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.