Should shuttered schools be converted into public housing?

St.-Dunstan-SchoolCouncillor Carolyn Parrish thinks Peel Region should consider buying closed schools from local school boards and use the land to create affordable housing. According to a report presented to the Peel District School Board last year, an astounding 14 Peel public schools are projected to be less than 60 per cent full by 2020. Just last month Catholic trustees voted to close two Catholic elementary schools in the East Credit area, Mississauga.

Councillor Carolyn Parrish has, in the past, encouraged Peel Region to buy schools closed by the local school boards. A few months ago, when the region was grappling with a shortage of shelter beds for homeless youth in Brampton, Parrish suggested surplus school properties would be ideal to repurpose as a shelter. At a recent regional council meeting, Councillor Pat Saito speaking on behalf of Councillor Parrish who was unable to attend, requested the region to investigate the possibility of buying St. Gertrude and St. Dunstan Catholic Elementary Schools.

Parrish said she had already spoken to Habitat about the soon-to-be vacated school sites. “They are prepared to do seniors housing and daycare,” Saito said she was told by Parrish.  Parrish also wants the region to ask the province to waive payment for the properties.

According to the board, the Ministry of Education regulates the sale of any surplus property. Regulations stipulate surplus property must first be circulated to a number of public agencies, including coterminous school boards, municipalities, universities, provincial government and federal government, which have the right of first refusal to buy the site at fair market value. If there are no takers then the property is put on sale for anyone to buy.

Re-purposing schools to create day care centres or old aged homes may be more palatable to the residents of homes surrounding the shuttered schools. But when it comes to public housing going up on school properties, one can be quite sure to expect demonstrations and protests. While most reasonable residents of Mississauga living in detached homes close to cresting a million dollars realize the need for affordable housing, few if any would be in favour of affordable housing going up in their backyards. Such proposals could divide communities and put councillors in a bind. – CINEWS

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