It was a modest brick and mortar gift, bequeathed to Canada by a Toronto resident, and one expected to have a lasting impact on young lives for many years.
Maria Scutti’s life and generosity was celebrated on Thursday as part of a public announcement that the little house Scutti left to the federal government in her will is just a few months away from reopening as a transitional home for at-risk Toronto youth.
The brown-brick bungalow, near Jane St. and Wilson Ave., was the platform for that public praise and the future site of a plaque honouring Scutti’s gift and one housing advocates praise as a compassionate solution to one part of a citywide homelessness crisis.
National charity Raising the Roof was given the property by the federal government, transferred through the Surplus Federal Real Property for Homelessness Initiative, which is part of a broad national housing strategy and focused on reducing homelessness through the disbursement of federal lands.
Raising the Roof’s director of community initiatives and interim chief executive officer, Elisa Traficante, said the use of Scutti’s house is a “shining example” of how one person’s decision can have a meaningful and lasting impact on the lives of many vulnerable people.
The Star learned of Scutti’s name and story only through the federal release and by press time had yet to determine if she had living relatives, or connect with people who could share more about her life.
The house is expected to be reoccupied in August, outfitted to meet the needs of three youth upstairs and ready to accommodate a fourth person in a separate basement unit with a background in social work who will act as a cross between a house monitor and permanent roommate.
Toronto provided financial support for renovations by agreeing to a one-time $50,000 increase to the already approved 2018 operating budget for shelter support and housing, and agreed to exempt the property from certain municipal taxes.
The City of Toronto considers anyone between the ages of 16 and 24 to be a youth. The people who move in will have been identified as being at risk of becoming homeless without proper supports and will be referred by an agency with expertise in that area. They will also, Traficante said, be enrolled in school or some kind of vocational training. Rent is $440 per person and bathroom and kitchen facilities are shared, she said.
How this one house factors into larger efforts to combat homelessness is through their Reside initiative, she said. The goal of that project is to secure and set up at least 10 properties to provide low-cost rental housing for people at risk of homelessness, then use any earnings from that rent to expand.
“Rather than focus on the emergency response and building large shelters that are hard to maintain we are just focusing on building affordable housing units,” Traficante said.
When asked by the Star, she said they would accept donations. Including properties.
“Yes. We would love that. Very much so.”
Any future homes will provide another way for young people to advance and gain more security in life. Any youth interested in the trades can be involved in renovations, under supervision, to help them determine what type of apprenticeship they might want to pursue.
Adam Vaughan, parliamentary secretary to the minister in charge of housing, said the initiative that was used to transfer Scutti’s house to Raising the Roof has already sourced 160 potential properties across the country, including about a dozen in Toronto and one “very promising” site in Toronto’s Danforth neighbourhood. He said the full details will be released after a deal is finalized. The goal, he said, is to disperse $200 million worth of federal land over 10 years.
“When you take the land values out of the mix in Toronto affordable housing becomes very easy,” Vaughan said.
Small, supportive houses across Toronto could be possible if the city decided to “embrace and lean into” the idea of creating a bylaw that would make room for this type of housing, Vaughan said.
Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar