the community and the occupants.


The Region of Durham implemented a modular housing project in Oshawa in 2021. The project has been met with disdain from some nearby residents who say it “exceeds tolerable levels of risk.”

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer) 


Following the death in January, residents called for the units to be demolished, and that the program be rescinded “once and for all… out of respect for the residents of the community.” Since the facility became occupied in the spring of 2022, neighbouring residents say they have observed an uptick in emergency response/police dispatched to the site, loitering, discarded drugs on the property and surrounding area, thefts, and vehicles broken into, among other “undesirable activities.”

While these concerns are unnerving, dire action is needed on the part of Regional elected officials to address the growing crisis. A spokesperson for the Region previously told The Pointer, “Demand for our services will continue to present significant challenges, despite the work being done to increase the availability of affordable units and to prevent homelessness. The fact is that current service levels meet less than 30 percent of need for affordable housing in Peel.” 

This harrowing reality is anticipated to be exacerbated by Bill 23, which “will make it more difficult for the Region to respond to the ongoing housing affordability crisis,” as the provincial legislation does not guarantee affordable units will be a top priority.

A staff report from 2020 warned that under the 10-year Peel Housing and Homelessness Plan (2018-2028), “more than one in 10 new homes that are built must be affordable to low-income households to keep up with forecasted growth,” however, “since 2018, less than one in 2,600 new ownership homes built have met that threshold.” While the Region has been moving at a sluggish pace on constructing affordable units, the list of households waiting for subsidized housing has grown from an alarming 14,997 reported on the waitlist near the end of 2019 to a jaw-dropping 22,445 households by the end of 2020, representing a nearly  50 percent increase in just one year. According to updated regional data from December 2022, 28,811 households were on Peel’s centralized waiting list for a subsidized unit — a dangerous number which “may be under-reported” because of the backlog Peel Region’s Housing Services experienced last year. 

The Region’s 10-year blueprint, which it has failed to keep up with, also noted shelters were full to capacity and cited an increase of 26.9 percent in shelter use, as well as an acute shortage of beds for victims of family violence and youth needing transitional support.  

Baird reiterated to council that the Region continues to be the only municipality within the Greater Toronto Area that has a “no turn away policy” — an approach that forces the Region to find other options to house individuals when shelter exceeds 100 percent capacity — which he said is something staff will want to revisit when they come back with a report on the modular housing proposal. With the rapid increase in demand for shelter services as housing affordability has become more uncertain, the policy has become more commonplace. A July 2018 staff report to Regional council revealed that “Adult emergency shelters in Peel Region have often been at or beyond maximum occupancy since the second quarter of 2016,” forcing the Region to activate its shelter overflow protocol, where families are placed in nearby hotels.  

With the modular housing proposal, Baird warned site evaluations would take longer for staff to examine and would likely not come back to the Region until the winter. 

“I want to be very clear. Most of the regions and municipalities that have gone down this path do not have a clear exit plan for this strategy. It is valuable and it is lower cost, it is very repaid, however, it doesn’t solve the ultimate need which is the need for more permanent built affordable housing,” Baird cautioned. 

“Yes, this is an important tool and yes, it will help us move forward, however I want to be clear that there’s likely no reasonable exit plan.” 




Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @mcpaigepeacock

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