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?
Like Kae Elgie in this article, I also support the idea of the city and Region adopting a climate budget to help us better understand the environmental impact of municipal actions and decisions. Without such a budget, environmental decisions can be unclear or even worse, ignored altogether.
In regards to the proposal for 16-20 Queen St N, the article notes that Ms. Elgie “says the implicit carbon costs of demolishing and then constructing a new building in its place are high.” I think a carbon budget could better help us understand the impacts of new buildings, but the fact that new homes have an environmental impact is one of the reasons I often advocate for more density, not less, especially when demolition of existing buildings is needed.
Which is why I am somewhat perplexed by the ACO’s advocacy regarding the Mill St proposal. The development originally proposed nearly 200 homes, though several existing buildings would be demolished. Many neighbourhood residents and members of the ACO advocated for a reduction in height and density on this site. Given the environmental costs of demolishing buildings to create new housing, shouldn’t we demand that we make full use of that space and build more homes for our community?
A carbon budget could also help us better understand the totality of the impacts of a new development. For example, one of the things that I see as a real win both for affordability and sustainability is that no new parking will be built. The developer has a partnership with the City of Kitchener who will share a municipal parking lot with residents requiring parking. The article says “the building’s expected carbon footprint is low, mainly because residents will be able to use the city of Kitchener’s nearby parking garage. This means the company does not need to construct a new parking lot. This will save 4,400 tonnes of concrete.” Those kinds of environmental benefits would be factored into a carbon budget.
The article states, “Developers should be pitching their ideas in better ways, says Elgie. “Sell it to us on the basis of what you can do for the environment, pitch it to us that way.” It feels to me that the developers for the 16-20 Queen St N development have at least started that conversation. In addition to shared parking, given this proposal’s location, near transit and amenities, many residents may choose not to have any parking at all. Creating dense, walkable communities is another win for environmental sustainability.
And lastly, I have mostly focused this discussion on the environment, but we can’t forget that we are in a housing crisis. As noted in the article, “These 238 homes have to go somewhere in the city.” Also, building 238 single-detached homes at the edge of our city would have huge environmental impacts as well.
I absolutely believe that we are in a Climate Emergency and must take significant and important actions to address that. One way to do that is to create neighbourhoods that reduce our reliance on a vehicle and help us to build up so we don’t have to build out.
Kitchener Council discussed an ‘intent to designate’ for 16-20 Queen St North on June 28th, 2021. The development proposal from Momentum Developments actually falls within existing zoning rules so it would not normally require council approval. However, at the June Heritage Kitchener meeting, the committee decided they wanted to pursue an ‘intent to designate’ this property, which requires the approval of council.
Many people on social media weighed in with arguments for and against designating this building as heritage. Those in favour of full designation believe that there are few examples of such a well-maintained and intact building from over 100 years ago. Many people suggested that if we don’t designate this building, what other building could even qualify for such a designation? Those who opposed full designation wondered what benefit to the community there was in keeping such a building when it is not accessible to the public for the vast majority of the time, and wouldn’t this space be better used for housing and community space?
I spoke as a delegation at the meeting in opposition to designating the entire building and I’d like to outline a few of the reasons why. It is not because I am ‘devoted to developers’ as Councillor Gazzola referred to those who opposed this designation. Nor was it that I am convinced by the ‘red herring’ (another comment by Councillor Gazzola) that this development contributes significantly to affordable housing locally. Instead, here are some of the reasons that I think this development proposal should proceed.
First, the proposal will maintain the front façade and some of the ‘returns’ (the sides of the building). I understand that is not the same as keeping the entire building in tact. But I still think there is value in this and I’ll explain more on that shortly.
While I am certain this proposal will not solve the housing crisis in our Region, it does offer what I consider to be some positive actions that will help in some way. 21 of the units in this proposal meet the Region’s definition of ‘affordable housing’. No, it’s not a lot, but it is much more than what I am seeing in other development proposals. In addition to that, the developers have entered a partnership with a local non-profit who will receive $500,000 to build affordable housing that includes supports for residents. Why not build those units in their own development? It is likely the non-profit builder can leverage these funds in a way that will allow them to build nearly 10 times the amount of housing than the developers could for the same price. So, the developer could include 5 units in this build of deeply affordable housing (likely with no additional supports available to those residents) or they could earmark those funds and allow the non-profit to create nearly 50 affordable homes with needed supports.
Many of the delegations and some councillors suggested that we can save the building as well as add more housing to this space. Now, I have heard some heritage supporters express concerns over that model as they believe it hides or diminishes the original building. But leaving that aside for now, I agree that I have seen some examples (mostly in Toronto) where a building is preserved and housing is built on top of it. However, it is far more expensive to do that and those costs will be passed on to future residents. While it may be possible to maintain the existing building and add new housing, I don’t see how that can be done in a way that ensures some of the homes remain affordable, while also building additional deeply affordable and supportive housing.
I am also left wondering how our community truly benefits from saving the entire building instead of just the front. Currently, many heritage designated buildings are not accessible to most of the public, much of the time. We are fortunate to have a local annual event, Doors Open, that allows us access to some of these buildings one day a year. In fact, 16-20 Queen St North was one of the buildings open to the public in 2012 and over 600 people attended. However, allowing 600 members of the public to access this space one day nearly a decade ago, doesn’t feel like a true community asset. The Momentum proposal would add 2800 sq. ft. of community space – a wonderful place to showcase some of the stories and saved contents of this building. That plan feels like more of a community asset than preserving, but locking away, the entire building.
One of the biggest challenges with city-building discussions is that there are certain losses that feel very visible if we go in one direction, but proceeding in a different direction may very well also have losses but they may not be as obvious. For example, a recent neighbourhood information meeting had many residents saddened about the loss of trees with proposed denser housing in one area of the city. However, the alternative is to build ‘out’ where we lose much needed natural and farmlands. I think we have a similar situation here. Not designating this building seems like a loss to some. However, if we don’t add density to our existing neighbourhoods, we put pressure on our countryside line, on housing costs, and limit who may be able to live in this neighbourhood.
I concluded my delegation with the following statement: This development will bring much-needed housing to our city, provide funding for affordable homes through a partnership with a local non-profit, save the façade of a beautiful building, and through the creation of the community space, will increase access to this building. Additionally, this development proposes a great parking arrangement that allows residents to park in an existing municipal lot, without needing to build new parking spaces - that sounds like a big win both for sustainability and affordability. While I understand the desire to preserve beautiful buildings like this, I think that this project provides a balance of that preservation, even increasing access to it, while also creating more homes for our community.
Council voted 6-4 in support of a partial designation (saving the façade and some of the returns).
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.
If you follow conversations about affordable housing at all, you are likely familiar with IZ, or Inclusionary Zoning. Locally, we are hearing the term fairly often as many local municipalities are in various stages of considering or implementing IZ. Inclusionary zoning allows a municipality to require all new developments to have a certain percentage of affordable housing, and as I mentioned, many local municipalities are looking into it.
I became quite familiar with the term when I ran for local council in 2018. And I felt that it was definitely one tool that we should be implementing as a way to address the housing crisis. It seemed obvious to me at the time - we need more affordable housing and lots of new homes are being developed, so why wouldn't we put rules in place to require at least some of those new homes were affordable?
Three years later and I am less certain that IZ is the solution many of us had hoped it could be.
I definitely get the appeal, especially for elected officials who are hearing constantly from the community about the need for more affordable housing. Requiring a minimum amount of affordable homes from all new builds definitely feels like we are doing...something. But doing 'something' is not necessarily doing the 'right thing'. And to be clear, I am not convinced that inclusionary zoning is necessarily the wrong thing, but here are some of the reasons my thinking has shifted over time...
I believe strongly that one thing we need to address housing affordability is more housing supply. Supply on its own won't solve the problem, of course, but lack of supply seems to make everything worse. There is at least some evidence that inclusionary zoning can reduce new housing builds. Here is just one example from Portland. And, I know it feels like there is so much building happening, however, as this recent report states, "In the three years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, population grew nearly twice as fast as new housing units were being built."
I'm also becoming less certain that we should expect private developers to get us out of the housing crisis, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, new housing is the most expensive way to provide affordable housing. We have seen locally that any developments that include some affordable housing, well, you can likely count on one hand how many units are added. Even with IZ, it seems that 5-10% of units, at most, would be added. At least it's something, right? Perhaps. But I can't help but wonder if there is a better way to fund the affordable housing we need. Just one idea would be the creation of a levy of sorts that developers pay which is dedicated to maintaining or creating affordable housing in the community. I have a lot more to say about what that could look like, but will save it for another day.
Secondly, while I know that housing is essential in providing stability in one's life, having access to other supports is often beneficial as well. Simply having developers add a percentage of homes below market rent, may not meet the needs of many in our community, However, we have lots of non-profits doing great work in this area. What those non-profits often need however, is money. If instead of having builders build new affordable units, we had them contribute (significantly!) to these non-profits, might we come away with more homes that include any needed supports as well?
Lastly, I think one of the most important things we should be discussing in regards to affordable housing, is that we must have governments get back to providing social/community housing. It feels to me that the focus on inclusionary zoning shifts responsibility away from governments to drastically increase social housing, and on to private developers. While I think there is an important role for developers in providing the much needed supply of housing in general, I'm not convinced they are ever going to solve the housing crisis. We need governments to do that.
So, those are a few of my thoughts on inclusionary zoning, but I am definitely open to learning more. My thinking has shifted a lot in the last few years on this, and I suspect it will continue to do so. What do you think about inclusionary zoning?
At the May 11th Regional Council committee of the whole, council will discuss the "Affordable Housing Framework: Building a Better Future for All". I have outlined some of the main issues from the staff report (begins on page 61 of the agenda).
Firstly, the report states that more work must be done in order to provide the much needed affordable housing in our region: "The growing need for affordable housing has highlighted the importance of strategic Regional investments to create housing stability and achieve affordability for all. The amount of affordable housing within the Region of Waterloo is currently inadequate and addressing this issue is a major focus of Council."
Staff note that this work can't be done alone: "Region staff has been working collaboratively with area municipalities, housing and service providers, and the development community to identify sites and resources that will maximize the number of new affordable and supportive homes created through the Framework."
And addressing the housing crisis requires a multi-pronged approach. Staff believe this approach could involve: the creation of an affordable housing land portfolio (where the Region leverages lands they own for the development of affordable housing); a "Requests for Proposals Plan"; and an annual "plan to facilitate the engagement of Regional Council, community members, those we serve, and our partners in realizing the vision and meeting the objectives in the Framework.
This 5 year strategy seeks to create 2500 new affordable homes by 2026. In order to achieve that goal, the next steps, as outlined in the report, include:
• secure the right staff team to implement the Framework;
• Develop a community engagement plan;
• Complete site readiness assessments of existing Regionally-owned lands; and
• Finalize the elements of a land acquisition and disposition strategy.
This approach prioritizes people experiencing homelessness for housing based on their
needs and preferences using the Region’s coordinated access system. Staff believe that such an approach "enables targeted, multi-pronged approaches to supporting people into stable housing."
Staff note that affordable housing options should be paired with support measures which "promotes recovery from homelessness and longer-term housing stability. There is an urgent and growing need for housing support funding to address the unmet support needs of people experiencing homelessness in the region."
The report states that consistent provincial funding is essential to offering all of the needed services and supports. From the report: "As a social determinant of health, housing is foundational to promoting a healthy community for all. While affordable homes are essential in achieving this vision, the need for directed and sustained health funding for housing supports through the provincial government is vital to the ability of the Region and partners to end homelessness."
The report outlines the $20 million capital funding (2021-2022) for affordable housing here:
The committee of the whole meeting is May 11th, beginning at 9am. You can watch the live webcast here.