Over the last few years I have become quite interested in housing issues, especially those related to affordability. I also love learning about various housing models that exist, including land trusts and housing co-operatives. I don't consider myself an expert by any means, but as someone who is quite passionate about housing, I have come to the conclusion that we have a land problem.
And this land problem is not simply an issue of what can or should be built where. It's much deeper than that. I believe it's rooted in our beliefs about our relationship with the land.
In many of the housing discussions I follow, there is some debate about who can do what with a certain parcel of land. One property owner wants to build something that a nearby property owner objects to. As we see our city grow and build, there are no shortage of examples of disagreements about what can be built where.
Concerns from neighbours about what's being built near them often seem heightened when what's proposed involves providing shelter or services that support those who are often pushed to the margins by our existing systems - those without shelter, those who use drugs, those who are dealing with mental health challenges, and so on.
We are seeing that play out right now as the residents of A Better Tent City are in search of a new location for their homes. They have been told they must leave their current space by June 20th. After many discussions, a possible new location has been found in Woolwich Township. Waterloo Region residents are divided on the issue with supporters seeing this as a good location that will work for ABTC residents, and opponents fearful of how their existing community will potentially be impacted by new neighbours.
While I fall squarely into the supporters category because I don't believe that we have a right to choose who gets to live near us and who doesn't, I still can't help but wonder if we might be looking at this issue with the wrong lens. And it all comes back to land and our relationship with it.
In almost every discussion I hear regarding objections to a proposed development or change, opponents reference the fact that they are a home owner, a property owner, and that they pay taxes so they should be listened to. Let's put aside for a moment the many, many problems I have with those arguments, and just take a look at the bigger issue here around the assumptions about land - that we 'own' it and therefore get to decide how it should be 'used'. I am starting to see how that may be at the root of many of our housing challenges.
I think we have a lot to learn from Indigenous Peoples in this (and many other) area(s). I am no expert in this area either, but as I read more about Land Back and the relationship Indigenous Peoples have with the land, I see value in that. It seems to me the relationship with land should be less about ownership and more about stewardship - how can we take care of the land so it can provide for generations to come?
If we view our housing discussions through the lens of stewards of the land, how will that change those discussions? I suspect it will lead to more compassionate and caring decisions around 'land use'. An 'ownership' lens may require that Woolwich demand planning applications and processes are followed before deciding if these residents can access this space. A stewardship lens may instead see the urgency in finding these residents a place to live and not demand that the 'planning rules must be adhered to at all costs'.
Perhaps, using that stewardship lens, will allow us to see the value in having a small community of people put up some tiny homes on a small piece of rural land and build a garden and a home.