Here were my responses to the Neighbourhood Debate held on September 26th in Kitchener. Unfortunately I was unable to attend the debate due to the delivery of my first grandchild - Leonardo Liborio. It was an amazing experience to share with my daughter and her husband. My husband read out my responses to the 5 questions.
What are two changes you would propose to improve the quality of life in Ward 9?
As a downtown ward, Ward 9 is a destination place for residents from around the city. It is one of the wards experiencing the greatest changes and challenges. Some of these changes include rapid extensive development, increased levels of homelessness, evidence of public drug consumption, people being driven out of their homes, and an aging population of people existing on a fixed income. The two changes I would propose to improve the quality of life in Ward 9 are more affordable housing units and more community space targeting seniors and youth. Here I will focus on the second issue and address affordable housing in the answer to question 4.
As I said in my introduction, while on the Safe and Healthy advisory committee I participated in the “Inclusion” subcommittee. We held focus groups to learn what each community group did and how the city could make their jobs easier. The biggest lesson we learned was there is not enough free space for community groups to do the amazing work they do. Community centres are free to neighbourhood associations but not to other groups – sports fields are fully booked by City-recognized minor sports associations, and outside groups have to pay formidable prices if they are able to find available time slots.
Kitchener has one seniors’ centre, which was at risk of closing four years ago. At that time I stood in solidarity with people who frequented Rockway Seniors’ Centre when they felt their space was under threat. Our aging population should feel safe and have at their disposal services and activities that help prevent depression caused by feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Youth need to feel a sense of importance and the ability to make decisions about their own lives. Far too often adults dictate what youth need, and services are provided based on these needs. Let’s give agency to youth by engaging in a general survey detailing what they do, what they would like to do and what they would need to meet those goals.
MACKS and KYAC are good starts, but given the current political economy, much more needs to be done to address the real problems faced by these two very important sectors of society.
2.What additional public resources will the City provide to the downtown neighbourhoods to help with the increased pressures due to intensification and an almost doubling of our population over the next ten years?
As intensification increases in the downtown neighbourhoods I would want to ensure that we require public green-space at every development site, plus interconnected walkable and bikeable trails and community space for not only the residents of the new buildings but for those of the surrounding communities.
The SIXO development project refers to community space as something they are “considering.” Let’s make it a requirement and not just something to be considered. We currently have just two community centres in the Ward – Mill Courtland and Rockway Seniors’ Centre. As its name says, Rockway is primarily for seniors. That is, Ward 9 has two community centres to accommodate over 20,000 people. Already Mill Courtland is fully booked. Intensification means not just new buildings but also more people. It follows that creating healthy communities means providing activities to keep people engaged. We have to recognize that beyond the neighbourhood association activities there are many groups of people, including ethnic, socio-political, indigenous, LGBTQ, environmental and arts groups, which already have organized activities. The city needs to provide more resources such as free community space to ensure that these groups are able to continue to do the amazing work that they do.
3. It seems that real estate development is all around us in Ward 9. What is your vision and what will be your stance on development in our neighborhoods and particularly as it relates to heritage buildings and neighbourhoods?
Development is happening. It is better that we build up rather than out. Hold the Line is a very active group reminding us of the importance of protecting rural lands. Nevertheless, development must be done responsibly. Developers must be required to respect the new Crozby zoning bylaws, RIENS, PARTS, Tall Buildings and the Urban Design Manual. These are rules and guidelines that the City has adopted, yet not yet implemented. I’ve often said that the guidelines must be turned into bylaws to give them teeth.
My stance on development is to urge neighbourhood residents to get together to hold developers to account, as exemplified by the Mount Hope-Breithaupt development committee. I have been participating in a Downtown development committee that has looked at some of the current land development projects. On Monday, one of the items on the city council meeting agenda was to determine whether the heritage buildings at 254 and 262 Queen St. S. should be preserved or whether the developer could go ahead and demolish them in order to build an 8 storey residential building. After a lengthy discussion, and approaching one o’clock in the morning, city council voted against demolition. Unlike the other candidates, I was one of the delegations at this meeting speaking against demolition. I reminded councillors to respect Heritage Districts as determined by their predecessors. You can find my presentation at www.debbiechapman.ca
4. Rapidly rising rents are making it challenging for young people and families to afford suitable housing. What would you do as a City councillor to promote the construction of more family friendly affordable housing?
We have knocked on over 9,000 doors in the Ward in the past couple of months. Given that many people are on fixed incomes and that others struggle from pay cheque to pay cheque because of the precarious nature of the job market, there are generalized concerns about the impact downtown development is having on the supply and price of rental units in general and affordable units in particular. Intensification is needed, people will say to me, but surely it can be done without negatively impacting the lives of people who already live downtown. There is a Region of Waterloo affordable housing waiting list with over 4,100 families – that is 600 more than were on that list in 2010 when I first ran for office. Many wait for over 7 years to get housed. People are being driven out of the downtown by high rents and the sale of multi-plex homes.
As your elected representative, and in the spirit of the policy adopted by the City of Amsterdam in 2017 that requires 40% of all new residential buildings to be affordable, I would propose a bylaw requiring that 20% of the units in all new residential buildings be affordable housing. Furthermore, to be affordable would mean to be at a rate no greater than 25% of an Ontario Works pension. 5% of these units would be required to be 2 or 3 bedroom units.
Rather than giving developers bonus points for including affordable units in their buildings, I would encourage the city to sign onto the Provincial “Inclusionary Zoning” provision that allows municipalities to “require affordable housing units to be included in residential developments of 10 units or more”.
I’ve watched some city councillors talk about affordable housing as if it is just a nice idea, yet they have no plan on how to make it happen. Now it’s time to act. Affordable housing has to be a collaborative effort requiring determination on the part of councillors to really make a difference – We need action and not just words.
5. Location of health services for people with addiction issues is a contentious issue. Do you support establishing Safe Consumption Sites including safe injection sites for harm reduction in Ward 9 neighbourhoods?
Safe consumption sites are a necessity in this growing city where people are dying from overdosing and getting sick from unhygienic needles. A number of things need to be in place for them to function properly.
First they must not be placed in private hands.
Second, they must include properly funded wrap-around programs (including police services, social service providers, mental health and addiction specialists). Providing safe and clean sites has proven to reduce overdose deaths and cases of HIV Aids and other similar diseases that put a heavy burden on the Ontario healthcare system.
Third, supports to residents living near the sites must be in place. People have many concerns and their concerns should be taken seriously.
Finally, in conjunction with these harm reduction measures, as a society we need to figure out why drug addiction is on the rise and address the roots of the problem. We must come up with measures to help prevent drug addiction and homelessness and not just patch the problem. We need to find ways to create more full-time employment opportunities with benefits and stop the growth of the precarious labour market that is causing great harm to people of all ages including youth. Solving the affordable housing crisis to help people get back on their feet could serve as a preventative measure.
I am not adverse to a safe consumption site in Ward 9. I support anything that will protect people and save lives. On its own though, it will not solve the problem.