Mary Rowe [00:00:18] Hi, everybody, it’s Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute originating here in Toronto from the traditional territory of Mississaugas of the Credit, the Annishnabek, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples. And as you know, home now to many diverse First Nations; Inuit and Metis people from across Turtle Island. Toronto is also covered by Treaty 13, which was signed with Mississaugas of the Credit and the Williams Treaties, which were signed with multiple Annishnabek nations. We’re very conscious here at CityTalk, it’s to, we- we set these sessions up the first month into the pandemic to learn and to learn together and to learn collectively. And it’s been quite a several months for all of us to have to come to terms more and more with the extent to which urbanism has not fostered equality and equity. In fact, it’s often reinforced systemic discrimination and exclusion. And those are tough, tough, tough conversations to have. Tough, tough lessons to learn, but also just tough practices to change and tough questions that we have to continue to grapple with. And I know in our capacity at CUI having conversations with people across the country that there are no easy solutions here and we have to get really serious and committed to how we’re going to try to do things differently after, you know, after these kinds of sudden shocks that in this case, the pandemic is an extended shock. You know, the tendency is to regress back to the mean. You know, people want to go back to normal, whatever the hell normal was. And I think part of our conversations with folks here in CityTalk is to say that normal won’t do. And what are we imagining? How are we going to imagine and then concretize the kinds of achievements that we think have to happen as we come through this? How do our cities need to change? So obviously housing is fundamental to that. Earlier this week, we published COVID200 every two hundred, every hundred day CUI is working with partners across the country to see if we can zero in on key things that we think are indicators of how we’re doing and what are the changes that are happening. What are the new challenges and how do we have to address them. And so we started earlier this week talking about that. Yesterday we had a fabulous session on winter, which everyone is very apprehensive about. How are we going to cope with winter as we continue to have to adjust? And- and the other thing I think that was interesting about yesterday’s session, is the first one we’ve done where we were doing it simultaneously in both languages, which is really what the Canadian Urban Institute, l’Institut Urbain de Canada, should be doing. So hopefully we’ll get some resources so that we can do that as often as we possibly can, so that we continue to stitch together this narrative across both official languages and across diversities of all kinds on these conversations. And we always are conscious that there are people on the front lines who are keeping us safe and trying to keep us healthy, and that as the second wave hits, that intensity is returning to communities across the country. And we always want to acknowledge that, that we’re aware that while these conversations are taking place, there are life and death decisions being made on the streets and in communities across the country, including the neighborhoods that some of these folks are going to speak about, because housing and homelessness is one of the most significant challenges that pre-existed COVID, and has now just been exacerbated, magnified. It’s on everyone’s doorstep. And let’s just find our way to solve this, because we’ve known it’s a problem for some time. What it honestly is, is it take a global pandemic to get us to solve it? Let’s see. So please participate in the chat. We always are interested to here what you have to say, let us know where you’re watching from. That’s always great. And then put questions up there for each other and for the panelists and I’ll try to weave them in. We got five panels today, so that’s always tricky because there’s only so much airtime. So they’re going to be as cogent as they can and we’ll get as much out as we can. And remember, the conversation doesn’t end here. It only starts here. So keep going. And hashtag CityTalk. We will post the video from the session and the five takeaways and the chat. So if you put a comment up in the chat, just know it’s up there for perpetuity and thousands of other people will read it after you’ve said it. So joining me today, as you can see. Coast to coast, we’re very appreciative of these folks. They come from different sectors. They come from very different perspectives. And it’s important for us to hear what they have to say about the right to home and what are, what have you seen over the last hundred days. But also, what do you think for the next hundred days? You know, we’re going to be at COVID300 at the end of January and then we’ll be at COVID365. Good heavens, in the spring. So what do you think should be a realistic goal that we should be working towards? And talk to us about how you think that can be achieved and what the priorities are for me- for you going forward. So, Michael, I’m going to start with you, please. And you’re from Vancouver and from the Portland Society. And I know you’re beaming into us from the Downtown Eastside. So we’re- you know, remember, you have a national audience here, often an international audience. I’m not sure how many international guests we have, but just set a context for people, if you could. And then let’s talk about the right to home from your perspective. Thanks, everybody, for joining us at CityTalk, and over to you, Michael.
Michael Vonn [00:05:10] Sure. PHS works in the urban core of Victoria, British Columbia, as well as in Vancouver. And in the downtown eastside, which is one of the- one of the urban centers that has the highest concentration of poverty in the country. We are, are suffering from a homelessness crisis here. Every year, all the time. What COVID has really brought to this, are a few things. Obviously, the grave concern for a population that is as marginalized as their underlying health conditions. So their massive vulnerability to COVID compounded with the inability to isolate when you are either street homeless or precariously housed in things like SROs, is where you have shared facilities like bathrooms. So all of those things compounding have resulted in us seeing a surprising phenomenon for many people, which is the outing of the not-public poor. All of the people that showed up out of nowhere, that have no- had been no part of the homelessness count that we were aware of, were either couch surfing or lodging with people who were in supportive housing or other precarious housing. So what we’ve seen are tent cities, that there has been a great effort to find housing for temporary, in most cases, but with- in the best case scenario, in a continuum for more permanent housing. But once one tent city has been brought to bear for housing options, intensive outreach and all the things that you would do to try to move people to safer options, another tent city springs up. That’s what we’re seeing, the sense of neighborhoods coming around, too. There is a quantum of the need and the diversity of the people in those tent cities is another change in the last hundred days, I would say. Of course, there are always diverse people who find themselves in the situation. But now you’re seeing the kind of ordin- I don’t want to say ordinary, the kinds of populations we traditionally work with who have intensive health needs, mental health issues, brain injuries, addictions. Side by side with people who simply couldn’t make the rent because the roommate left last month. Right? So the population of people that we are, in fact, serving in those tent cities trying to find housing for, have very, very different needs in this kind of, as you say, sort of phase two, second 100 days of COVID in terms of what we’re seeing.
Mary Rowe [00:07:45] Yeah, yeah, and your catchment area, Michael, is you’re saying Vancouver and Victoria. So that’s the purview that you have. And is it- are you seeing the same kind of surfacing of tents in other municipalities along the Lower Mainland, like through the GVRD, for instance? Is Burnaby seeing it, is Surrey seeing it the same way?
Michael Vonn [00:08:05] Absolutely. Um- less, less numerous. But this is a phenomenon that we’re seeing throughout the province.
Mary Rowe [00:08:12] Mhm, and is it because people are rejecting the shelters because they’re unsafe, are the shelters being closed, or are people just saying they’re fed up with the shelter system?
Michael Vonn [00:08:21] There is a lack of capacity in shelters and there’s a lack of low barrier shelters. The kinds of barriers that may not be top of mind for many people include whether they take pets, whether you can bring your things, whether you can come in as a couple, whether you can be drug using. There’s, there’s a variety of shelter options. Those are already full, and low shelter options are at an absolute premium.
Mary Rowe [00:08:47] I just want to encourage people in the chat to direct your comments to all panelists and attendees. There’s a little toggle switch down there at the bottom, right, where you can switch that and raise any questions that you want to, and as I suggest, just type in. Let us know where you’re coming from. Thanks, Michael. Let’s go to the other side now. Let’s go to Quebec, to Nakuset. Talk to us Nakuset, about what your experience is- and I also should just remind people that I don’t give lengthy bios here, they’re posted in the chat so you can look up who people are and where they’re coming from and then they’ll tell you. So Nakuset, can I go to you next in Montreal.
Nakuset [00:09:20] Sure, so I’m in the Native Women’s shelter as well as Resilience Montreal, which is a day shelter for homeless people. A good part of them are Indigenous. And what we saw the first time with COVID was everything shutting down. Now you have to understand it from Quebec. So we are now in the red zone. So we have the highest number of cases. And during the, you know, the- the first wave, we were in the streets literally. So what the city decided to do was create outdoor parks for the homeless population. And we kind of spearheaded that by leaving the small shelter that we’re in to accommodate the groups of people that ended up showing up because everything was closed and going into the park. And we had been in the park for six months and it was so hard to be outdoors weathering the weather, if that makes sense. But dealing with the weather, with the intense cold, like back in March, April and even May was really cold here, to the incredible heat. And then, you know, and we had all our staff in the park. So we’re doing interventions and we’re escorting people to, you know, the different hotels and fighting for them to get places in hotels and to get medication and to get services. And so in Montreal, as of August 31st, they ended up closing all those shelters, but not actually putting anything in its place. So now we’re slowly going in to the second wave. Now we’ve moved back into the building of Resilience Montreal. We, we set it up so it’s, you know, COVID safe, but we can only put 60 people in the building when we have, you know, like we had triple that. So how do you do that? Right. So we have people coming in through the courtyard hand sanitizing, putting on the mask, coming in, taking statistic- we take statistics, having them grab some food and then to another section where they can get some clothes and go off the door. We have about 18 spots where people can rest and then the next person comes in and does the same thing. So we allow the courtyard to be sort of a space, warm area where we have heaters and we have like, you know, something overhead so it doesn’t rain on them. But it gets colder and I’m really pushing the city. What is your solution? Because the colder gets the workers, it’s going to get and now we’re in the red zone. So now there’s less spaces for them to go to. They can’t go into the Metro to stay warm. They can’t you know, all the other shelters are also at a lower capacity. So people that if they would have had like 100, you know, beds, they only have 60 beds. There is an overflow that is not being addressed. And I keep pushing my partners. And, you know, I literally said to them, why don’t you just get like the Red Cross or the Army to build a big tent and have those lawn chairs like you have in the summertime and have it heated, and move people in there. And I had suggested it this first time around and they ignored it. I’m like, you should listen to me now because something bad is going to happen and you need to do something. So I will probably be having a meeting with my partners next week and I’ll keep bringing it up and we’ll see if they keep ignoring me. But it’s- it’s going to be precarious.
Mary Rowe [00:12:57] Yeah. I mean, you know, we- we, we know, we were aware in the spring it was cold, but it wasn’t as bitterly cold as it is going to be in the next couple of months. I think people forget, actually we weren’t dealing with this in the depths of winter and only Montreal and Ottawa in Edmonton and there are a bunch of Saskatoon there, a bunch of cities, that winter is brutal for Canada and of course, obviously in the north. So and as you suggest, these ideas of tents, if that was- do you remember that it was talked about in the very early days, where they’re going to be setting up tents in parks and various things and for whatever set of reasons, it doesn’t seem to have happened. So people set up their own tents. Go figure. But, you know, but- but as you say. Are we going to be able to, and I guess part of it is money, and whether the money will go into the system to build the support that.
Nakuset [00:13:39] They have the money! You know, they have the money. And the thing is that they don’t consult with us because when they said they were going to put up a tent, they put up a little tent. You can only stick four people in there. And right now in Montreal, if you are not like practicing the social distancing, they’re giving out a thousand dollar fines. So now we’re gonna see all the people that receive these fines, right. But I mean, if you have a big tent, it’s easier to get out of the cold and out of the rain or snow when it’s a big tent. Obviously, people are going to rush a small tent and try to fit as many people underneath, which is like, you know, counterproductive! It’s sort of like, are you setting us up to fail?
Mary Rowe [00:14:17] Yeah.
Nakuset [00:14:17] So, you know, I’m really pushing them to do better next time around.
Mary Rowe [00:14:22] Yeah, well, we’re gonna have to be nimble, as you said, this time. So I want to go to you, Derek, next, if I can to sort of to take us to the big picture. I know you’re working across the country both in your capacity as an entrepreneur and running a large fund that invests in housing solutions, but also as the chair of CMHC. And in fact, I know that you have to leave sharp on the hour to attend, to chair a meeting at the CMHC. So let’s go to you next in terms of your perspective, both as a private entrepreneur, a private business person, and also as the chair of Canada’s housing agency.
Derek Ballantyne [00:14:51] Well, I mean I, you know, I can only agree that the issues facing those, you know, without housing or precarious housing are getting worse. And you see that visually. I mean, I mentioned before I split my time between Vancouver and Toronto and in both places, I’m in central locations, both places you can see and hear the effect of COVID, which is, you know, as Michael explained in Vancouver, the loss of housing, not just because people can’t find their- they’ve been on the street or they’re near the street. But, you know, they’ve- they’ve been knocked away from what were precarious housing solutions and end up on the street. And we haven’t found any solutions for it, as we heard from Montreal. So I think, you know, the first realization is that this, I think the first part of the crisis was about what is some kind of response, as if we were in some sort of temporary situation that would get resolved. And I think the second hundred days is the deepening realization that we’re now in this. We- we have both a deep systemic problem and a problem that has been accentuated by COVID and that the solutions are- there is an absolute need for dealing with temporary solutions. So, you know, so the point that’s been made in Montreal, you need to find solutions that shelter people immediately, but that there are exactly that, temporary solutions. So I do think, interestingly, that is having an effect on shaping a policy. So you did see and I- I think and this is not a defense of any sort of government policy, but you saw both a significant commitment financially to addressing what was called rapid housing, an acceleration of permanent, more permanent housing solutions. So more money going into the system was a very specific objective of generating how- for more permanent housing solutions. And the other one is buried in the throne speech, a commitment to saying we have to end chronic homelessness, which will eventually have to translate into a set of policies and a set of actions. And I think it would’ve been hard even a year or two years ago to imagine that we’d get those kind of commitments as explicitly as quickly. Now, they’re not without challenges because, as been pointed out, a lot of the delivery happens in municipalities and cities in local government. And, you know, a decision or an initiative with the federal level doesn’t always translate into immediate action or, or even possible action on the local level. So there’s- we still have those gaps and bridges to build, which I think is important. But I do think, you know, to all that to say that the experience that we’re having and seeing, as you know, citizens in our communities is translating into a different kind of pressure and a different kind of resolve about how one addresses these solutions from governments. Now, you know, the proof will be in how do we actually move from announcement to action, which is, and it has to happen relatively quickly. I mean, you know, and what we do know is that if there’s anything and, you know, Martin will only confirm this, that trying to- trying to create housing on the supply side is a long and torturous journey. And so we’re going to have to try and figure out how do we solve this to a larger views and what already exists in the inventory of- of housing, which is equally going to be a big challenge and a big price tag.
Mary Rowe [00:18:11] So, you know, this session is co-sponsored by The Shift, which is an international initiative actually about advocating for the right to housing internationally and the extent to which housing’s become financialized globally. And that that right, that basic human right for how to be housed is- is being denied. And the government kind of, as you just acknowledge, actually has provided all sorts of leadership for the national housing strategy. It affirmed the right to housing. As you say, it’s one thing to actually acknowledge this. It’s quite another to put it into action, I guess. And I want to ask you, Derek, the question in terms of your leadership federally. And then I’m going to go to Councillor McKenney, who’s going to talk- McKenney, who’s going to talk about her experience in Ottawa. And then, Martin, you’re going to clean up, just so you know, don’t- don’t get snoozing there, we’re coming to you. And Derek, do you- what kind of resistance has there been? Or is- does there continue to be at the local level? We just heard Nakuset talking about her constant battles with the municipality that she’s in. Tell us what kind of reception this has been getting.
Derek Ballantyne [00:19:08] Well, you know, I, I, I don’t have first hand knowledge of all municipalities and exactly what happens in each place. But I think in broad terms, you know, municipalities are saddled with the immediate problem. They’re the ones who are most immediately confronted by the problems of homelessness, some persons in the street. And, you know, reasonably, they feel that they are at the limits of their ability to- to finance or to provide solutions. So I think, you know, it’s- there’s, I think there’s a recognition that the measures that the federal government put in place, both sort of programmatic. And the legislative frameworks are useful and helpful. So I don’t, I don’t think there’s been a tremendous amount of pushback. I think the challenge for municipalities is, you know, how do we- how do we actually affect these solutions? If we- if the provincial frameworks don’t all align or the priorities are slightly out of scale or there are different structures and systems in place in different parts of the country, how do we actually accommodate all these pieces? And I don’t think we work that all the way through in a- in a cohesive way or in a way that will, that has given the maximum effect to the to the impact of those and that funding which is coming down. So I do- I do acknowledge that. I think it’s true. I think equally, you know, municipalities are saddled with having to juggle a variety of priorities. So it’s easy for us, you know, other orders of government to kind of move funding and and programs for specific pipelines. But when it ends up in the municipalities hands, you’re often juggling a multiplicity of the issue. And would be the intersect between public health issues and how-
Mary Rowe [00:21:04] Just lost Derek’s sound. At least I did. Can you guys hear him and just not me? No, ok, Derek has gone quiet. We’ll have to send a text, Derek. Derek, we cannot hear you. Can you hear us, Derek?
Derek Ballantyne [00:21:19] Yeah, sorry.
Mary Rowe [00:21:20] That’s OK. You know, the- I just want to tell you, after 70 of these sessions, the only time the Internet seems to go break it down is with white men in Toronto, just saying.
Derek Ballantyne [00:21:30] As it should be.
Mary Rowe [00:21:33] It may just be the luck of the draw. But can you run a role there? Do you remember what you were saying?
Derek Ballantyne [00:21:38] Well, I don’t know what point you lost me. I’m saying, you asked me sort of how do we see these things rolling out over the broad canvas of the country? And I think there are still some sort of policy and systemic issues we have of organizing between governments to actually get impact from, you know, from federal announcement to actually action on the ground, from ability for community to respond based on a piece of legislation response. I think there’s still some significant gaps that we haven’t yet figured out how to close.
Mary Rowe [00:22:08] Right. And we have, you know, sent Catherine Soplet’s putting a piece on here about a piece of legislation the grounds of Ontario has introduced. It’s actually exacerbating evictions-
Derek Ballantyne [00:22:17] So I thought, well, you know, we’ve got this misalignment between three components, which really if we want to see action, I do think we need some more cohesion in the way we think about these things.
Mary Rowe [00:22:26] So let’s talk about how we make that cohesion happen. And Catherine, you’ve been part of this process, this Canadian municipal working group on housing. Interesting little motley crew of folks because it’s been elected and staff and various folks from across the country, big ci- big cities, small cities that the shift has been convening and we’ve been helping. And you’ve issued a call to action. I know that, that’s and I’m hoping someone will put that up in the chat so people can see it. And a lot of you sign. Talk to us about how you see the rubber hitting the road literally in Ottawa. And how have you been able to to effect some action as a city council person?
Catherine McKenney [00:22:59] Well, I would have to admit to not being able to effect much action yet in the city of Ottawa. We- we declared a housing emergency at the end of January. At the time, we had about 1900 households, including children, who were sleeping in a shelter bed, you know, close to three hundred families. We had actually at the time, we had three hundred and twenty five children living in motel rooms in our city. So they were going to school. They were eating out from microwaves. There was a washroom and nothing else. I don’t know how many of us have stayed in a motel lately, but that’s, that- that was their existence and it continues to be today. And, you know, our number of individuals in the city experiencing chronic homelessness went up by some ninety five percent from 2014 to 2019.
Mary Rowe [00:24:04] Before the pandemic?
Catherine McKenney [00:24:05] Before the pandemic, before the pandemic. And, you know, I always say, you know what? We’re not Vancouver and we’re not Toronto. But we’re- we’re at a place where I believe if there was a serious commitment to funding, if the rubber could hit the road, if we could do what we need to do, just to- just to, just to match the commitments from the National Housing Strategy, which we’re happy to do. If we could do that, you know, it would, it would be significant. And we could actually in a city this size, we would be able to effect real change. We’d actually be able to- we could end chronic homelessness if we had the political will of a city, city council and we have the funding and the ability to do it. Now we’re into a whole different time. We could have never known the end of January when we declared this emergency. What we’d be dealing with today and today, we’ve got over 200 people who are right today sleeping outside. They slept outside last night and without a winter plan, as Nakuset said, we need to start building tents. We need to do something to ensure that people don’t- don’t die in this city. We, in Ontario, are faced with the lifting of the frieze on evictions. And in Ottawa alone, we have 128,000 renter households, 2.5 percent of those have not been able to make a payment since- since the pandemic, since the lockdown. That roster jobs had no money. That is, you know, two thousand or three thousand, two hundred households. We’re at risk of becoming homeless overnight or within a month, as we go into winter. So we’re in you know, we’re quite desperate times. I, I honestly, I don’t see urgency from my level of government from, you know, from here. I just don’t see the urgency from any level of government that we need to see on housing or homelessness. I didn’t see it a year ago, but I certainly- I’m not seeing it today. When we think about it, when we think about a right to housing, when we think about, you know, if- if what you care about is economics, you know, I had a meeting with our mayor yesterday about our upcoming budget and he asked me what I wanted to see. And I wanted to see, you know, tens of millions of dollars in housing invested. He asked me, well, do you have any savings for me? I said, well, you know what? House these folks and you’re going to see savings like, I have nothing else for you. Right. Like, that’s- it’s- that’s- that’s, so if you, if you care about the economics of it, it will save us money. But if you know the humanity of it, like we opened up respite centers in the city or one that we’re closing tomorrow, I’m fighting to keep it open. It’s giving people access to washrooms and showers and hundreds of people go- go into it in the city of Ottawa. We’re like a wealthy, wealthy city, and we’ve got hundreds of people every week who have no washroom. I remember a time when we, like, were worried that people had to go to shelter and then we worried that there was not enough shelter capacity and now we don’t have enough washrooms and showers for people. It’s you know, it’s- it’s- it’s beyond an emergency. I think it needs the same urgency as- as- as the pandemic is receiving and nothing happening.
Mary Rowe [00:27:46] We’ve, as one of you, I think that said, it might’ve been Derek, who said, you know, when we started at the beginning in March and we started these talks and you did go with 100, I think there was a sense that this was, you know, we’re going to get through this, we’ll get through the summer will be rocky, will everything stabilize and we’ll be back to some sort of normal in the fall. I don’t know whether people have any idea that this is actually a marathon, not a sprint, and that we’re gonna have to make permanent changes, obviously, to the way we do things. And I don’t know whether we caught up with ourselves, you know? And as you say, if there isn’t even an element of which we see to the south of the border all the time, that if you just keep saying that things are better, that they will be better. But in fact, we’re still, we’re stuck in a much more difficult place. And of course, the other thing is that there’s scarce resources. So I can understand how your mayor would say, well, you got any money. So, Martin, let’s talk for a second about I mean, housing is a favorite kind of topic for Canadian public policy folks. They yammer away, and we yammer on about it all the time. But this is an area of extraordinary employment historically for the country. Thousands and thousands of people have been employed creating housing for over decades. The industry, the developed industry is an important, significantly important player and you, largely now finance housing. You don’t just build it, you actually finance it. And you work with trades all over the world, all over the country. What’s the perspective from the industry and particularly from a developer like you who are progressive and have been working on mixed income communities for decades? Talk to us from your perspective about- do you see any shifts? Do you see any opportunity through the pandemic to build differently? What are you up against in the industry?
Martin Blake [00:29:24] I think that are our number one challenge is just how long it takes to affect a change. Derek kind of alluded to it earlier. You know, we are delivering housing today that we started conceptualizing in 2014, 2015. That’s a- that’s a six year horizon. So, you know, the fellow panelists today are dealing with instant crisises that are in front of us. And our industry won’t be able to really respond to that in a high-rise environment for another five years. And I think that what this has highlighted for us as we listen to more conversations between the provinces, municipalities, is the inability for the industry as a whole to have a cogent plan to be able to deliver a housing strategy. You know, Derek talked about it earlier about the federal approach to funding and creating programs. But the reality is housing is delivered municipality in the misfold environment. So unless we can have the city of Toronto and we’re based, you know, here I’m- I’m in Toronto and the GTA or any of the areas working well with the province, accessing money from the federal government. We were paralyzed. And that’s what we’re seeing. And I would highlight things like inclusionary zoning, something that I know we’ve been a very strong advocate for. It builds cities properly, but we haven’t been able to get to a place where it’s rolled out properly because we don’t, we’re not- we’re not there. That comes from so many different levels of government to be able to actually implement something like that.
Mary Rowe [00:30:59] Yeah, I want everyone to realize, to remember that Martin is a developer. He’s from the industry. He’s saying he wants inclusionary zoning. Can everybody hear that? So all the suggestions that somehow the industry is, I mean, I’m sure there aren’t, some that are. But- but from my previous life, I remember this very clearly that- that developers really just want to set rules. They want consistent rules, and then they will work out ways to do it. And Michael, can we talk a minute about the Vancouver situation, the context there? Because you also have a progressive developer there. You’ve got to Ian Gillespie at Westbank and there have been attempts to try to create, certainly there’s been rapid action on modular housing, for instance, in Vancouver. And it’s a model that’s now being taken across, I think Derek will probably comment on that, because he has been part of promoting that. What- what- how, do you know what I’m getting at here? I worry that we’re just all constantly supplicants. Something’s got to change. Something’s got to change. And I’m trying to figure out where could the change start and be effective. And then others will start to copy. Michael?
Michael Vonn [00:31:54] There’s absolutely no doubt, as you as you point out, modular housing is a success. If you bring services there so that you can- you can help the neighborhoods deal with the issues that so often arise, when you show up with modular housing in a neighborhood that hasn’t- hasn’t had it before. You need some kind of community broker. And if you have good service providers and experienced service providers on the ground, you are gonna make that transition. There’s no doubt about it. Our experience bears that out. In addition to which, there are things not necessarily from Vancouver, but I want to highlight something from Victoria to pick up on the scenario in Montreal that we were hearing about, you know, four people in a tent. This kind of horror show. We have had great success in Victoria with something that we were highly skeptical about going in, which is the use of an arena. Now there is a space that is being unused and we set up very, very thoughtful modular units within that arena. Now, that’s shelter. It’s not housing. It’s not all of those things. But our experience with that has been, again, with the trust of a service provider that knows what they’re doing and knows the community, to move people in as a transition into some of those refurbished hotels, refurbished hostels, etc. on a continuum. What we’re learning is, we need a continuum. We’ve got to have a place where people can have the hope that they’re going to achieve permanent housing, that we deal with some of those emergency situations because we can’t wait forever. Even modular housing takes time. You’ve got to have space, all of those things. But the broader our continuum gets, and the more that we fill in those gaps where there- where there’s kind of a dip and people don’t have places to go in this particular arena, or for this diverse community, the more we can start being comprehensive about seriously housing people.
Mary Rowe [00:33:52] The modular housing piece that you guys experimented with, you did it in six- in six months, I think.
Michael Vonn [00:33:58] Yup.
Mary Rowe [00:33:59] Derek, is there- I mean, you’re closer to this than I am. Is there talk about that model? I think Toronto came out and had a look and they’re talking about copying it. Is- is modular housing and the more rapid accelerated path to approval part of the solution here?
Derek Ballantyne [00:34:15] I mean, I think absolutely. You know, so modular is one of the solutions. And I think now when we think about rapid housing, we’ve got to think about repurposing existing built structures in a relatively short timeframe to be able to cope with the volume of the issue we’re facing. I think what- what has been revealed in COVID is a mag- you know, we’ve always understood the problem to have a certain magnitude. But in many ways, it was easy to hide the real magnitude of the issue because there was a lot of precarious housing, which was never in the counts. There was a lot of systems informally looked after some of the housing need, which is now sort of much more evident to us. And so the numbers, I think, are- are what are staggering for us. So, Mary, when you talk about supplications, it’s not really supplications, it’s just being faced with a much bigger volume and a much more complicated set of issues. So, rapid housing, I think, is one of the solutions. And I think, you know, whether it’s building modular makes a heck of a lot of sense. And Vancouver did it intelligently in terms of being able to use its own- own lands, getting by a lot of the zoning and planning obstacles and doing it relative- do- doing a rapid deployment. And I think Michael can correct me, I think there are now about 800 units in Vancouver and across B.C. somewhere around 1500 or close to 2000 in terms of a rapid response. But given the context we’re in, I think we’re now having to look at, you know, what is acquiring motels, hotels, doing conversions, looking at other built forms to make that sort of change. And that will provide sort of a wave station, if you want, only in terms of what is a much more permanent set of housing solutions. And to Michael’s point, what what is a broader continuum of housing. So I do think we have to think about solving the housing issues, not as another sprint that we’re gonna engage in, but as a thoughtful long term response to both immediate housing crisis, but also how to assist market driven solutions that will start to fill the gaps in and around us and return us to a healthier housing market in general.
Mary Rowe [00:36:33] And one of the constraints that obviously cities work on here is that there’s a- there’s a lack of land often, and that part of the dilemma we’ve got now is, are we going to see only housing being provided in this land?
Derek Ballantyne [00:36:47] I don’t- I don’t really know that if we were objective about looking at our cities, there’s a lack of density available. And I can, I look at Vancouver and I know, and this is not to single Vancouver out over anything else. But, you know, I walk in and travel through parts of that city which are beautifully, tidily organized as two-storey large lot spaces. Right on rapid transit services, right on productive pieces. It’s not a lack of density. It’s a lack of ability, I think, to shape what is the city of the future and how do we actually inhabit it in a humane and thoughtful way. But increasing the ability to introduce- introduce more density. And we have that debate in Toronto around the yellow belt. You know, why? Why do we suppress the ability to insert more, more livable space. Land is approx- I think land is used as an argument which was not always, you know, all that accurate in all cases.
Mary Rowe [00:37:50] Well, it’s interesting. You know, I’m talking to the construction unions who are concerned about lack of starts, commercial starts, because there’s, you know, whether or not. And particularly because a central business districts and downtowns are kind of, you know, are they going to return and if so, how? And so part of the question for them, of course, for those workers, is will there be opportunities to actually modify and renovate commercial space into residential space? And if anyone’s actually started to seriously think about that. Calgary before COVID had 400 empty office floors, during COVID and beyond, it’s going to have many, many more. Ottawa’s struggling with this. Montreal certainly starting this and, we know, Toronto will be as well. So Nakuset, I want to go back to you in Montreal because I’m curious about, um- I know that you’re primarily a shelter provider, but are- tell me what the sort of mood is in Montreal for permanent solutions and for actually increasing the supply of alternative housing options so that people aren’t dependent on the shelter system but can actually find supportive housing? Where is that discussion out in the city?
Nakuset [00:38:57] So just recently, the hospital, the Royal Victoria Hospital was used, closed down and opened to be a shelter. And then, for COVID, and then it’s switched its mandate that it is only wanting the homeless population that can be referred, so you can’t just walk up, and they have to be ready to no longer be homeless. So it’s hard, because that sounds like a great service, but not everybody is like, yeah, you’ve got to give up, you know, everything and just, you know, move into these, you know, supportive housing. And you have to almost have a triage to make sure that organization says so-and-so is ready to stop being homeless and send em’ up. You can’t walk. So, you know, there’s that approach. But we just want to kind of meet people where they’re at. And there’s still definitely an issue with the lack of of just regular shelters. I mean, you know, like I run the native women’s shelter, we’re opening a second stage housing. And that’s going to happen, you know, almost in two years because of COVID, you know, and construction. Everything is slow. They’re not- they can actually break ground now until April. And then it will be supportive housing. It will be holistic. It will have the Dr. Julian Foundation to help the Indigenous, you know, mothers and their children with the youth protection issues. But that’s a long time. So what are we doing between now and then? And, you know, there is a lot of, sort of basic needs, like someone had mentioned about showers, right. It’s really hard to find a shower. We built one in the courtyard of Resilience. We got one of those, like what you call it, like- like the sheds that you would buy, at like a Home Depot. And we put a shower head in there and we give them towels and soap. And that’s like, you know, that continues, like- like people don’t realize that the population, again, has nowhere to go during the second wave, or less opportunities to go anywhere and just to be treated, you know, with dignity. So I think it’s almost like it is a crisis that people, you know, before they can start thinking about a permanent place, they just need somewhere safe to sleep for the night. And those are a little bit few and far between. You know, they have opened another Indigenous- there’s a shelter called PAQ and they opened a secondary location in Montreal just for COVID. And hardly anyone Indigenous is showing up, if it’s other people that are showing up, right. I’m not exactly sure why that is in terms of the non- where the Indigenous people are going. We also have a tent city that’s that that was sort of created on Notre Dame’s streets and, you know. The city at first was going to, like, tear it down and then they were going to leave it. People throw firebombs into it, it’s like, there’s- there’s got to be something better and it really has to, like someone else had mentioned about the mental health issues, like people are suffering. And the first wave, which was brutal. And now that we’re going into the second wave, I’m really hoping that the city is going to do better. I mean, around Cabot Square area, when I was walking around, because we did create a secondary location where people could just rest during the day at a seig-, which was empty. I’m kind of trying to push the city to go back to the schools. All the schools here in Montreal are closed. Everyone’s doing the Zoom education. So all these schools are empty. Put people in one place. But just walking around and seeing people, I would see, you know, homeless people that were crying like the way my child cries when he’s devastated, like I used to that type of cry that it is. So, you know, like heart wrenching. Just it’s really hard here. And I- what we’re really keeping an eye out and we- we tend to overcompensate because there aren’t enough services. But I’m now really questioning the city to ask them, like, you know, what do you have planned? What are you going to do? And do you need my help? Because I can give you a gajillion ideas. And, you know, like, again, the money issue. The money is there, you know, and, you know, like- anyway.
Mary Rowe [00:43:38] This is the- this is the dilemma we have, I think on almost every front is how do we cope with the immediate crisis and start to plan for what the new normal should look like. We’re having the trends too, right. People need to get to work. They need to get to work safely. But we need to take transit to do that. What are the- what are the workarounds to get them on, to get them able to get to work. But at the same time, transit probably needs to change. And here we are in a situation where we’ve got a mismatch between people that need housing and- and the what we actually have available, to support the supply that we have available. So I want to go back to you, Catherine, if I can just see about this notion of transitioning, you know, if what just exactly what Nakuset’s describing, she’s got- she’s got her hands full, thanks, coping with the population just to help them cope with the current pressures and to- to meet that transition piece to then get them into a supportive housing place. And- are you looking at, and is your council amenable to adapting existing spaces, doing an inventory, for instance, of vacant lots and vacant spaces, not just commercial floors, but other stuff? And do you think there’s a chance we can get the speculation piece out of the housing market, out of housing and decommodify housing, basically? Is your council having that conversation?
Catherine McKenney [00:44:54] So we, we had that conversation a couple of years ago, we had a report come back to us with 20- we actually identified or had staff identify 20 city old land- pieces of land within six hundred meters of rapid transit. So perfect space for- for us to be able to then hand over to providers. But, you know, I just want to caution. So I get we have to go through the winter, and I’m, you know, pushing staff on a winter plan, but I’m not a shelter person. I’m finished with shelters. We invest so much in shelters that we never housed people. And in Ontario in particular, at the municipal level, it’s all been downloaded. Homelessness has been downloaded to the municipalities. So we, the city of Ottawa alone, our budget just for homelessness is 36 million dollars a year. I mean, we can house- we could house every chronically homeless person with 36 million, but making that shift is almost impossible. So- so, you know, I know it’s- it- it can seem heartless, but I push back against transitional housing and against shelter all the time. Obviously, you can’t leave people staying outside over- over this winter, but I think it’s really important to remember, you know, we’ve got land, we can do acquisitions, that is going to help us address chronic homelessness. We can also do scattered. I mean, housing first. We know what works, right? We can do scattered. We’ve got supportive housing organizations in this city that do tremendously good work. We don’t have enough and build all the housing we want, but without the money for supports which never come down to cities.
Mary Rowe [00:46:45] Catherine, can I just-.
Catherine McKenney [00:46:45] What are we going to do, right.
Mary Rowe [00:46:47] I don’t want to get to wonkish on this. And I worry that it’s just a kind of self-indulgent conversation that policymakers have. But can I just say this? It’s frustrating for me to hear municipal politicians lamenting things being downloaded. I understand that the dilemma you’ve got is that you have the authority without the resources. But the- at the other side of our mouth, we say we want municipal government and we want local government to be making decisions and providing the services that people need, because you’re the level that’s closest to the people-.
Catherine McKenney [00:47:15] Absolutely.
Mary Rowe [00:47:15] And you should probably be doing, housing, you know. And the dilemma that I worry about in Canada is because the money is such an overwhelming burden. We say, no, no, no, no, don’t download. But don’t you need to just take it and then find a way to ask?
Catherine McKenney [00:47:31] Yeah. No, sorry. Yeah. I don’t mean to-.
Mary Rowe [00:47:36] No, no, no.
Catherine McKenney [00:47:36] Should we upload? I would say no.
Mary Rowe [00:47:39] Yeah. I want you here. I want local communities to lead local solutions.
Catherine McKenney [00:47:46] Absolutely.
Mary Rowe [00:47:47] Nakuset’s experience on the ground and Michael’s experience on the ground. They know what people need in the house- And Ottawa, sorry, doesn’t. So the question is, can we- that’s a whole other conversation, that CUI is trying to advocate for, that the money needs to be distributed differently. And-
Catherine McKenney [00:48:04] Of course! It’s about money, it’s always about money. It’s not about not knowing what to do. It’s not about not having the examples. We’ve got wonderful supportive housing organizations that do tremendously good work. We just need more of them.
Mary Rowe [00:48:17] Right.
Catherine McKenney [00:48:17] We know how to build housing in the city and we know how to support people. But we can’t- on a property tax base, you can’t do it right. It’s not possible.
Mary Rowe [00:48:27] I get it, I get it.
Catherine McKenney [00:48:28] You know what I say? It comes down to the money. It comes down to the money. We all have to invest. But just the Rapid Housing Initiative alone, you know, we’re looking at possibly getting about 20 million in the city of Ottawa. We probably need about 150 million. You know, the supports that we need, the rent supplements that we need to meet the National Housing Strategy’s targets to reduce core housing need by 50 percent. We got one percent of what we needed this year. So it’s not- it’s not like, absolutely, I in no way think that it should be uploaded. But you download it, but you have to download it with the funding.
Mary Rowe [00:49:07] I know. I know.
Catherine McKenney [00:49:07] Or the ability- or the ability because I’m happy to go out and raise taxes, I have no problem with that.
Mary Rowe [00:49:13] To raise your own revenue so that we as citizens and residents can hold you accountable. Martin. Martin, you’re-yYou’re on the plus side of this equation. You’re an industry that actually makes money creating housing. There’s lots of incentive for the industry to do things. Is there a way to galvanize them? We can hear that we get caught. This issue gets caught between the political levels, bickering with each other and their own- their own limitations. Is there a way for industry to really be the one to push this forward?
Martin Blake [00:49:45] The industries challenged. They- we’re dealing with the fact that we have to work within the rules that have been set up by both the municipal levels, the regional levels and the provincial level. You talked earlier about the number of vacant commercial floors that were in Calgary. Well, it’s not- a developer just can’t go in and suddenly shift from a commercial designation to a residential designation, those things- you know, they take time, that- they need to be purposeful. So we are-
Mary Rowe [00:50:15] Could it be accelerated?
Martin Blake [00:50:17] Absolutely it can be accelerated. But going back to the earlier conversation, what’s important for us is to have a strategy that actually will, you know, deliver results. And we- when we stick to it that, you know, we don’t- we- our industry cannot move this quickly in a- in a crisis situation because of how long it takes to build. It’s impossible to. But if we put in place something today recognizing the challenges that we have, in t- in five years time, in 10 years time, we would not be having the conversations that we’re having if we bring in things that will address housing issues like inclusionary zoning or things along those lines. We would not have the same crisis that we’re dealing with today. We have not built housing for people who need housing and we need to be able to do so. You think about land, you’re talking about land earlier. Public land. Is public land actually being- it’s the importance of creating housing for people who need it. Homelessness, moderate incomes, low incomes. Is public land actually being provided for those functions? And the answer is it is not always being done so.
Mary Rowe [00:51:22] And would you go so far as to say that that’s almost a violation of the right to housing, that governments incumbent on governments to make that land available. And if they’re not, they’re in violation of that right?
Martin Blake [00:51:35] I don’t know if I could say that, but I would say, though, as I understand, the pressures of the municipalities are doing because they’re trying to sell land to backstop a budget issue that they have so they can deliver. But at the same time, when we do that, we don’t create the housing. And at that point in time, we’ve lost it forever.
Mary Rowe [00:51:52] Right.
Martin Blake [00:51:52] The cheapest housing we can ever go back to affect is housing that we have already built. If we can find ways to be able to access the housing that’s standing right now to be able to change its designation, to be able to change its use. That’s how we can actually affect something today.
Mary Rowe [00:52:10] Right. If- if in the next hundred days, as we deal with winter, as we deal with a deepening of urban inequality crisis, all the things that are inevitably to come our way in the next hundred days to get us into the thick of winter. If there’s one thing that you think we should be- that the collective group should be advocating for taking action on, what would it be? I’m going to ask each of you that. And Martin, I’m going to to start with you. Is it inclusionary zoning? What if- you had inclusionary zoning mandated, would that be a game changer for the industry?
Martin Blake [00:52:44] I think that inclusionary zoning properly rolled out would be a game changer for municipalities across the country, absolutely.
Mary Rowe [00:52:54] What- what do you think about form-based code models?
Martin Blake [00:52:58] Sorry, about what?
Mary Rowe [00:52:59] There’s- there’s a whole approach, Lori Girvan’s putting it in the chat- moving to form-based code. Mar- maybe Derek might want to comment on that in terms of the- how effective would a zoning change be in unlocking more activity? Derek, I’ll go to you next. Martin, I’ll come back to you because I realize I cut you off. Go ahead, Derek.
Derek Ballantyne [00:53:19] You asked me for the next hundred days, and I think you know what’s in front of us now. What’s available to us? Well, we know there’s announcements around rapid housing. Catherine- point- that doesn’t have to end up a shelters, that could be permanent housing and should be. But, you know, I think it is incumbent on there being a concerted and coordinated effort to identify those targets and make them happen. And that requires a ton of municipal collaboration, if you want. The second one, I would say, is that one, which is start working now on what we think we can get as of right zoning. And Vancouver has some experience around this. So they recently passed as of right on multiple units for rental purposes, on single lot housing. I mean, there’s a bunch of- a bunch of housing stuff you could just get out of the way. Now, you know, I’ll say this to Catherine. I mean, it takes some political courage because it’s not- it’s not going to be a universally accepted solution. But I think there’s a bunch of pieces of the planning piece that could pave the way to simpler, more straightforward approvals. In my experiences in Toronto and virtually and Martin may or may not confirm this, but there is virtually no place you can go and build what should be built within the existing approvals. So you’re almost always confronted with a long period of approval process. Municipalities could start to address that. That’s not going to help us in the next six months. It’s going to help us two years from now when those projects are coming forward or when there’s an encouragement to do that. I think there’s two things. So you asked for one. There’s two things that I think we could start working on right away. The third one is the obvious one, is if the system needs more money, there has to be some agreement on where it comes from and how it- how it gets delivered. I don’t know that we have a collective. We’ve had many collective conversations on that.
Mary Rowe [00:55:05] And several of the people that have contributed to it over the years around the chatbox, I appreciate that. This- this has a lot of thought. I mean, it’s- it’s not like, it’s not like you guys, have been sitting around doing nothing. People have been trying to solve this for some time. Martin, do you want to add anything else on the one thing? Or are you good with inclusionary zoning, if you’ve got anything else to add?
Martin Blake [00:55:20] No, I would echo Derek’s comments about the challenges of us actually trying to build in a municipality where there really isn’t the zoning in place. And that’s- that’s part of the challenge.
Mary Rowe [00:55:32] Right. Catherine, one thing.
Catherine McKenney [00:55:35] You know, one thing in the next 100 days, obviously, is, you know, I agree with what Derek said is acquisitions. I mean, they really are the best way we’ve got in every city. In this one, empty hotel rooms, empty office towers in the downtown floor and people sleeping outside or in shelters. So, again, it’s- it would be- it would be an immediate solution and almost immediate solution. Absolutely. Municipalities are filled with rules and zoning rules. And what that means and it does, I sit on the board of our community housing organization, Ottawa Community Housing, and to get- to get a building put up in this ward, took me 18 months to get through the planning process like I’m as, you know, as frustrated as anyone, I can- I can assure you. I don’t- I think inclusionary zoning is great from inclusion, making sure that- that- that all of our new neighborhoods are inclusive. I always, I always caution it’s- it’s not a silver bullet, you know, unless it’s gonna be like twenty five percent deep affordability.
Mary Rowe [00:56:43] Right.
Catherine McKenney [00:56:43] It’s not that silver bullet. And I just I always worry that everybody looks to that and kind of forgets the supports and all the operating dollars that are needed.
Mary Rowe [00:56:53] We’re in the homestretch here. And I know Derek’s got his board meeting. He’s probably already got his mind on the minutes and passing minutes and the procedural stuff ahead of him. So Nakuset, and then Michael, one thing in the next hundred days. Where do you think we should be focusing?
Nakuset [00:57:07] Compassion. You know, I mean. It’s the most sort of blatant and obvious thing, right. And for people just to listen, to you know, what has happened in the past one hundred days. And how to do better for the future. So, and your thing about the zoning. Yes to zoning, because we have so much “Not in my backyard” here. And you keep talking about land; it’s all our land. Y’all using our land. So “Not in my backyard, on our land. It’s really in-.
Mary Rowe [00:57:42] Everybody’s backyard!
Nakuset [00:57:45] Yeah, it’s- it’s a strange conversation, but. Yeah. Yes to zoning because that would help us really to move in the urban areas that we are, and be, you know, forced to be welcomed because we’re nice people.
Mary Rowe [00:57:58] Exactly, forced to be welcomed. That’s a good way to be good neighbors. OK. Michael, last word to you: one thing in the next hundred days.
Michael Vonn [00:58:06] If there are any impediments to acquisitions that we need for the kind of emergency housing as winter comes on, then let public health weigh in. They have extraordinary powers and extraordinary times and if we have to make that partnership more express, we should.
Mary Rowe [00:58:20] Right. So, you know, I want to just say this session has influenced me that I’ve been wrong in suggesting we thought it was a sprint and it’s actually a marathon. What you’re really telling me is it’s a sprint and a marathon. And that we have to be addressing these things in the immediate scale, the urgence, and in the long term as well. It’s hard, but it’ll use our brains differently. Thanks, everybody. These are really important topics. I appreciate people tackling them with us at CityTalk. This will obviously be posted on online. The Shift with whom we are partnering and who co-sponsored the session has issued their call to action, a number of people have signed it. Please go have a look. It’s in the chat or just Google The Shift right to home, and you’ll find it. Or come to Canurb, you’ll find it there, too. And next week, we’re going to release our Bring Back Main Street report, which is all about how neighborhoods are being affected, all the different things that go on in your main- main streets, all the different people that live there. They’re getting out there and all the important things that are at risk in terms of our main streets, it’s a really important focus, we feel for all of us in urban Canada and a lot of issues these folks have talked about manifest on these streets. So I want to thank Michael, and Derek was just dropped off, Nakuset, Martin and Catherine, thank you for joining us. Next Thursday, World Architecture Day, we’re going to be here talking about what role does architecture need to play, the designers in urban recovery, which is all part of our Bring Back Main Street in the design challenge, come full of engaging all voices, all of the talents in terms of how we’re going to make this recovery work. So thanks for being part of CityTalk. Really important conversation. I appreciate you joining us.