Bay Ward candidates gave their pitches to solve Ottawa’s lack of affordable housing and address the problems with it in a debate on Thursday evening.
The debate was organized by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN Ottawa) and focused on the candidates’ positions on the group’s Agenda for Change. Housing is one of the major topics addressed in the agenda, which endorses inclusionary zoning and landlord licensing.
Trevor Robinson, the only returning candidate from the 2014 election, said the city needs to do more to help residents access resources and they should be slowly built up, rather than injecting a huge amount of money all at once.
Theresa Kavanagh said the redevelopment of Lincoln Fields offers an opportunity to include affordable housing and to partner with developers to solve the housing deficit.
“We have to have affordable housing for our community,” she said. “This is not just about getting high rents, this is about including everyone. This is the way we do it, we work together.”
Don Dransfield said by-laws preventing developers from replacing affordable housing with high-rental units are necessary.
“You can’t just close a neighborhood that’s got affordable housing and build something else there like highly expensive condominiums and throw those people out on the street,” he said.
Erica Dath said the city's system that matches families with low-cost and emergency housing is “broken” and the money the city spends on it should be seen as an investment, not a cost.
“It’s an investment and people who have affordable housing can then contribute to the communities and they can offer benefits to the community well beyond the investment,” she said.
Marc Lugert, the fifth candidate running for the seat on city council, did not attend the debate. The position is being vacated by Mark Taylor, who said he would retire after two terms on council.
The quality of Ottawa’s already existing affordable housing was also raised at the debate. The last question was from a woman who said she lives in affordable housing in the ward and who said maintenance on her home just isn’t done. The tiles are coming off the floor in her kitchen, one of which she brought to the debate for the candidates to see and touch.
Candidates all expressed displeasure at both the state of her home and the city’s stock of housing more broadly.
“Firstly, I’m sorry that those are the conditions under which you’re having your house repaired,” Dath said. “We need to determine that the money we are investing and that we’re paying each year is having -- at the very least-- glue on the bottom of your floor tiles.”
Dransfield said that while campaigning door-to-door he saw some units without proper insulation and some that didn’t have doors properly installed.
“We’ve got to stop saving money at the expense of people and start looking at what we’re doing to make sure that our social housing or our affordable housing is being maintained in a way that’s suitable for people to be able to live in.”
The city has to be more responsible for up-keep on existing housing and to make sure it’s accessible, Robinson said.
“We need to be proactive in terms of how we’re maintaining things instead of reactive,” he said.
Kavanagh said the city needs to keep up with repairs and maintenance to avoid fixing more expensive and larger problems with affordable housing later on.
The next debate in Bay Ward is scheduled for Oct. 2 at Dr. F.J. McDonald Catholic School.