The Salvation Army Mega-Shelter & Ottawa’s Affordable Housing Deficit by Bruce McConville

Bruce Comm Debate 9 Oct

A home is more than a bed and a roof over your head. It is a place that is safe and secure. A place where one can find stability and have the confidence to be oneself free from judgment and prejudice. It is a basic human right not afforded to many in Ottawa.

We are suffering from a housing and homelessness crisis. Our numbers of homeless people and families are rising, as are their length of shelter stays. The waiting list for affordable housing exceeds ten thousand households with wait times exceeding four years.

To combat this, the City continues to allocate more and more tax dollars to emergency shelters. This is a band-aid response hearkening us back to the dark ages by diverting scarce resources away from prevention and permanent housing solutions, such as Housing First.

The strongest asset a mayor can bring to any city is courageous leadership. A mayor should be a motivating force, moulding council into an effective team working on a shared agenda of progress. A lot more can be achieved with our current resources at hand.

Too many potential partnerships with large financial asset holders such as Timbercreek or The Salvation Army, are lost. Our mayor must aim higher and build partnerships with these organizations to achieve win-win results for the people of Ottawa. These entities have gigantic pools of idle wealth our city can use to solve housing problems while still providing a good return on investment for developers.

My motivation for running as mayor of Ottawa is the realization that Jim Watson’s leadership ignores too many community concerns. Watson is blatantly in favour of rich developers and big interests. He exhibits little concern for the common good and taxpayers. He continually fails our communities by coercing council members to trade votes on planning issues that do not concern their Wards.

Mr. Watson does not engender teamwork and ignores the very reason that he and councillors were elected…to be the voices for their communities and act in our collective best interest. This critical era in Ottawa’s development is happening behind closed doors, to the detriment of our citizens, our future and Ottawa’s reputation.

Both federal and provincial funding strategies towards homelessness dictate a Housing First approach. Ottawa shamefully contravenes these directives.

Our shelters get paid for filling beds, not for getting their clients successfully established into stable housing. The Salvation Army gets paid the same whether a homeless man stays there for one day or many years. This must not be permitted to continue!

Ottawa is now well positioned to fully embrace the Housing First option. We have an opportunity to become a world leader in this humanitarian endeavor as befits our well-educated and affluent G7 capital.

The Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa clearly demonstrated in its Progress Report Review 2014-2017, that Watson and City of Ottawa staff have consistently failed to meet the targets laid out in their 10-Year Housing and Homelessness Plan.

Instead of focusing on tackling the problem at hand, they have chosen to celebrate minor accomplishments. With the 350-bed mega shelter proposed for Montreal Road, mayor Watson is on the record as having worked with the Salvation Army for over a year before their proposal became public. He then attacked Councillor Mathieu Fleury in an email exchange when Fleury opposed this long-failed approach.

Conspiring with developers against communities is no way for the mayor of our national capital to comport himself. Unfortunately, Watson’s deplorable behaviour is more the norm than the exception.

The residents of Somerset Ward recently had their Community Design Plan (CDP) flat out ignored by the mayor, planning committee, and council. They demonstrated a slavish devotion in putting the demands of developers before the needs of communities once again. City staff are equally complicit, treating community consultations as an annoying waste of time. This occurs whenever CDPs conflict with whatever development proposal comes before them.

Sadly, most of the proposals from developers do not include any affordable housing. This continues leaving the housing needs of low-income families unmet despite strong suggestions that all new developments include 25% affordable housing requirement. Barrhaven Councillor and Planning Committee Chair, Jan Harder, scoffed at this notion when it recently came up at a Council meeting.

The need for affordable housing is high and growing. This is evidenced by the lengthening wait list for Ottawa Community Housing units (OCH) which is now over 10,000 in number. This need is about to get worse as the low-income families of Herongate have been served eviction notices and are losing their homes. Many of these people will join the rapidly expanding ranks of homeless families in Ottawa. They will be housed in rundown motels at a cost of $110 to $180 each per night.

While the community looked to Mayor Watson for leadership, he responded with a shrug saying that there was nothing he could do to help these families, many with children. This is not leadership. It is a cold, callous approach to city development that puts wealthy developers first and the vulnerable at the back of an ever-growing line. Enough is enough.

The time has come to elect a new mayor who will put our communities first. A mayor who will demand that developers build to achieve the visions articulated by the people who live and work within those communities. Let’s stop these shameful actions before Ottawa to becomes an embarrassment not only to our ourselves, but to the world.

Bruce McConville
Ottawa Mayoral Candidate

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