Many of us have been hearing the news of a Waterloo Region church openly defying provincial lockdown rules. And, appropriately, many of us are infuriated by both the actions of those choosing to attend and also the lack of enforcement by police. I am one of those people angered by this situation.
However, I am also left uncertain about the best course of action in this situation. My first reaction is to call for heavier police enforcement (which may very well be the most appropriate and needed action here). However, as someone who supports calls to reallocate police funding, I am left with a sense of unease about the whole situation.
You see, one of the many reasons that I support reallocation is that I have heard many stories about communities that are over-surveilled and over-policed. I don't think anyone is surprised to know that those communities tend to be racialized, and experience higher rates of poverty and homelessness. Therefore, I think there's value in reducing police funding for these activities.
Of course, what we have in this case of the local church, seems to be the exact opposite of that. We have a majority (all?) white church population openly (and proudly) defying lockdown rules. Rules that are meant to keep us all safe. And we know that (again) the populations most impacted by COVID are those living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, and/or are racialized. And yet, where is the enforcement in this situation?
Those clear discrepancies in responses is one of the main reasons I am supportive of calls to reallocate funding from policing to more upstream services. Expecting police to be the first and only ones to respond to any and all issues in the community, while giving them both powers of arrest and use of force, while also providing them with 'discretion' to use these tools as they see fit, is clearly problematic, and too often harmful.
While I am not positive of the best course of action in this particular situation, I think it does highlight the problems of one group (police) holding so much power and discretion when we know that systemic racism impacts those decisions. We need to do better and I think reallocation is a strong tool to help us improve.
Yesterday, amid calls to reallocate police funding to upstream services, Regional Council finalized its 2021 budget, which resulted in an ~$5 million increase to the police budget.
As one of those people in support of Reallocate WR's calls to action, including a 0% increase for the police budget and redirecting those funds to upstream community services, I was disappointed in council's decision. It's frustrating to see so many people rally around this issue, only to see limited change.
But as I reflect on that last statement, I think there is reason to still be hopeful. As someone who watches local politics closely, I think it's fair to say that there tends not to be a high level of engagement with council decisions and actions. There have been few issues where I have seen the community come together to advocate like they have in support of Reallocate WR.
There were 11 delegations who spoke at the most recent public input session on the budget. A meeting, I remind you, that was not originally scheduled and only came into place because of residents advocating for its inclusion.
Add to those 11 delegations, the many other delegations who called for a reduction to the police budget at the first public meeting last month. And then, add to that, the over 40 pages of written correspondence that council received. 40+ pages! And all of it was in support of Reallocate WR's calls to action. That is something to be proud of!
Having watched local council over the past few years, I have seen many decisions made, some I have absolutely agreed with and others adamantly opposed (and many fell somewhere in between). But most of the changes have come far too slowly for me, someone who wants to see all of those good decisions turned into action...well, yesterday! No doubt many of you feel the same.
While many of us are disappointed about yesterday's council decision to increase the police budget, I think there is still a lot to be proud of. The original draft budget included an ~$8 million increase but that ended up being reduced by $3 million; there were 2 motions not only put on the floor, but approved, relating to making some changes to policing and upstream services; and lastly, we have created momentum for real change. I see a community who has engaged deeply with this issue and is committed to taking the action needed to change the status quo. That excites me! And at a time when we feel the disappointment of yesterday's decision, it is that community committed to change that gives me the energy to keep pushing for change. So thank you!
Recently while biking on a local trail, I noticed someone all bundled up in a pile of clothes just off the trail, seemingly sleeping. I’m often torn in these situations, not knowing the best way to proceed. I want to respect a person’s space but also don’t want to turn away from someone who may need help in some way.
I started to cycle past, thinking it was likely the person was just sleeping. But I turned back as I thought it was important to at least check in. As I approached, I quietly said “Excuse me…” several times. No response. I moved closer and got louder, “Excuse me. Do you need any help?” Still no response. By this time, I was right next to the individual. I tried to asses breathing but, because they were all bundled up on this chilly morning, I couldn’t easily do so. I tapped their boot. Then tapped it harder. Still no response. I moved in closer, giving a little shake to the individual. When I still saw no response, I wasn’t sure the best next steps.
I ended up calling emergency to report an unresponsive person. After collecting some details, they said an ambulance would be there shortly. When the call ended, I again checked on the individual. Eventually, the person stirred and we had a brief conversation where I informed them I had called emergency services wondering if help was needed. The individual informed me that no, they were fine, just sleepy. I called back to emergency services to let them know this.
I still don’t know if that was the best way to handle the situation. But I share this because I remember wanting, more than anything, a number I could call that wasn’t 911. I wanted to call some sort of community outreach worker, someone who knew how best to deal with these situations, who might know (and have) the resources or supports this individual may need. If that number exists, I’m not aware of it. I’ve always been taught that you call 911 when you need any sort of help. I wanted to offer help (if needed) in this situation but was discouraged to realize that my only option was police or emergency services.
This experience reminded me of why I think there is real value (and need) in reallocating funds from police services to other local organizations. We need to better fund upstream services as well as on-the-ground outreach. I know alternatives can and do exist but we need to better fund those options so they can become real alternatives for our community. Join the conversation at ReallocateWR.
On Oct 19th, #KitchenerCouncil will meet for the Community and Infrastructure Services committee where they will look at the following recommendation that will advance the city’s work on equity, anti-racism, and Indigenous initiatives, and other social justice issues. Here is staff's recommendation:
The Mayor’s Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion consists of ~30 community members and ~15 staff, and was formed in 2019. Councillors Marsh and Singh, and the mayor also sit on this committee.
The staff report outlines some of the initiatives that have been implemented (or will soon be due to delays from the pandemic) including: staff EDI training, the city’s first Workforce Census, on-demand interpretation services for residents, and the collection of demographic info on Engage Kitchener surveys.
The report also provides updates on other projects: Indigenous opportunities for the Huron Natural Area and Kitchener’s Housing Strategy.
The report goes on to outline one of the major issues that is to be addressed through the task force: the lack of any paid city staff working specifically on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion or other social justice issues such as poverty and homelessness.
Several recent events are noted in the report as ‘solidifying and accelerating’ this work: the June 3rd Black Lives Matter march, the establishment of the O:se Kenhionhata:tie (Land Back) camp in Victoria Park, and the development of the Lot 42 Better Tent City (Shout out to folks involved in these things – you’re affecting real change!)
Several factors, outlined in the report, contributing to the urgent need for staff in these areas include: the Truth and Reconciliation Report; the Ontario Human Rights Code; the city’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work plan, and the city’s Housing Strategy.
From the report: “Staff are recommending the creation of an Equity, Anti-Racism and Indigenous Initiatives team that would provide the city and city council with dedicated leadership, expertise, and senior level competencies in issues of equity, anti-racism, discrimination, Indigenous initiatives, and other social justice issues”.
This team would include: a Director, Senior Indigenous Advisor, Senior Anti-Racism Advisor, Analyst, and a Social Planning Associate.
Staff recommend that the hiring of a Director happens presently, ideally before the end of 2020. The other roles would then be filled in 2021, under the guidance of that Director.
The financial implications of creating these new Full-Time staff positions are outlined In the report as costing an estimated $556,000 (but that impact can be spread out over 2 years given the phased-in hiring).
If you'd like to see the city progress on these issues, you can let them know by emailing them. Or you can use this template that will allow you to email everyone at once. (Side note: individual emails often are given more weight by elected officials, but any action you can take is worthwhile!). Thanks for reading.
I shared a lot of the draft report in Part One of this blog, but there's still more of the report to work through! So here's a few more key points as I see them.
The report outlines ‘how we got here’ resulting from interest and feedback from residents and it outlines several city strategic goals that align with affordable housing.
The report identifies some of the key findings of the city’s Needs Assessment completed earlier this year, including: the fact that housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for more residents and poverty and core housing need is increasing in Kitchener. You can see the Needs Assessment report here.
From the report: “This has placed pressure on the rental market as people who would have purchased homes are staying in rental accommodation, because incomes have not increased in pace with increases in housing costs. Redevelopment has eliminated some of the affordable rental housing and replaced it with more condos and more expensive rental housing.”
“Renovictions, where tenants are displaced from their homes to allow major renovations or redevelopment to proceed, are not tracked or monitored for Kitchener. Housing held for investment is not tracked or monitored for Kitchener.” Both of these issues are identified as areas to now monitor and track.
“There is a correlation between the review/approval timeline for development applications and the affordability of housing units.” The city is also doing a Developmental Services review at this time that hopes to streamline these processes.
One example of improving such processes: “In fall 2020, staff will be working on the development of industry explainers/scorecards that explain how to get a passing score at various stages of the development process and will be reviewing file management practices and accountabilities.”
The draft report references the city’s interest (and recent council approval) in allowing inclusionary zoning as one more tool to create more affordable housing options.
More from the report: “Council addressed entering the discussion on resolving homelessness as a partner and not taking on sole responsibility. Council noted transformational change is needed. Instead of relying on shelters, housing should be provided with needed services for people.”
“Spending on homelessness has been reactive, to date. If it was done proactively it would help solve some of the homelessness issues. The City can be an effective advocate working with the Region.” This to me seems like an extremely important point and I look forward to more proactive approaches to increasing access to affordable housing.
The city offered an Engage Kitchener online survey on Affordable Housing. Some takeaways from that survey: collaboration is essential; need more diverse housing options; and need a people-centred approach.
The report outlines how COVID put new and additional pressures on existing models of shelter options for those experiencing homelessness. They highlight House of Friendship’s Shelter Care model and what’s been happening with A Better Tent City on Lot 42. You can read more about both of these models on pages 26-27 of the draft strategy.
From the report: “The Region of Waterloo has indicated they want to work in collaboration with municipal and community partners on a “post-pandemic” plan to re-imagine the shelter system in order to better meet the diverse needs of people experiencing homelessness. This will include identifying immediate, mid-term and longer-term housing options and supports.”
Included in the report is this quotation: “This pandemic has shown that governments can solve homelessness” from Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, April 2020.
The report recognizes the role of international law and the right to housing: “Canada committed to the United Nations that we would “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living… including adequate food, clothing and housing.”
“Housing strategies aimed at addressing homelessness and increasing access to affordable housing in Ontario must be consistent with international human rights obligations, the Code and applicable human rights principles.”
Not In My BackYard arguments are identified as problematic and concerning, resulting in harm and delays. “NIMBY opposition to affordable or supportive housing projects, and the impact of this on tenants, housing providers and society as a whole is not conducive to a just and sustainable society.”
The report again reiterates the need for an Equity and Inclusion lens for housing, and notes that housing can serve as a safety net, fending off many other issues such as economic instability and well-being.
The guiding principles on ‘how we get there’ include: housing as a human right; people-focused (who’s most impacted?); equity, diversity, and inclusion principles; explicitly anti-racist and anti-discriminatory; realistic timelines and achievable goals.
The proposed strategic actions include: meeting needs; what the city can do; working together; being informed and informing; implementation and work plan.
The report ends with an appendix that includes defining terms and a glossary as well as references for the document. And that's the full summary of the report. For additional ways to engage with this information, visit Engage Kitchener. Thanks again for reading!
The draft report from the Affordable Housing Strategy committee was released earlier this month. I have spent some time reading through it and have identified what stood out to me as the key issues and ideas outlined in the report. The report is 42 pages long, so this post runs on the long side (and has a second part!), but I hope it provides a good understanding of the report's contents (without being too overwhelming!).
The report begins with a land acknowledgement and call to action based on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and states, “that a more comprehensive approach to reconciliation is required to address systemic inequities, racism and to better support, celebrate and deliver services to Indigenous Peoples in Kitchener.”
The report then identifies why this work is important: “The availability of housing choices that meet people’s needs mean safer, more sustainable and more vibrant communities. It enables public services to be more efficient and effective, and businesses to be more diverse and prosperous. It helps heal social divisions and make cities stronger.”
The report notes various individuals and groups involved in the process, including those with lived experience: “The preparation of the draft Housing Strategy is informed by the voices of those with lived experience, generously shared through in-person, virtual and survey connections.”
Growth expectations are outlined as: “Over a 25-year period, Kitchener is expected to grow by approximately 80,000 people, which is equivalent to about 35,000 new households. The city is changing with taller buildings, increasing urbanization and a trend to smaller household sizes. This growth brings both benefits and challenges.”
The report notes that there are affordability issues throughout the whole housing continuum and the Housing Strategy must address the entire continuum, not just one section of it.
But whose responsibility is affordable housing anyway? From the report: “All levels of government, the private sector and the non-profit sector have roles to play in addressing housing need in a community. Building on the findings of the 2020 Needs Assessment, the Housing Strategy is intended to help Kitchener maximize the use of senior government programs and private sector incentives to increase the supply of affordable housing for residents.” From the report:
The report outlines issues of supply and demand locally.
“Housing needs are not being met and the existing silo approach by levels of government, non-profits, institutions and the private sector is not as effective as needed. Filling the housing gaps cannot be met by market forces and the development industry alone. Significant investment from the federal and provincial governments in funding housing that fills the gaps is needed to meet people’s existing needs.” From the report:
The report sets out goals to increase transitional and supportive housing, community housing, and affordable rentals (less than $1300/month).
Focusing specifically on what Kitchener can do (in complement to upper levels of government), they seek to develop policies on Inclusionary Zoning, Lodging Houses, Parking Waivers, Parkland Dedication Waiver (for Affordable Housing), Community Improvement Plan, and HomeShare model (from Region of Waterloo).
The City is looking into the feasibility of several incentives for affordable housing to be built, including: Fee Waiver Policy for Not-for-Profits; interest-free deferral of development charges; reduction of development charges; and the creation of a Housing Reserve Fund.
The city wants to explore options to better utilize city land, including: identifying which lands may work well for affordable housing, a supportive/community housing pilot, and the feasibility of incorporating affordable housing into other city (re)development projects such as community centres and fire halls.
How best to advocate for affordable housing? The city must: “Jointly advocate for Provincial and Federal funding for housing acquisition, renovation and development of affordable housing and related supports along the housing continuum as part of community building, sustainability and economic recovery”
The strategy also advocates for a variety of funding opportunities in support of organizations such as House of Friendship, Reception House, and MennoHomes, as well as with private sector affordable housing developers.
Partnerships are essential to this work, as noted in the report: "Develop jointly a Region/City Charter to ensure more collaboration and opportunities to identify and address housing challenges in Kitchener. Continue working with the private sector and facilitate partnerships with non-profit partners to provide more affordable housing.
The city notes some of the challenges in collecting Kitchener-specific data and general areas in our local housing market that are proving problematic, including: renovictions, commodification of housing and speculation, and short-term rental markets.
The city says that there is a need for additional work to assess housing needs for: People who are experiencing homelessness; Indigenous Peoples; Seniors; Immigrants; Students; Future population; LGBTQ+; and Women.
Other work outlined in the report includes: tracking and monitoring renovictions, using the city’s social media to better inform and engage residents on housing issues, and establish a lived-experience advisory group to advise staff on housing issues, monitor implementation, and measure success.
That's a pretty comprehensive overview of the report. There are some additional things I'd like to share from the report, but this is already much too long, so that will be available in part 2 of this post! Thanks for reading.
If you've seen me cycling around town at all, chances are it was on this green bike of mine. Even though I have a couple of different bikes, this bike is my favourite and it really just makes me so happy to be out riding it. Some folks have asked me about when and why I got it. I thought I'd share a few of those reasons here.
It actually starts with a sad moment when my grandma passed away in 2017. She lived a full life though, living into her mid-nineties. Shortly after her passing, my mom informed me that grandma had left me a bit of money with which I was to do 'something fun'. I wasn't sure exactly what that would be.
I wanted to use it in a way that would make me think of my grandma. I thought of the fun times I had visiting her on her Manitoba farmhouse and all of the hours we spent in her big garden there. I wondered if I should do something in my garden with her financial contribution. But I have never had a strong green thumb and I wasn't sure that any gardening additions would qualify as 'something fun' for me!
I recalled the many tasty dishes we created in that farmhouse kitchen, often with recently collected fruits and vegetables from the garden. Maybe I should make a kitchen purchase, I wondered. However, much like a gardening addition, I suspected I would not do much justice with such a purchase.
This is part 2 of my posts on the snow clearing pilot project (you can read part 1 here). This one focuses on the appendices of the report.
Appendix A looks at weather patterns from last winter compared to the previous 5 winters. Last year, it looks like we had more days with snowfall between 2 and 8 cm and about the same number with snow events greater than 8 cm. Last year also looked slightly warmer than the average of the previous 5 years.
Appendix B is the proactive bylaw enforcement information pamphlet. Appendices C, D, and E are pilot area maps. Appendix F is the report on the survey.
According to the survey summary, residents are split on whether they support a tax increase to have the city take more responsibility for sidewalk snow clearing.
Appendix G is the focus groups report. Summary below. (Sorry the image is not more clear).
The focus group report outlines participants beliefs about city obligations and also about the value of calling by-law in response to unclear sidewalks. (Hint: most are hesitant to do so).
This quotation by a participant sums up why people are hesitant to call by-law.
The focus group also reached out to individuals not in either pilot. Overall, they preferred the full-service option compared to the snow event option, but had concerns about overall costs and whether the city could complete the work.
Interesting to note that the people who experienced the full service didn’t have either of these concerns.
This really sums up where things are and I think it’s important to note that many of the concerns about the full-service option were based on perceptions that the pilot participants tended to say were not actually an issue.
I have heard a few people say this but as a community, we haven’t come up with something yet that works as well as the full-service pilot.
That's it for the appendices. This goes to Committee on Aug 31st and then to Council on Sept 14th. You can reach out to your councillor prior to then if you'd like to provide any feedback on the pilot. Thanks for reading!
Earlier this week, I shared on Twitter some of the main points from the staff report on snow clearing. Some folks said they found it helpful (because not everyone wants to read a 100+ page staff report apparently!) so I thought I would share those highlights here as well. From my Twitter thread:
It may be scorching hot out but the City of Kitchener is discussing its plans for winter sidewalk maintenance soon. On Aug 31st the issue will be discussed at Committee and then it goes to Council on Sept 14th. You can read the staff report here, which does not recommend city sidewalk snow clearing.
Here’s a few conclusions from the staff report.
A quick overview of staff’s recommendations.
There were essentially 2 snow clearing pilot areas last winter. Here’s a summary of the ‘snow event’ pilot which only cleared snow when more than 8 cm fell. Satisfaction level for this pilot was 40% with 12% willing to pay for that service.
Here’s a chart that shows how the city rated the ‘passability’ of the sidewalks with and without service.
The second pilot area was the ‘full service’ pilot that cleared sidewalks after any snowfall. (Side note: I fell within this pilot area). There was an 80% satisfaction level with this service with 59% of residents in the pilot willing to pay for it.
Here’s a chart that shows how the city rated the ‘passability’ of the sidewalks with and without service.
And here’s a bit more of a breakdown of residents’ preferences before and after the pilot.
There were a couple of other things staff looked at as well including ‘priority routes’, proactive bylaw, assisted services, and a neighbourhood snowblower program. You can find details about those in the report (pages 4-5).
A survey and focus groups were run as well. Those results found that 54% of respondents preferred the status quo (no city-led snow clearing).
Here’s the staff summary of the ‘full service’ pilot.
Staff outline 4 options on pages 20-26 of the report.
City snow clearing of course would increase the city’s emissions, potentially impacting their GHG targets. However, as staff note, those increases may be balanced out by a decrease in community emissions.
While we’re discussing sustainability and environmental considerations, salt usage is another area of potential concern. Staff note the challenges of identifying that balance between city and community usage.
Now, I did find this bit of information about the cost efficiency of roads versus sidewalks interesting. It does appear that sidewalk snow clearing is not as cost efficient as clearing snow from roads for a few reasons as outlined here.
That's the main part of the report. There are several appendices that have some interesting information as well but I'll include that in Part 2 of this post, so watch for that if you're interested.
It’s been a bit of an interesting week and it all started with a tweet! On Aug. 14th, I tweeted the following "I've noted some benefits of the #COVIDlanes for me as a cyclist and as a driver, but I also like them as a pedestrian. I am walking along streets w/ cycling lanes more often as they provide an additional buffer/separation between me & vehicles, resulting in a better experience." The next day I saw that a local city councillor had retweeted that with the comment “You’re losing this one. The silent majority is starting to speak up”. That exchange started quite a bit of discussion. Of course, like all of these types of interactions, the ‘frenzy’ has died down and it’s allowed me some time to reflect on the interaction. Here’s a few of my thoughts from that experience.
A number of people weighed in to the conversation because they found the councillor’s tweet to be inappropriate or offensive in some way. My reaction to that tweet was not one of offense but rather surprise. I felt my original tweet was positive and it was related to a Regional project. So when I saw the negative response to it from a city councillor, I was a bit surprised, wondering why that was the tweet with which the councillor decided to interact. I was also a bit confused by the comment ‘You’re losing this one’. I was unclear about what I was losing at exactly.
However, the Twitter conversation became even more surprising to me as the councillor went on to say that the solution to this issue was that cyclists should be riding on the sidewalk. He then explained how he has been cycling along Westmount for years and simply uses the sidewalk. He suggested that pedestrians didn’t mind moving out of the way, and there were few pedestrians on that stretch anyway. He noted that there were ‘miles and miles of sidewalks not being used’ so encouraging cyclists to use that space, even though it’s against the law, seemed like a good solution to him.
It sounded like his experience riding on the sidewalk has been positive. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most people. Pedestrians often feel unsafe having to share the sidewalk with faster moving bicycles. Crossing intersections becomes problematic as well as drivers aren’t expecting cyclists to cross from the sidewalk, or cyclists must dismount at every street crossing – neither option is ideal. Also, research shows that Black and Brown people face additional criticism and anger when they are seen as ‘breaking the rules’. Asking BIPOC folks to ride their bicycles on the sidewalk may well put them in a vulnerable position.
The fact that the councillor was advocating for cyclists to ride on the sidewalks because it’s safer only seems to bolster the argument in favour of safer cycling infrastructure such as separated bike lanes.
Another topic of discussion that came out of this conversation was the cycling lobby. The councillor congratulated me, as part of the cycling lobby, on being so well organized in our response to his retweet. I have asked for clarification from the councillor on what exactly the cycling lobby is, as I am unclear what he’s referring to. Is it anyone who is in favour of cycling infrastructure or is it something more organized? I’m still unclear at this point. However, my concern about using references to a cycling lobby, is that it minimizes the ideas and concerns of certain residents who are asking for safer streets. I’m a resident who sees adding cycling infrastructure as one way to improve the safety for all road users, and our community at large. It feels frustrating to have those ideas dismissed as being part of a cycling lobby, and not simply as a resident.
Lastly, what I found most discouraging about the retweet was this idea that there are winners and losers in city-building conversations. My hope is that we all want to create a community that works well for all residents. We, of course, will have different ideas on how best to get there, but that’s why we do our research, engage in conversations, and try out possible ideas. I don’t consider that to be a win-lose endeavour. What can feel like a losing situation is when certain perspectives are not intentionally included (or perhaps even actively dismissed) in these conversations. The councillor mentioned that the silent majority is now speaking up. My worry is that if we only listen to the same voices that we usually do, we can never move past the status quo. I think our community can be so much more than just the status quo and that’s the reason I will continue to speak up on issues such as street safety, especially for our most vulnerable road users.