Time is Now, Community Advocacy Network

Developed by:
Leigh Savage, Melissa Strachan, Nadine Howell, Saba Shafiq

Introduction

We are a group of passionate women who have joined the Leadership Waterloo Region class of 2021 for varying and diverse reasons.  We all come from a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences.  Collectively, we have a united desire to advocate for equitable housing options for the most marginalized folks in our community. Our journey together allowed us to speak with a number of key informants so that we could gain a better understanding of the scope and depth of the growing housing crisis within Waterloo Region. 

 

Waterloo Region is in a housing crisis. With increased visible homelessness, over 6,200 people on the waitlist for affordable community housing, and 27,320 households currently paying more than 30% of their income on rental housing, action is imperative and innovative approaches are needed. (Housing Innovation Round Table Fall Report 2020 Region of Waterloo, Community Services)
 

In Ontario 21% of immigrants are more likely to be in a housing need than non-immigrants. In Waterloo Region, Indigenous people are 30% more likely to need housing than non-indigenous people. There are 30,000 households that are precariously housed in Waterloo Region. (10-year housing and homelessness plan. 5-year review Region of Waterloo Community Services)

 

Lack of public awareness and urgency to make bold changes causes the issue of Affordable Housing to persist. No one wants to fight against the flow of traffic to make change. All parties involved choose to play it safe, acknowledging that there is an issue, but not acting on it as an emergency situation. There are many steering committees and roundtable discussions, the government knows the problem exists, yet still just talks about it. The Region of Waterloo has the money to build alternative housing that is affordable.  Waterloo Region has the opportunity to set the standard of housing solutions in the Province by creating innovative solutions to a complex problem, and yet very little movement is being made. We believe complacency needs to end.

Suggested Partners

Covid 19 has shown the Region that there is a great need for housing for all. Shelters are not the answer since they lack the ability to house everyone with significant individual issues. Many agencies realize that they need to work together since their clients overlap the services provided. On April 15th 2020, a broad cross-section of unsheltered people, service providers, community members, Regional staff and concerned citizens gathered to discuss the potential of creating a better tent city at Lot42. This resulted in the creation of a small self-organized community of people built on respect for each other and for their shared home.

 

A Better Tent City (ABTC) began as a low barrier/housing first approach to provide:

  • an opportunity to move unsheltered people from dangerous conditions on the streets into a more safe and supportive community 

  • protection from the environment, adequate access to hygiene and sanitation facilities, and connection to services and healthcare on a path to stable housing

 

Positive Outcomes

As ABTC has grown over the last year, it has surpassed the original goals and it has demonstrated significant positive outcomes in the first year of operations by changing residents’ lives for the better:

  • as they keep themselves and their belongings safely indoors ABTC residents no longer worry about frequent moves and the dangers inherent in living rough; they have a home

  • with access to a kitchen, whole, healthy food, and opportunities to contribute to collaboratively prepared evening meals residents are healthier, have an increased sense of well-being and belonging

 

Despite all the current advocacy efforts, discrimination still exists even in projects like A Better Tent City (ABTC) that are established to support the people facing homelessness. This community is working with assistance from Fr. Toby Collins, CR (Pastor, St. Mary’s Parish), Stephanie and Joe Mancini (The Working Centre), Jeff Willmer (retired CAO of the City of Kitchener), Laura Hamilton and Aleksandra Petrovic (Social Development Centre WR) providing food, shelter, counselling, medical assistance, friendship and support.
 

Lack of awareness and urgency to make bold changes causes the issue of AH to persist. No one appears to want to fight against the flow of traffic to make change. All parties involved choose to play it safe, acknowledging that there is an issue but not acting on it as an emergency situation.

Landlords and builders continue to benefit from this ongoing challenge if it persists.

Financial Implications

Both new and adaptive reuse projects can prove to be costly and there may be some setbacks to development. Cost of materials, location of housing, permits, property management, and maintenance fees to name a few.

Who They Spoke To

Melissa Bowman - Yes in My Backyard
Nadine Green, Alvin Odea - A Better Tent City
Laura Hamilton - Social Development Centre

Lesley Crompton- Social Development Centre
Pam Fehr - Catalyst for Housing Round Table
Jessica Bondy - House of Friendship
Erica Robinson – Housing Innovation Round Table
Ryan Pettipiere – Region of Waterloo
Chris Morton - Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre
Councillor Jim Erb – Region of Waterloo

What They Learned

There are numerous people and organizations advocating for changes to Affordable Housing in Waterloo Region, however, it is unclear who the key informants are and who is doing what. There are so many variants involved in this issue; disability, newcomers, indigenous, ageing seniors, homeless, precariously housed; to name a few. There appears to be little organization of all the key players advocating for changes to Affordable Housing and limited collaboration on the actions being taken.

 

We have seen advocacy efforts furthering many causes. The network of strong community leaders is the most influential and effective method to generate the support of policymakers and leaders at all levels of the government. 

Our team is focused on fostering a strong case for people struggling with housing challenges, and our efforts are focused on helping solve this issue. In collaboration with community leaders, we are hoping to successfully lobby this issue. To effectively prove our case, we have narrowed some key efforts in our Region that recently succeeded due to advocacy efforts:

 

  • Constant Advocacy efforts to broaden Highway 7 between Kitchener & Guelph has reaped results after 5 years and was finally accepted earlier this year.

  • Two-Way, All-Day GO service to help connect the corridor from Toronto to Waterloo region is supported by Manulife, Sunlife, Region of Waterloo, Universities, and all Chambers. This will help growth and job opportunities.

  • Ion is the result of constant advocacy efforts for 10 years.

 

All the above points are examples of successful advocacy efforts by our community leaders. We are very sure that with this approach we will be able to have our voice heard with respect to increase affordable housing options in Waterloo Region.

What's Missing

A collaborative holistic response to affordable housing that is focused on community health and wellness vs the bottom line.

 

"On public-private partnerships to make long-term affordable housing: What often happens is that developments include a time-bound contract to supply affordable housing for ~10 years or so. After that, the prices go up. Developers haven't had the incentives to make it a priority in new developments, but the change in CMHC priorities and interest rates could change this. They need local leadership to lead the way/join them at the table. Urban village developments that are designed to be affordable at every level - not just in unit price but in lifestyle as well.  Federal, provincial, municipal and non-profit partnerships to create a self-sustaining not-for-profit housing system. We need a comprehensive, unified strategy where all the players come together to coordinate effective + sustainable measures.  If all players were at the table talking to each other, we could build a more public, inclusive conversation that has the chance to shape how we understand the problem and establish priorities and plans for the future. - We would benefit from a more holistic vision for the housing sector that prioritizes community rather than units and is aimed at building wealth for the whole community by ensuring affordability for generations to come.”  - Erica Robinson, Housing Innovation Round Table

Proposed Solution

Our proposed solution is to behove the policymakers and leaders in the community to respond to a Call to Action for an equitable framework for Affordable Housing within our community. 

 

The terms of this Call to Action for an Affordable Housing Framework are as follows:

  1. Local municipal and regional leadership will establish a collaborative action-oriented working group which will include developers, grassroots organizations, advocates from organizations such as “Yes in my Backyard”, and a diverse group of persons with lived experience i.e., persons with disabilities, seniors, individuals identifying LGBTQIA+, as well as Black Indigenous and Racialized individuals.

  2. This collaborative working group will engage in a more public and inclusive conversation that will shape how we understand the Affordable Housing problem and establish plans for the future.

  3. This collaborative action-oriented working group will capitalize on the current CMHC priorities and low-interest rates, to help developers understand why the TIME IS NOW to make Affordable Housing a priority in this region.

  4. This collaborative action-oriented working group will develop a charter with agreed-upon conduct and commitment to ACTION.

  5. By December 31, 2021, this collaborative action-oriented working group will establish 3 options for a sustainable long-term not-for-profit affordable housing system.

  6. By April 1, 2022, this action-oriented working group will decide on which options the region will move forward with by April 1, 2022.

  7. Action toward building our new sustainable long-term not-for-profit Affordable Housing system will begin within the first quarter of the 2022 fiscal year (April 1 to June 30, 2022).

 

We all need to care and find an intentional way to support affordable housing and when we do that change will happen. Whether you work to help support the current grassroots agencies already established in Kitchener-Waterloo, volunteer your time to sit on a board of directors or use your time to work frontline to help those precariously housed. You will make a difference in your community. Set up food coolers on your front lawn for those who can afford shelter but not food, organize a non-violent protest to let the government know that now is the time to actually do something to assist all community members that can not afford a home.