I have been closely following discussions around the encampment at Victoria and Weber, including watching this week's Regional Council meeting where staff proposed a partnership with the Working Centre to allow encampment residents access to washrooms 24/7, which fortunately, was approved.
There have been various opinions shared and solutions proposed, and thankfully many of those proposals have prioritized the need for encampment residents to have access to the most basic of needs, access to washrooms.
However, in these discussions, some people on all sides of the issue have suggested that the issue is clear cut, black and white, even. And while I am in strong support of providing washroom access to residents, I'm not convinced that this is a simple issue. And I fear that calls to see it that way are not helpful in the long run.
I don't want politicians in power to see these kinds of issues as clear cut. Rather, I want elected officials to understand the many perspectives that exist, look at the research and evidence, and decide based on all of those factors. I want elected officials who are able to live in the tension of nuance and complexity. Yet, those in power must ensure that they do not remain stuck in that tension, resulting in inaction.
After hearing various perspectives, looking at what other cities do, and considering our role as a caring community who prioritizes the needs of our most vulnerable citizens, I firmly believe that providing (ideally, police-free) access to washrooms is the right move. But I didn't arrive at that decision because it's a black and white issue. I did so by learning what I could about the issue, listening to various concerns, and understanding what approaches have worked elsewhere.
I was pleased to see that Regional Council approved staff's recommendation to partner with the Working Centre to provide access to washrooms. While the issue is challenging, a decision and action was required.
We need politicians who understand the complexity of the issues our community faces. However, we must not let our elected officials use such complexity as a reason for inaction.
On April 12th, the Regional Council agenda includes an update on the Upstream Initiatives Fund (p.63 of the staff report). The staff recommendation is: that the Region endorse the guiding principles outlined in the report as the basis for the terms of reference for the Upstream Initiatives Fund and; that the full terms of reference for the Upstream Initiatives fund be developed by further engagement and collaboration with stakeholders, building on the work already started as part of the Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan framework.
A little bit of background on this fund: Regional Council approved the establishment of an Upstream Initiatives Fund on December 15, 2021. The fund amounts to $2.1 million annually. Staff were directed to create terms of reference and related activities. According to the report, this funding initiative provides an "opportunity for the Region to work differently with the community to develop community-centered models to create a vibrant, healthy and safe Waterloo Region. Since the creation of the fund, staff have been exploring ways to mobilize the funding in ways that align with current strategy, policy and community need."
The recommended principles (p.64 of the report) are that the Upstream Initiatives Fund should:
The staff report also states: "While downstream initiatives are required to respond to existing needs and generally take less time to achieve results, the more upstream the action, the greater the potential for population health gains and health-related cost savings." (p.66)
The Upstream Initiatives Fund was established in the amount of $2.1 million funded in 2022 from the property tax levy $1.6 million and a $500,000 Transition Fund funded from the Tax Stabilization Reserve and funded annually thereafter from the property tax levy 67
As for next steps, the staff report states: “With Council endorsement of this approach, staff will continue to collaborate and engage community leaders, organizations, sectors leaders and stakeholders in co-designing a model for launch this summer. Prior to launch of the model, staff will bring an update to Council with a terms of reference for the Upstream Fund. The recommended approach would be a developmental or pilot approach where exploration, experimentation, and refinement of the model will occur based on an iterative process for reflection, responsiveness, feedback and input.”
The Planning and Works Committee meets at 9am on April 12th and a couple of transportation items stood out to me. You can see the full agenda and staff reports here.
First up is a review of Iron Horse Trail Crossings of Regional Roads: The recommended motion is that council approve the installation of a Level 2 Pedestrian Crossover – Type C, on Borden Avenue at the Iron Horse Trail Crossing.
If you're curious as to what's involved in selecting crossing types, the report states that "criteria used to establish the need for additional control for trail users includes a review of pedestrian volume, delay to those pedestrians crossing, vehicular traffic volume and a detailed assessment of the roadway characteristics. In general, to consider additional pedestrian control, a minimum of 100 pedestrians crossing the roadway must be observed during the highest 8-hour period."
Staff surveyed pedestrian and vehicular volumes on Borden Avenue at the Iron Horse Trail crossing; the survey observed that 66 pedestrians and 94 cyclists crossed Borden Avenue during an 8-hour period, thereby warranting a Level 2 PXO, Type C.
A Level 2 PXO, Type C consists of signs, pavement marking and rapid rectangular flashing beacons. Pedestrians may (but are not required to) activate the beacons to alert motorists when they intend to cross Borden Avenue.
A review of the Queen Street/Iron Horse Trail crossing shows that there was a combined total of 880 pedestrians and cyclists crossing Queen Street at the Iron Horse Trail, with 316 of those users delayed greater than 10 seconds. Combining these active modes of travel with vehicular volume shows that a pedestrian / cyclist traffic control signal is warranted. Staff are working with the Railway Authority to implement a signals interconnect system with the nearby railway signal located west of the Iron Horse Trail crossing.
The estimated costs for the Level 2 Pedestrian Crossover on Borden Avenue and the pedestrian/cyclist traffic signals on Queen Street are $17,000 and $135,000, respectively.
Regional staff does not recommend a separate Level 2 Pedestrian Crossover nor a separate Pedestrian/Cyclist Traffic Signal at the Courtland/Stirling intersection, nor on Victoria Street just west of Strange Street / West Avenue, because adjacent traffic control signals are situated less than 100m away from these crossings. Provincial guidelines recommend that Level 2 Crossings or Pedestrian Traffic Signals not be installed when an adjacent traffic signal or controlled crossing is less than 200m away to avoid potential operational and safety concerns.
Given this constraint, Regional staff are in the process of redesigning the connection between the trail and the existing signalized intersection at Courtland Avenue and Stirling to include a new multi-use trail connection and cyclist crossrides. It is anticipated that construction will begin in July 2022. Regional staff will initiate a review of Victoria Street at Strange Street / West Avenue for similar enhancements / opportunities.
Micromobility is also on the agenda. The first recommended motion: That the Regional amend Traffic and Parking Bylaw to add the definition and provisions for the use of electric kick-scooters (“e-scooters”) with an effective date of July 1, 2022. The second recommended motion: That the Region approves the Shared Micromobility Implementation Plan in principle and authorize staff to issue a request for proposals, in coordination with the Cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo, for a shared micromobility operator.
The Region's Community Services Committee meets on April 12th at 12:30pm. The (339 page!) agenda can be found here. Several items relate to housing and homelessness - let's take a closer look.
10-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan 2021 Annual Report (p.6). The recommended motion is: That the Regional Municipality of Waterloo approve the 10-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan 2021 Annual Report (with the goal of adding 2,500 affordable homes across the Region by 2026). This plan signals a shift in prioritizing the creation of new affordable homes, with 619 in development at the end of 2021, compared to the 117 new affordable homes developed from 2018-2020. This report also notes that the Region's "efforts saw 508 individuals supported into affordable housing in 2021 and maintained zero chronic homelessness for families." In 2021, the Region invested approximately $124M on Housing Services: $94.9M for housing and homelessness operating programs and an additional $28.9M for affordable housing related capital projects, which included Waterloo Region Housing (WRH) capital renewal, affordable housing projects initiated through the RFP process, and expansion projects within the WRH Master Plan (p.8).
2022-2023 Homelessness Prevention Program Investment Plan (p.22) This report outlines a proposed 2022-2023 Investment Plan to guide the implementation of the consolidated Homelessness Prevention Program with the goals of preventing and addressing homelessness and reducing chronic homelessness. The recommended motion is: That the Region: Approve the recommended 2022-2023 Investment Plan for submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Transfer of Ownership of Affordable Housing Properties (p.37)This report seeks Council approval to consent to the change of control of the ownership of the Properties and with new mortgages on the existing affordable housing units to extend the affordability duration. Recommended Motion: That the Region: Consent to the change of control of King Street Holdings Limited which owns four affordable housing properties situated at the following locations: • 274 Highland Road East, Kitchener; • 144 Highland Road West, Kitchener; • 44 Walnut Street, Kitchener; and • 230 Lena Crescent, Cambridge.
Building Better Futures: Creating New Affordable Housing through Surplus Regional Lands (p.45). The disposition of three Regional sites could add up to an estimated 119 new affordable homes as determined by the results of each respective Request for Proposals process. This focus presents a strategic opportunity to add greater affordable housing options in our community (p.46). Recommended Motion: That the Region take the following actions to create new affordable housing using three surplus Regionally owned properties: Authorize staff to proceed with a Request For Proposals process for each of the Surplus Properties. The report also states that one of the three projects should support the use of a long term land lease (versus sale) on a pilot basis and establish a baseline term of affordability of 40 years with any land sale of the Surplus Properties. The staff report notes: "Through a series of intra-municipal meetings, and through the Housing and Homelessness Leads Committee, staff are working on identifying coordinated incentives to promote the development of affordable housing across the region. This work presents an opportunity to introduce new incentives to facilitate greater interest, financial viability and affordability through the disposition process. The timing of these tools will need to be factored into the release of the RFPs, and work is underway to explore incentives for incorporating into the RFPs."
Kitchener Council is voting on a proposed 11 storey mixed-use residential building at 660 Belmont Ave, on February 28th. Council has already had 2 meetings on this proposal totaling over 11 hours as residents spoke on this issue. While most delegates opposed the proposal, I spoke in favour. Here's what I had to say.
Thanks for the opportunity to speak on this proposal. And, thanks to the many delegations who have spoken on this issue already. While I don’t share all of the concerns of the delegations, I appreciate them taking the time to share their perspectives. Add to that Councillor Johnston’s proposed motion for future discussions and plans for Belmont Village, I’m actually really excited about what’s to come for this neighbourhood. Perhaps this development could be the impetus for some engaging and important community conversations.
I am quite familiar with this area as I use the Iron Horse Trail to commute to and from work daily. One of the things that excites me about this proposal is its proximity to the trail and the opportunity for expanded activations and connections between the trail and Belmont Village.
I do want to respond to some of what I heard and noticed in the delegations so far.
The first thing I noticed was how many of the delegations were homeowners in the area, many of whom noted how long they have lived in the neighbourhood. Of course, that makes sense. We tend to pay most attention to those issues happening close to us. I only note this because it highlights an important group that we rarely hear from at these kinds of meetings, but need to consider nonetheless and that is of future residents. We don’t often hear from people who may move into these homes but I believe future residents would be very supportive of this proposal.
Now we did hear from a few nearby neighbours who mentioned that this kind of development could be exactly the thing that allows them to stay in their beloved neighbourhood when they are ready to downsize. When I hear of these situations, I’m reminded of my 85 year old neighbour, who has lived in the neighbourhood for over 40 years. Her spouse passed away a few years ago and her children have all long moved from their childhood home. My neighbour has commented that the house is just too big for her and she’s finding it challenging to stay there at times. However, she’s reluctant to downsize as she’s so connected to everyone in the neighbourhood and doesn’t want to give that up. This kind of proposal could be the very type of thing that my neighbour would benefit from if it existed in our neighbourhood.
I heard several delegates who were disappointed by the lack of 3 bedroom units in this proposal, often commenting that families are what ‘make neighbourhoods’. While I suggest we need all sorts of household combinations to create awesome neighbourhoods, I understand the desire to ensure our neighbourhoods are inclusive of larger families and multi-generational families. However, I think we are misguided to assume that any one development can be everything to everyone. We must take more of a macro view and look to the neighbourhood as a whole. In Kitchener, the majority of our residential neighbourhoods are zoned for low-rise, meaning anything of much height or density is excluded from many neighbourhoods. I agree that we need a diversity of housing, which is why I am supportive of this proposal. The surrounding neighbourhood is largely single-detached and low-rise housing. And while we must be inclusive of larger families, the 2016 Census data notes that 60% of households in Kitchener are made up of either one or two people, so clearly there is also a need for one and two bedroom homes.
Another thing I heard from delegations were many references to luxury condos that are simply unaffordable. And while I agree that we need much more purpose built affordable housing, I am often perplexed at how we consider condos to be the 'bad guys' of housing affordability and not single-detached housing. In December, the average sale price for all residential properties in KW was just over $840,000. The average price of a detached home was over $1,000,000 while the average sale price for an apartment-style condominium was $500,352. While these condos do not offer the deeply affordable housing our community is also in need of, they do provide a less expensive option to single family housing.
As I noted, we must do much better in providing purpose built affordable housing. Fortunately our community has some terrific ways of doing this with folks like Indwell, SHOW, and MennoHomes. This proposal includes a contribution to the great work that MennoHomes is doing in our community. And as we heard from Dan Dreidger on Monday night, this plan has been in place from early on and MennoHomes is able to leverage that kind of donation into much more than any private developer could do on their own. I appreciate that so many people are concerned about affordability. I’d encourage those residents to connect with one of the many organizations regularly advocating for exactly that. How great would it be to have this kind of turn out at council meetings about affordable housing issues?
We have heard from many residents in the Belmont Village neighbourhood and it’s clear they ‘love their hood’. I believe this proposal will help welcome more residents to a terrific neighbourhood. In addition to providing homes for more residents, those new neighbours will also become customers of the beloved local shops and services, ensuring the long term success of a vibrant Belmont Village. Plus, a wonderful non-profit will be able to utilize this donation to create more affordable and supportive housing in our community. For all of these reasons and more, I am happy to support this proposal and I urge council to do the same.
A recent CBC article shared the responses of several Regional councillors regarding the 2022 budget. You can read their responses here, but I wanted to share a few things that stood out to me from those responses.
First, Councillor Clarke stated "Inherent in the word 'reallocation' is the assumption that not only must money be invested in preventative and supportive services, but that that money must be matched by equivalent – or greater – reductions in police funding ... I don't agree with that.” I think this ignores the harms that policing has on communities, especially for Indigenous and Black folks, and those experiencing poverty or are unhoused.
Clarke also said “the longer-term impact of (police) reform, combined with more spending on outreach services, "may result in reduced reliance on policing ... and potentially savings in police spending. (But) it takes time for [outreach and affordable housing] investments to pay off." I agree that it takes time for some of these efforts to really take root. However, we must also decide to invest heavily in those upstream services. We can’t continue to have policing be such a large budget line, with all other services and supports receiving much, much less investment, and then be surprised that the upstream services aren’t providing the ‘results’ we had wanted.
Clarke said it was clear delegations at Wednesday night's public input meeting had a united message but noted "this is, in fact, a matter on which the larger community is very divided." While I agree that there are concerns about reducing the police budget, but many, many people support strong and continued investment in compassionate life-affirming services and organizations, so let's start deeply investing in those.
Clarke concludes: “I don't believe the time is right for defunding of police. I believe we have a lot of groundwork to do, first." Well, then let’s get to it! We had very similar conversations at last year’s budget time and here we are again. Let’s get serious about investing in alternative approaches so we don’t find ourselves having the same conversations for the 2023 budget.
Councillors Jaworksy and Shantz both mentioned that the WRPS made a good case for why they need more funding. Jaworsky noted, "The [police] chief provided a lot of compelling information on how to improve service levels in 2022, as we are a growing community, and resourcing issues that cause delays," . And Shantz said, “But, crime is increasing in the region as are calls for police service and Larkin has indicated the service needs more officers.” To me, this demonstrates how we prioritize the police over all other services and supports in our community. When do organizations like House of Friendship, the Sexual Assault Support Centre, or any of the many other organizations doing important work get their own budget meeting with Regional councillors to make the case that they also need more funding? We saw that House of Friendship was facing closure for the first time in its history – might they, and other organizations, also make good cases for much needed funding? I suspect so, but they do not have the same opportunities to do so.
Councillor Kiefer stated “I do know that the police have provided and will continue to assist in outreach services and mental health issues.” This makes me think that some of the councillors missed the point of several delegations who were calling for less police involvement in mental health calls and support for a police-free, community-led alternative.
He also said he felt like many delegations who spoke before council Wednesday night "did not have all the facts correct." This seems like a pretty big claim to not be followed up by any examples. I hope Councillor Kiefer will clarify what facts he thinks were incorrect. He, and all of the councillors, also had the opportunity to ask clarifying questions of any of the delegates but chose not to.
Councillor McGarry highlighted the importance of preventative and supportive services, mentioning Cambridge, "where the city and region are moving toward establishing a consumption and treatment site, which will ease police pressures and involvement in overdoses." This is just one example of what investing in alternative, police-free models can look like. Let’s see more of it.
Councillor Nowak, and several other councillors, mentioned the need for 'balance'. I’d love to see balance in our funding, actually! But right now, the police budget is prioritized over all other funding – so, sure, let’s bring some balance to this and shift more funding to preventative services.
Councillor Shantz said that, “she heard the delegations ask for more funding for upstream initiatives to prevent crime and to freeze funding for the police service (but) didn't hear what services do they want frozen or reduced?" I suspect that’s largely due to being told constantly that the Region doesn’t control specific budget lines in the police budget. However, I am sure most delegations have some thoughts on areas that could be frozen or reduced. For me, the main areas that come to mind are mental health calls and traffic enforcement. But there are many other options as well.
I don’t know how you listen to delegate after delegate at the Dec. 8th meeting and come away with Councillor Nowak’s conclusion of "We need more police presence, not less.” We have been trying to police our way out of some of these issues for far too long. It’s time to re-imagine what community wellbeing can really be. I’d encourage all of our councillors to listen to this podcast.
Thankfully, Councillor Galloway raised some important points. "There is a growing realization in the community that we can not police our way out of crime," Galloway said. "Investments in upstream activities is best. I want to invest in measures that will reduce demand on police and that will deal with social determinants of health that will improve human outcomes and reduce criminal justice and health-care systems interactions.”
I think focusing on the social determinants of health, as opposed to policing, is a really great start to move us towards a more compassionate and caring community.
Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
The Region of Waterloo's most recent newsletter highlights how saving water at home is good for the environment and good for your wallet. The free Water Efficient Technology (WET) Program has helped save water since 2015. This program provides a visit from an expert advisor who reviews a home’s water use and gives personalized tips on the best ways to save. Find out more about the program here.
Did you know that every 6 days in Canada, a woman is killed by her intimate partner. By July 2021, the number of femicides in Ontario had already surpassed the total number of femicides that occurred the previous year. You can help! Walk with Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region on Saturday, November 20th, 2021 for Voices Empower: Walk to Break the Silence in recognition of Woman Abuse Prevention Month.
A recent report coming out of the States shares how "many police foundations' top corporate sponsors made public statements in support of Black Lives Matter while providing a corporate slush fund for police." Learn more about how police foundations, according to the report, are "protecting corporate interests and enabling state-sanctioned violence against Black communities and communities of color."
Have your say! Find out about Kitchener's proposed budget and provide your feedback. The survey is open until Dec. 6th and final budget day is Dec 16th.
The Globe and Mail reported this week: "Ontario’s highest court has ruled that the Crown violated the terms of treaties from 1850 by capping annual payments at a few dollars per person to Indigenous peoples who ceded a vast area of the northern part of the province." You can read key points from that article in this thread.
So, what caught your attention this week?
Happy Friday everyone! Today's Friday Five includes updates on A Better Tent City, Pumpkinpalooza, and municipal and regional budget season.
While Fall brings cozy hoodies, colourful leaves, and all things pumpkin spice flavour, it also means it's budget season for local and regional governments. The Region of Waterloo has three public input sessions on Nov 1st, Nov 24th, and Dec 8th. This is a great time to speak as a delegate (or write your councillors) to support funding for upstream services, climate action, an Indigenous hub, and affordable housing.
The Schneider Haus Museum is hosting an exhibit entitled "UN/COVERINGS - Mennonite and Muslim Women’s Heads and Hearts". This exhibit asks questions such as: Why do Muslim head coverings cause such visceral reactions? Do Mennonite bonnets provoke the same response? The exhibit is on until May 2022.
A Better Tent City has found a new (still somewhat temporary) home - near their original location - on Ardelt Ave.
As #CoopMonth winds down, here's an article about how community control of housing and land can help solve the housing crisis. There is a lot that I love about this article, but here's just one quote as an example: "Alternatives are out there, but we have to recognize how difficult it is to see them because of many generations now of both public policy and the commodification of everyday life."
Don't throw away your carved pumpkin once the calendar turns to November! Instead, take it over the the Victoria Park clock tower to display with other pumpkins to light up the park! Happening November 1st, at 6:45pm.
Thanks for reading and I hope you have a restful and enjoyable weekend.
Happy Friday everyone! Here are five things I found worth knowing about this week:
With the holiday season not too far away, and rumours of supply chain challenges, why not support #LandBackCamp by purchasing items from their Holiday Auction.
The Sexual Assault Support Centre's Male Allies program is a "six-week program for men dedicated to talking about masculinity, including how masculinity impacts men and women, girls, queer, and non-binary people in our communities. At its core, it aims to dismantle patriarchy and end sexual and gender-based violence." The next session starts Nov 4th.
At Kitchener Council this past Monday, council approved a plan to reduce speed limits to 40km/hr on residential streets and further reduce the limit to 30km/hr in school zones. You can read the press release here.
It's #coopweek and I have loved learning about all sorts of new co-operatives, both locally and globally. I found this video, which highlights a couple of co-operatives and how they are dealing with the pandemic, quite interesting.
Speaking of co-operatives, I was thrilled that Union Co-operative was profiled in the Record yesterday (paywalled article). I think this 'first in Canada' model has the potential to make some real change locally in its efforts to permanently preserve housing affordability through community ownership. If you have any questions about Union's approach, I am happy to chat!
Well, it's been far too long since I posted anything here so I thought I might try something new - the Friday Five. These will be 5 items 'of note' that I share on (most?!) Fridays. It might be an event, an article, a tweet - anything that I found interesting or worth knowing about that I think others may want to know of as well. I'm not sure if it will be a weekly thing or not. Let's give it a try and see what happens :) With that rather lacklustre introduction, here is the first Friday Five!
It looks like the Region has launched a new newsletter "To help you get to know our people and services better". Interested? You can subscribe to it here.
The Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation released their Vital Signs report on Affordable Housing, this week. It is full of a lot of important local stats, information, and ideas from community leaders. Read it here.
October offers many 2SLGBTQ+ awareness days, including National Coming Out Day and International Pronouns Day. The folks at Lunaria have listed 8 awareness days and a short summary of why each is important.
The Woodland Cultural Centre has a variety of events available, including their Mohawk Institute Residential School Virtual Tours. I have attended the online video event and I highly recommend participating.
And lastly, Cambridge Council made a (surprise) decision this week, to endorse 150 Main St as the best location for a CTS site.
Those are 5 things that stood out to me this week. What would you add to this list?