What did City Council do?
Council unanimously approved advancing a four person staff team to do Anti-Racism work for the City of Waterloo. This team will be comprised of a Director position, as well as three advocacy positions (Indigenous Advocate, Anti-Racism/Social Justice Advocate and Accessibility Advocate). This group will report directly to our CAO’s office, which affords them the best opportunity to help embed an anti-racism lens through all corporate policies and service delivery. With this Council’s commitment to Equity, Inclusion and a Sense of Belonging as a strategic priority, this is a logical next step. With staff currently performing this work on the side of their desk, if we truly recognize it as a priority a team becomes a necessity. I was more than excited to support this initiative and I want to thank local advocacy groups like the ACB Network, Black Lives Matter, Landback Camp and countless others for pushing the City and this Council to step up and do more for the betterment of our community.
Inclusionary Zoning and Affordable Housing
Council approved the advancement of an inclusionary zoning policy as well as initiating an affordable housing strategy for the City of Waterloo. Inclusionary zoning is a tool that municipalities can implement which requires affordable housing to be included within new development builds of ten units or more within 800M of a major transit station area (LRT stop). We have been working on the background studies and now that it is approved, it will move ahead to policy development in 2021 with implementation later in 2021/2022. I look forward to reviewing the final policy as this tool could help yield 1,970 affordable units within the City. Although this is great, it is certainly not enough, which is why a more thorough affordable housing strategy is to be advanced as well. To highlight how important this work is, here are just a few of the eye opening pieces of information that I took from the background study:
- Nearly ¼ of low-to-moderate income households spend greater than 30% of their income on housing
- 20% of households cannot afford the average rental unit
- More purpose built rental is needed as our vacancy rate is too low (1.6%; 3% considered a healthy rate)
- 29.1% of City of Waterloo households are considered low income (less than $49,900/yr)
- 50% of Ontarians are considered ‘overhoused’
- There are 459 unsheltered homeless residents of the Region of Waterloo, with only 245 beds at emergency shelters
- 2,711 households are on the Region’s affordable housing wait list, with wait times increasing since 2011 (between 2.8 and 7.9 years depending on the family situation)
- There has been an 81% increase in home sales prices from 2008 to 2019
- Astonishingly the City of Waterloo average home price is still below the Ontario average ($534,905 vs. $580,019)
I believe that housing is a human right. However, setting that aside if you dig into these numbers you see that in order to afford the average home in Waterloo you need to be in the top two (!!!) deciles of household income. Clearly, the housing market is broken. This is not a distinct problem to the City of Waterloo as municipalities across North America are dealing with this challenge. Inclusionary zoning is not the only answer and I have encouraged staff to consider bold actions to incentivize affordable housing, but also appropriate measures to require developers to help us achieve our collective goals. I look forward to continuing to tackle this issue.
2021 Budget Confirmation
Council affirmed its commitment to the 2021 budget as planned during our three-year budget process completed for 2020-2022. The City of Waterloo conducts a one-year budget in the first term of each Council and a three-year budget for the final three, in order to take advantage of the significant efficiencies that derive from the process. Every year we are required to affirm our commitment to the budget. For this year, in addition to keeping our proposed tax increase as agreed to, we also approved freezes to a number of fees that would have been subject to increases in non-COVID times. In particular, we have frozen water and sanitary utility rates. These rate freezes alone account for an equivalent reduction in property tax of approximately 2.5%. As a reminder, the tax increase for 2020 is 3.5%, which is based on a 1.9% increase to keep our base level of services and a 1.6% increase to account for increased service level (new programs) and primarily additional infrastructure funding to tackle our infrastructure deficit.
Additional COVID Relief for Businesses
Council approved a new City-wide Community Improvement Plan (CIP) to replace the existing Uptown CIP. This plan will be in effect until the end of 2021 and is designed to offer a matching grant to all City of Waterloo businesses up to $1,500 for COVID improvements or construction. If you operate a business in the City or know someone who is that had to increase spending for COVID related reasons, please reach out to find out if you are eligible. Additional relief was provided to the Uptown BIA in the amount of $100,000 to help with their operations for 2021.
Motion to Province regarding Conservation Authorities (Schedule 6 of Bill 229)
Council passed a motion asking the Province to remove some of the damaging impacts to Conservation Authorities as was proposed in Schedule 6 of Bill 229. This Bill has a number of impacts to the City of Waterloo through limiting the scope and function of the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA – and all CA’s throughout the Province). The Bill compromises local autonomy by removing the current functions of the GRCA. It prevents the GRCA from appealing or supporting the City in an appeal to the Local Planning Authority Tribunal (LPAT). It does not take into account the expertise that the GRCA has when it comes to watersheds and it does not account for things that have no regard for municipal boundaries (flooding). Unfortunately, this Bill still passed through the legislature and we can only hope that the Province will review this in more detail given the outcry from virtually every Conservation Authority in the Province, numerous municipalities and a wide range of advocates.
Motion Pertaining to Reallocation and Upstreaming, Anti-Racism, Reconciliation, Equity and Inclusion
Councillor Vasic introduced a motion that received unanimous approval from Waterloo Council and a lot of media attention. The motion has a variety of inward looking commitments pertaining to our own internal operations and a number of clearly defined staff requests regarding our equity, inclusion, sense of belonging and anti-racism work. That being said, much of the media focus was on the advocacy to the Province to review how police funding is allocated as well as a review of alternative community safety models. I believe we are the first Council in Ontario to advocate for such a review and I am proud to have been a part of that. Since the motion was passed, I have engaged in a number of conversations with constituents regarding the motion; what it means and what it doesn’t mean, why would we advocate for something that is not within our purview (Police budget/operations are Regional), what does ‘defund the police’ mean, and more. In many ways, I think the continuation of this important conversation is a key element of the motion and so I am appreciative of the ability to engage in them.
Personally, what this motion is about is reinvesting in our communities and addressing the many valid concerns that Black and Indigenous persons in particular have highlighted with the police; carding, surveillance, charges for minor crimes, unwarranted car stops, police brutality and more. According to WRPS data, Black and Indigenous folks in particular are more likely to be stopped by police in Waterloo Region by orders of magnitude than White folks or folks of another ethnicity. My own personal anti-racism journey has educated me to understand that anti-racism work is intersectional, that it centers racism, that it addresses the power dynamic and that it is proactive. Although I am not a Regional Councillor, I voted for this motion in my role as City representative based on the work of advocates throughout the Region, to model what I hope to be as an ally and to represent the concerns of the thousands of folks (undoubtedly many of my constituents) who marched this year in Kitchener. It is a complicated issue and often complicated issues are translated into headlines and rallying cries (defund the police). I don’t pretend to think there is an ‘easy solution’ to the problems facing our community, however I think a review of how Police operations are funded is long overdue and we need to advocate to the Province to have any forward momentum on the issue. For a look at a community plan that has been proposed, please check out – https://reallocatewr.ca/ and let’s keep this conversation going.
This month was our first ‘marathon’ Council meeting, clocking in at 13 hours (with breaks)! As a result there were many other important topics discussed; 2020 asset management report cards, debt limits, reserve fund updates, respectful workplace policy updates, citizens committee appointments and more. Additionally, Council approved funding to become a member of the KW4 (Kitchener, Waterloo, Wilmot, Wellesley, Woolwich) Ontario Health Team, awarded the tender for the reconstruction of Larch Street as the City’s first woonerf, created the terms of reference for our Official Plan review and approved the construction of washrooms and concession facilities at the RIM Park baseball diamonds. Also, I wrote my first ever motion, which will be debated at next months Council meeting. This motion is regarding the GHG emissions from the Provinces electricity grid, as well as an internal review of how we calculate and report our own emissions from the grid. If anyone would like to learn more on any of the above topics, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a chat.
Outside of the Council Chambers
Platinum Drive is now officially open! The importance of this new road to residents in Ward 2 cannot be overstated and I’m so pleased to see that we were able to complete this project on budget and ahead of schedule. The opening of this road gives residents in Vista Hills a second access out of the subdivision, lifts restrictions on the completion of construction within the subdivision, creates a safe cycling route and will hopefully reduce traffic on neighbourhood streets in Clair Hills. The Region of Waterloo held a virtual all-council meeting for Councillors and Mayors from across the Region. Doug Griffiths, author of the best-selling book 13 Ways to Kill Your Community (www.13ways.ca) hosted this informative session. There were a number of topics that were of great interest to me; youth engagement, embracing technology, the importance of water, embracing change and more. Lastly, Council received training and education on Indigenous matters. As a settler, I learned a lot about our history that I wish I had learned in school. I also recognize that reconciliation is a journey and I have much more to continue to learn.
I hope everyone has a safe and happy new year, here’s to hopefully getting together in 2021 as we put COVID behind us!
Take care and stay safe!