Investing in Cities: What Must Urban Recovery Look Like Across Canada?

Join CUI’s President and CEO Mary W. Rowe, along with national city watchers Frances Bula and Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail, Co-Founder of Black Opportunity Fund and Head of Global Real Estate Investments at TD Asset Management Colin Lynch, and former federal Minister and City Councillor Amarjeet Sohi for a timely discussion on how the federal budget will impact cities planning their recovery.

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. The pandemic provides an opportunity to rethink the structures of federalism

According to Frances Bula, the pandemic has presented important opportunities for stronger relationships between municipalities and the federal government. She raises that the Rapid Housing Initiative was the first time the federal government delivered funding directly to cities, as opposed to through the provinces.  

2. Home ownership as a pathway to the middle class is increasingly out of reach 

Doug Saunders makes the point that home ownership has always been pivotal to the Canadian model of newcomer integration and supporting generations of new Canadians to accumulate wealth and move into the middle classBut with housing supply shortages across the country, and housing affordability at historic lows, newcomers today and other Canadians alike are stuckIn a discussion about possible policy solutions, he raises the potential of cost-sharing and conditional funding to incentivize intensification and affordability.  

3. We need to address structural racism in the Canadian job market 

The racialization of lowpaying jobs is acute across sectors in the Canadian economy, according to Amarjeet Sohi. Colin Lynch points out that this is in part due to path-dependency and missing networks within and across the job marketIt is important to look at who’s working in high-wage jobs, who has access to stock and equity options, and who is likely to be supported by venture capital. Says Colin, this is a connectivity story.  

4. There is no cookie cutter recovery

The panelists agree that across Canada, each city and region is facing different challenges coming out of the pandemic. There are those challenges related to COVID, and others amplifying pre-existing urban vulnerabilities. The recovery needs to be nimble and locally led. There is no one-size-fits-all pathway forward. 

5. A new urban agenda for affordability is needed 

Canada’s cities are the economic engines of the country, says Amarjeet Sohi. When cities fail because they can’t house people, or suffer from socio-spatial inequality, or fail to protect vulnerable workers, we all lose. The key is appreciating the intersectionality of the different elements of livability. Solutions need to be integrated, not siloed. 

Full Panel

Note to readers: This video session was transcribed using auto-transcribing software. Manual editing was undertaken in an effort to improve readability and clarity. Questions or concerns with the transcription can be directed to with “transcription” in the subject line.

Mary Rowe [00:00:37] Hi, it’s Mary Rowe from the Canadian Urban Institute. You caught me there just taking a little swig of water before we got started. I’m from CUI, very pleased to be welcoming you to this session and to the four panelists who’ve come on to give their perspectives about what they’re observing and must urban Canada look like as we recover. What should our priorities be? Since two days after the federal budget was announced and it’s a very poignant moment, I would say in Canada. We have neighborhoods across the country that are continuing to be extraordinarily challenged with health care systems, at least in two, if not three provinces that are being pushed to the very edge. And we always start these sessions with a recognition that we have people across the country, essential workers, devoted to trying to keep Canadians safe and keep them healthy as best we can. And so we always want to acknowledge that. And I am- I’m sure, with many horrified that we’re back into this situation that we’re in on the 21st of April into the thick of a third wave. And who knows if there’s a fourth wave. Who knows? So a time of extraordinary uncertainty. CUI is a national organization committed to creating the kind of connective tissue to allow us to learn from each other and adapt quickly and build our own capacity to be responsive to challenges. Not that we ever thought this would be the challenge or multiple challenges that we’re facing. I happen to be in Toronto today, which is the traditional territory of a number of First Nations ancestral lands, the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Annishnabec, the Chippewa, the Wendat peoples and the Haudenasaunee and also many other First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. And we- we have two treaties that were covered by here and my CO panelists or in different environments. We have the Williams Treaty and Treaty 13. At CUI, we have over this year with all of you that have been joining these city talk sessions. I’ve been struggling to come to terms with the legacy of exclusion that urban practices have reinforced and the extent to which that’s racialized, the extent to which that is disproportionately experienced by people of color and indigenous people and newcomers. And it’s just something that is starkly in front of our eyes every day when we open the news or listen to the- listen to the news and we see where the impacts of covid most acutely felt, where the impacts of lockdowns most acutely felt, and all the structural kinds of changes that we have to kind of come to terms with and figure out how are we going to remedy these things as we move forward in a- into a different kind of urban life, she says. Hopefully. So, that’s part of the conversation that I’m keen to have with my colleagues here about what are you seeing? We started these sessions by saying- asking people to talk about what’s working, what’s not and what’s next? And anticipating that we’d be at this for a number of months, not realizing that we might be at this for a number of years and in terms of having a conversation that’s so viscerally upon us. The other thing is that we also had a snowstorm this morning here in Ontario. So there are just a number of conditions that remind us that we live in a physical environment called a city. And these four have a particular perspective about the intersection of place and people and that we call city. Canada being one of the most urbanized countries in the world. So I’m encouraging everybody to participate in the chat. It’s always great for you to tell us where you’re watching from and put some questions up there. Feel free to answer each other’s questions, as you often do. We post these sessions, as people know, we post them online afterwards. We post the chat. So whatever you put in the chat, just be conscious of that. It’s going to get posted. And- and I know that the participants here are really keen to hear what you have to say and then they’re going to have some chance to interact with each other. So the question we were putting is what must urban recovery look like? And we’re appreciative to have all different parts of the country here and different perspectives in the Globe and Mail. We have both Frances and Douglas coming from the globe, and we appreciate the Globe’s interest in these topics and in their ongoing engagement with us on the dynamics in cities as we see them and how should that affect our strategy nationally as we recover. So I’m going to- we have Frances and Amarjeet and Colin and Doug and bringing different perspectives. I’ve encouraged them to be frank and open and they all wear different hats at different times. And so they’re just here as people to give us their perspective and to help us elevate the conversations that we can try to make sense of what we see. So, Frances, I’m going to go to you first, if I may. We’ll go west to east. Kind of. Sort of. And we’ll start with you. If you could just give us a perspective. Where are you, first of all, physically tell people where you are and then what are your kind of key observations as you look out your front door and as you continue to work your beat for the various ways that you write about these things? So to Frances Bula, welcome to City Talk. You’re muted, Frances, I just have to unmute you or you need to unmute yourself there.

Frances Bula [00:05:35] I did not meet myself. Someone else did it.

Mary Rowe [00:05:37] Yes, I know. Well, now you’re unmuted so good.

Frances Bula [00:05:43] Anway, well, I was hoping you’d go with Doug first because he’s always got the brilliant takes on everything. But so just to be a big downer, I’m here in my attic in Vancouver, where it’s projected to be 20 degrees today or more. And I’m looking out the window and it’s blue sky and I see gorgeous pink cherry blossoms in the next street. So sorry everyone for that. But getting back to the cities and I live in the in the center of one. I’m in a sort of ring of older neighborhoods just outside the downtown core. So obviously what I hear from the people I deal with all the time because I cover city politics here, urban issues, is the things that they’re looking to the federal government for are help with housing, help with transit, help with kind of keeping the city economy going. And an interesting thing that I’m seeing here in B.C. is that cities see the federal government as being much more helpful on this front than the B.C. NDP government because they see that the Liberals want to shore up their urban voters, particularly the female voters who are going to love things like increased spending on child care, which helps keep the economy going and the issues that they focus on. So whereas the NDP sort of takes that urban vote for granted and has been putting a lot more effort into supporting sort of some of the other areas that they think might swing towards the NDP. Interior cities, the north and so on. So I see- I see people who are involved in city politics here feeling more hopeful about what the federal government is doing for sure. It’s never enough. And you’re never sure exactly what the liberals are going to come through with in what year. Like will it be 10 years from now, this promise that they’re making. But certainly one of the things that they’ve appreciated the most is the rapid housing initiative, because for the first time, the federal government delivered money directly to cities for that. That’s a first. Usually any money that comes from the federal government gets funneled through the province and the province kind of decides what’s going to happen with that. And that’s what happened with- I should have looked the name up before, but the relief funds that they distributed at some point in the pandemic-


Mary Rowe [00:08:33] The safe restart. The safe restart program. It went through the provinces, that’s true.

Frances Bula [00:08:37] It went to the provinces and it was allocated in very different ways and different provinces. So the big concern in B.C. was that the larger cities got much less proportionally than some of the smaller ones. And whereas Ontario was a bit more, you know, it’s- more on a per capita basis, not strictly, but more so. And when I compared cities of the same size in B.C. and Ontario and what they got in Ontario, they got- you know, it was more proportional to their population than it was in B.C. So the the city people that I talked to were really upset about that in the larger cities. The smaller cities loved it because they got a lot of money, enough to cover half their budget sometimes for the year. So they really appreciated the rapid housing initiative. And that’s- there’s been an increase in this budget. Another 1.5 Billion, not the seven billion that the federation wanted, but another one point five. So anyway, that’s one of my points I was going to make. There’s lots of other points to make, and I’ll just stop talking here and listen with interest to what others have to say.

Mary Rowe [00:09:54] A couple of interesting things, Frances, that you raised there and I think it’s going to sort of frame our conversation. I’m going to come to Amarjeet next who knows this jurisdictional question very well. But a couple of things. One is this point you made about child care. And you know we do now have the lowest participation of women in the workforce, I think, since before the Second World War. So it is an extraordinary moment and all sorts of productivity. Folks are asking this, are women going to return at the numbers that they need to, aside from women having their own aspirations to participate in the workforce? Just we need workers. Canada needs people working. And so that’s one piece, the second piece that you raised. As interesting as the political piece here about liberals courting urban votes and again, Amarjeet knows this world because it’s his, has been his in the past and as you suggest, wondering did the NDP at the provincial level take it for granted where the Liberals are going to be more engaged? The third thing, though, this point about are we entering a new era, where the federal government is going to look for ways to get money directly into municipal hands? And is- there are people- this is a very big topic, obviously- but there are people querying now whether federalism is actually been working through the pandemic. Lots of ways to look at that. But this- the rapid housing initiative is one the kind of healthy communities initiative is another where there are money is being channeled directly to municipal governments and to agents, not for profit housing developers, for instance, working in local communities. And is this a new model, forgetting the politics for a second, is it a new model to get resources into the hands of the jurisdiction and the institutional infrastructure at the local level rather than having to be siphoned to the province? I’m sure there’s going to be comments I’ll get from my fellow panelists about that. So over to you, Amarjeet. We’re going to go from Sunny, Magnolia, blooming Vancouver to Schnuck on the way maybe at any time, Edmonton to get your perspective and also because you have been a local politician and a federal politician. So I’m interested to hear your reflections on the federal budget. You can obviously riff off what Frances has said, but also your own perspective as you look at your door.

Amarjeet Sohi [00:12:12] Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me to be part of this Mary. It’s a beautiful day here in Edmonton. So I know I am all for, you know, feeling empathy and everything else. But if you’ve got snow in Toronto, I don’t think much about it because we get all the time so you know

Mary Rowe [00:12:37] I know you are not very sympathetic. I know you’re not

Amarjeet Sohi [00:12:41] No not on that. Not on that. But I would actually build on what Frances- where she left off. I think the Federal government- and I speak from my experience- has been very intentional in building stronger relationship with the municipalities, because a lot of the work that Federal government  wants to do actually aligns with the- where municipalities are going. And I remember when I was the federal infrastructure minister, first time in creating history, we invited FCM,  we invited big city mayors to be part of discussions when we were meeting with provinces and territorial leaders. So there was some distance from some provinces in why are you inviting municipalities directly to a federal conversation when they are the creators of the provinces? So what- we what we tried- we were able to convince the provinces to have a seat for cities on the table. I think municipalities are aligned with Federal government on climate change. They’re aligned with the federal government on providing a more affordable housing, dealing with homelessness and as well as on the- some of the initiatives that are highlighted in this budget. So I think it’s natural that I don’t think it’s intentional from a political outcome point of view. It’s more intentional in the way we want to be on building stronger Canada and stronger communities. So it is interesting to hear from Frances because here in Alberta, a lot of people feel that Ottawa is dealing with cities because we have a conservative government. So it’s interesting to hear from Frances that same thing is happening in British Columbia, where there’s an NDP government who has been very friendly with federal Liberals and John Hartigan. NDP worked well on a number of a number of issues. So I think- I really want to say that. I also- I think we also need to be cognisant of the fact that the recovery can not be cookie cutter. Each city and each region are facing different challenges. There are challenges related to COVID absolutely. The hollowing of our downtowns, for example right. And small businesses that are struggling and how the- economic, the recovery looks like. But there are also structural changes that are happening in our economy that started happening before COVID. When I look at my province, we are going through a big energy transition. Like we are heard because of the downturn in the oil and gas sector. So I think a recovery needs to be nimble enough that we’re keeping in mind the structural changes that were happening before COVID and also what COVID has laid bare some of the issues from homelessness to poverty to mental health and deep rooted racism that has existed in our communities for decades and centuries is now right glaring in our faces. And so how do- how we do that, I think is going to be a collective effort.

Mary Rowe [00:16:20] You know, I should have acknowledged in the introduction too that we’re at a particularly poignant, moment in race relations, and it’s not just the United States that the Chauvin verdict is resonating. You know, it’sseen, I think- and as we know it’s one of the only things that took it off the front pages in the last couple of days. This- are we going to see a significant kind of re-shifting and a recognition and an acknowledgment of systemic racism and how that’s been penetrating various institutions, including policing in Canada, is not exempt from this. So I think that this context of equity and fairness and are we restructuring- can we restructure? Amarjeet I just want to take exception with one thing- and then we will next- Colin I’ll come to you next and then Doug- is- do we really- are cities just basically then at the whims of the disposition of a particular government, federal government or provincial government, doesn’t that just kind of bug you? I know you’ve worked in both levels, but really like do we really have to say, oh- like I watch the machinations that municipal governments have to go through and they have to be able to make this case to this federal government, for instance, the current one, that your climate goals will only be met by what we are able to do locally. So they have to do all these things to carry favor. Aren’t we to a place in this country where we need more autonomy and not have to be constantly navigating oh, this is their agenda. This is their political angle? Doesn’t that drive you a little crazy?


Amarjeet Sohi [00:17:56] I hear your frustration and I share your frustration and I share the frustration of many leaders throughout this country where municipalities are not treated as equal and a very important order of government, where people’s lives are touched every day from from transit to housing to recreational infrastructure to policing to fire to some picking up garbage and all that, parks and everything. Quality of life is touched by everything that the municipalities do, but the resources are so limited and so dependent on other orders of government. So that’s the reality. And that was one of the reason actually I run for federal office after serving on city council for eight years to make a difference. I think we did. Look at the transit funding for example. We- when we designed the infrastructure plan in twenty sixteen, we made sure that money is actually going directly to municipalities based on transit ridership allocation, even though it has to flow through the provinces, but provinces have no control how cities use that money. I think gas tax funding is another good example. The Rapid Housing Initiative is another example. So we are working within the limitations of the constitutional constraints. But I think you’re right. We need to find a way to increase those collaborations in a way that- I don’t think we will change the Constitution over the next while. But as we deal with the realities, I think the more we can work together, better we will be. And I have seen that- I have seen that collaboration.

Mary Rowe [00:19:43] Yes, in your previous role, I get it. You know, we had a whole thing a couple of weeks ago with Massey, the Massey College summit on cities, and it was several days of this. And people being really to a place of saying they’re not willing to see the constitutional word continually put up as a barrier and that basically we just have to get on with meeting the needs of people. And I have asked as bluntly as I can ever ask anybody that has come in a political role to say if municipal governments had more power and more money and more autonomy, would fewer people be dying, fewer people being impacted by COVID? I know it’s a hard question for people to be ready to answer, but I just think in a moment of crisis that we are seized by this muddied jurisdictional thing just becomes almost impossible to navigate. And I just want us to- I don’t know how we get over ourselves and just start to figure out what are the solutions. Colin, I’m going to pass to you. What do you think the solutions can be and what’s your perspective from all the various hats that you wear?

Colin Lynch [00:20:47] Oh, thank you. First off, very good to be here. Second off, I am with Mary and enjoying the snow, which is evaporating. And right in the middle of downtown Toronto, high up in the building, in the condo building, looking out. So I am looking- I looked at a picture still this morning, but fortunately it looks to be getting just a touch warmer. I’m going to pick up on a few points from Amarjeet and Frances, but I would just say my solid answer to the question on whether municipalities should be given more power is a solid yes. Certainly one of my former roles as vice chair of Toronto Community Housing Corp. For most of my time on that board, we dealt with effectively what was a critical funding gap that was well known at the city of Toronto, but couldn’t be solved by the city of Toronto, and as a result, people lived in in deplorable conditions. We would tour some communities and then be able to go to the side of a house and tear off the brick. Like this is in the city of Toronto. And so what do we see? We saw in my last couple of weeks on that board an intervention from the federal government to give one point three billion to Toronto Community Housing. That’s wonderful. But what we do see is various interventions over and over and over again. And at what point do we say, like, great on one off interventions, but we have to look at the system and how it’s operating and going.

Mary Rowe [00:22:32] Doesn’t it drive you crazy that you have to use the language that the federal government gave you one point three billion. Like that part, doesn’t it just- it must have, as a governor of the corporation, it must have just infuriated you, right?

Colin Lynch [00:22:46] Well, if- I had a fantastic time on that corporation, but so many things infuriated me-.

Mary Rowe [00:22:53] I’m sure.

Colin Lynch [00:22:54] So but, you know I- that’s one. You are- and I think we’ve made this point- you’re charged with the responsibility, the obligation, and you want to do a good job to deliver, but you can’t. You don’t have the tools in the toolbox to deliver. At least that was the situation that I found myself in. If I then connect two points, the COVID point and the racism point, they’ve been intertwined right. So we have seen through COVID the impact of racism on our society here in Canada and on urban communities. And we’ve seen the different impacts in the GTA, whether you’re talking about Brampton or Mississauga or Toronto or Pickering or Markham, all have been affected very differently, right. And that has to do with where do racialized individuals find themselves on the social economic ladder of this country? And the COVID impacts, the folks that are in ICUs, the folks that can’t get access to vaccines because we don’t put them in the pharmacies in their communities, right? All of that and the decision making behind that and now we’ve seen in the last week municipalities basically breaking away from the provincial flow and basically doing their own things. You know, that goes back to the point that we’re talking about municipalities and the province. The only other thing I would just say is from a black person in this country perspective, I have subscribed to the notion of this country being welcoming to all and being an example for the world and I think we are. But what this year has shown in particular and over the last three, four, five years with more data, is that in so many different respects, this country’s not that different than the USA, right. So whether it’s policing, whether it’s unemployment being substantially higher for black individuals, whether it’s- we also have a different life span in this country, depending on your income quintile. And when you have the majority of black individuals in those bottom quintiles, you have them living shorter lives. We’ve got all these issues going on in this country. Unfortunately, over the last year and a half, we’ve had a conversation and a lot of those individuals live in cities. So this is very much an urban issue. And I’ll say the last thing one more time, which is at the end of the day, I fundamentally believe one layer of government can’t solve it all. And I think it’s been mentioned before, you have to partner with community organizations, with businesses, you have to have a whole society to deal with these issues. And I’m just using racism as an example. But that goes for so many other things as well,

Mary Rowe [00:25:55] We have a frame we use, place based policymaking, you know. Place- everything has to start at the local level, play space. If we had taken vaccination distribution from a place based perspective, it would have been rolled out quite differently. If we had taken interventions in neighborhoods specific to the neighborhood where the COVID was- where it was manifesting and had specific interventions that might have stemmed it. It’s just this notion that we have to desegregate all the time and see if we can figure out what the local solutions are. I mean, I think the innovation community understands this because they can see that incubation of ideas happens at the most local level. If I can ask one of my colleagues from CUI to put up a link to the COVID Signpost reports, which we did every hundred days, they really lay out what Colin has just as described, that the incidence of COVID and the impact of those lockdowns disproportionately felt by racialized communities, equity seeking communities. And it is spatially organized, which is just the staggering thing. I- I’m with you Colin. We have this thing about Canadian exceptionalism. Let’s hope we’ve dropped that because it doesn’t appear to be the case. David- let me come to you now, Doug. And you have made a whole career of writing around newcomer communities, settlement communities, not just in Canada, but in- you’ve just been in Europe doing it there and looking at some of the models over there. So very interested in your perspective and how you respond to your colleagues here on the session. And then we’ll come back to some general conversation after you give us your perspective. Thanks, Colin. Over to you, Doug.

Doug Saunders [00:27:26] Thank you, Mary. And thank you, everybody, for your expertize. Let me take a few paces back and try to do what Mary said and look up my window here in Toronto to try to characterize what the cities and housing problems are in Canada and where there might be a mismatch between what the federal government is talking about in this budget and what is really needed. So outside my window is the Christie Pitts’ neighborhood of Toronto, which until the end of the nineties was a low income immigrant reception neighborhood, what I have called an arrival city. It was the initial place of low cost housing destination for central European Jews fleeing the pogroms, then for northern Mediterranean families from Italy and Portugal, looking for cheap houses and then for people from East and South Asia on low incomes. And they were typically like the Portuguese family that owned this house before we did. They bought it for twenty five thousand dollars in the 70s, used its rise in value to finance small business and education and that sort of thing. And that’s the- that’s sort of the Canadian model of integration, inclusion. It’s the Canadian story. It’s using housing as a platform and housing ownership as a platform for becoming a middle class Canadian. And that’s worked for about one hundred and twenty years. And traditionally, about 70 percent of newcomers to Canada buy a house within 10 years of arriving. It’s why we don’t have the economic integration problems that some other countries do or we haven’t until recently. And this neighborhood also has low income housing and social housing and refugee shelters and that sort of thing, but that’s not where the action is. And when I look at what the federal government is talking about doing, most of its funding is for low income housing, as far as I can tell, which is important. Nobody can besmirch that. What Colin said about social housing in Toronto is very true. But there is a housing supply shortage across Canada’s cities. And it’s- I would argue it’s the biggest problem in Canada and certainly the biggest problem in Canada’s cities. And while there are housing supply shortages on all ends of the market, including the lowest income housing, the lowest income housing is not where the most acute shortage is located. And you can show the most acute supply shortages are located the next step up the ladder when people move from renting at the lowest income or being in social housing lowest income to a level of success where they would like to have their first house that they own or that they have sustained better quality rental tenure on. In other words, when they want to move from just arriving to becoming settled Canadians through the process of housing, there is suddenly such a vacuum of housing in the largest cities in that particular spot that is leaving people stuck and it’s leaving people stuck in a racially segregated way because newcomers to Canada and their children and grandchildren disproportionately tend to be from what we call visible- from racialized backgrounds, visible minority backgrounds. And the housing crisis is one of several factors that’s creating de facto segregation. And we explore- and this has become acute during the COVID-19 pandemic. My- me and my colleagues at the Globe and Mail did a project last year where we mapped the specific neighborhoods in Canadian and US and European cities by rates of COVID, by population density, by income, by percentage of racialized populations. And the overlap between all those things is extraordinary. COVID-19 in 2020 at least, was a disease of the apartment inner suburbs. Like almost exclusively, whether you are in Houston or New York City or Toronto or Vancouver or London or Paris, it was a disease that basically didn’t hit the center of cities. It hit the high rise and mid rise, low population density apartment districts generally in the inner suburbs. In Toronto, our map showed COVID-19 almost entirely concentrated in the upper left of the city in northern Etobicoke in North York. In Vancouver, it was concentrated almost entirely in the lower right in Surrey for a long time. In  Montreal, it was on the top of the island. And these happen to be neighborhoods that, first of all, have the highest proportion of racialize populations, which I think in this case is a proxy for immigration, because immigration since the 90s has been almost entirely a suburban phenomenon in Canada. They also were places with low income, not the lowest income. The poorest neighborhoods weren’t getting hit. It was the neighborhoods that I would call aspirational poverty, people who were moving through a period of poverty into what they expected to be something better. And also they were in neighborhoods of low population density, which is the thing about a suburban apartment neighborhood in Toronto. They have few enough people per square kilometer that there was no city had ever bothered to try to put in rapid transit lines. So these populations were in so-called essential jobs, you know, working in warehouses or driving vehicles or front line customer service or cleaning floors or what have you. And they were stuck on crowded busses back and forth to these jobs. Mostly if you explore these neighborhoods, their families who are seeking to move to a next level of housing or life, but it just doesn’t exist. And in Toronto, the ugliest little tiny house cost a million dollars and even two bedroom condos are getting close to a million dollars. So that next step on the ladder is just missing. There’s just a missing rung in Canada. Now, what could a Federal government do? A Federal government cannot be paying money to build lower middle class housing. There’s just too much of it needed. It’s not a good use of federal money. I mean, there’s there’s a point to be made for lowest income housing being the priority. But what could a federal government do? It could it could do a shared cost program with cities to incentivize the upscaling of population density in existing residential neighborhoods. For example, by doing a shared cost 50 50 financing of low income housing buildings, but insisting as a condition for that financing that the city removes planning- the planning approval process for a period of five years in an X number of single family house neighborhoods to expedite the construction of higher density housing.

Mary Rowe [00:34:50] So Doug, let’s take that point. Let’s- before you go on another one- let’s take that point. I want- you know once a prince- once you can take the print journalist and put her on a video call, but the print journalist doesn’t leave. So Frances is on the chat here, having lots of engagement with people on the notion of NIMBYism and all these things. Let’s talk about housing. Do we- as in do you collectively agree that housing should be and is the key focus? Should that be? And then what do you do about the fact that what you just described, Doug, introducing more densification and more housing into neighborhoods, there will be, as you know, tremendous pushback from folks saying, oh, no, thanks very much. So I don’t think it’s just a question of money, is it? Is housing where we should go first? Is that what you want to see? Any of you. Amarjeet

Amarjeet Sohi [00:35:49]  I agree with with Doug on most of the points that he has made on that market housing or getting in that the market housing from low income and social housing. How do people transition into that then? There is a gap in availability. I think that gap is more prevalent in cities like Vancouver and drawn to not as prevalent in cities like Edmonton. So I think market housing availability at entry level is reasonably there as well as city has taken some initiatives in providing incentives for first time homebuyers by the-

Mary Rowe [00:36:39] Amarjeet can we separate, though? I feel like there are two parallel conversations. One is, is housing the path to- is housing ownership the path to the middle class and to wealth building and is that the big bet Canada wants to stay with, first? And then secondly, do we actually have the right mechanisms in place to create shelter of various forms so that people can be well housed? I feel like it’s two sides of the same coin. And I’m wondering, Frances, can I get you to speak as well as type about the experience in Vancouver because you have had a housing and a vacancy shortage for years.

Frances Bula [00:37:24] Yeah, and I mean, obviously, the incentives for homeownership is what Canada has focused on for almost 100 years-

Mary Rowe [00:37:35] Should we shift that? Should we drop it?

Frances Bula [00:37:36] I’ve read books on the fight to get lower cost housing in Vancouver and back in the 30s and 40s, the federal government was like not willing to really put money into rental or social housing. They really felt that ownership was the way to go. And you still see a huge emphasis on that

Mary Rowe [00:37:57] Would you change it? Do you think we should shift it?

Frances Bula [00:38:00] Well. You know, I haven’t thought deeply about that, so I’m not going to start making federal policy on the fly here on the off chance anyone takes me up on it runs with my ideas, which will never happen. But I mean, clearly, the problem is there need to be so- there needs to be so much more for all of the other forms of housing for rental, whether it’s private market or subsidized. I mean, typically in large cities, 50 percent of people are renters. And you wouldn’t actually maybe want to change that too much because you want those mobile populations. So these are arrival places, as Doug has documented, where you don’t necessarily want people to lock down to buying a house in their first two years here. So there just has to be a lot more options available for in cities, for all the other forms. You know, the thing I run into constantly in Vancouver when I have to go to aweful public open houses and public hearings, back when we used to but a lot of people who are homeowners don’t actually recognize the need for rental in the city. I’ve had people opposed rentals saying, well, you know, like I know people need to rent, like I was a renter when I was a student. But this is a single family area and, you know, it’s not a renters area. And they don’t get that the way cities are working now that there are people, double income professional households who are looking at renting for their entire lives because-

Mary Rowe [00:39:45] And in cities around- and in great cities around the world, London and Tokyo, you don’t own your rent. Go ahead, Amarjeet and Colin.

Amarjeet Sohi [00:39:52] I was going to shift from housing to another point, Mary, which is that we are seeing racialization of certain jobs in our country. When you look at- and that is part of the problem. And we need to tackle that issue in order to have sustainable long term solutions. Like who are the people who are working at the front lines of cleaning of buildings, driving your taxis, driving your Uber and and who are the people who are doing the different clerk jobs at the grocery stores and who are the people who are working in meatpacking plants? And I think we have racialized, low paying jobs in a way that people are stuck in those jobs-

Mary Rowe [00:40:39] Yeah. And unlike a potentially historic pattern of newcomers coming in, they take those jobs and then they move up. You’re saying that hasn’t been happening. Whatever up means, it hasn’t been happening.

Amarjeet Sohi [00:40:50]  Look at the spread of COVID in Long-Term Care Facilities, at least in our- in my province in Alberta. Those people were working in more than one facilities at the same time because they couldn’t make ends meet-

Mary Rowe [00:41:05] because they were underpaid-

Amarjeet Sohi [00:41:06] underpaid and not being valued and not having enough benefits. I think we need to look at that structural challenge as well, along with housing.

Mary Rowe [00:41:16] Yeah, OK, Colin, go ahead.

Colin Lynch [00:41:18] Yeah. So I’m going to pick up on both of those points. So Amarjeet has very astutely pointed out who’s working in low wage jobs. Now, let’s look at who’s working in high wage jobs, who’s- who has equity ownership of companies, who is getting stock options, who is founding companies and who’s getting supported by venture capitalists, who’s getting funded up at massive valuations, right. We don’t see a lot of racialized individuals in those roles. Right. And so just to the point on, this is not a newcomer story. It’s a connectivity story. It’s a who do you know, that’s in your network that you’re going to go to, regardless of whether they’re the best, have the most merit, have the greatest ideas. It’s people that you trust in your network, in those fields right. And so I think we’ve got address that-

Mary Rowe [00:42:20] So Colin how do we disrupt that? How do we disrupt that? Because as you say, I mean, we in the early days of COVID set up some sharing platforms, including one called City Share Canada, because we wanted to show how local networks were going to start to form up to do sort of community problem-solving. And it seems to me that in the old days, a neighborhood, there were civic institutions where you would meet people that were outside of your social circle. You would- what do we do now? What’s the intervention now to create those connections that are missing?

Colin Lynch [00:42:52] Super tough question. But this is where- this is where I go it has to be multiple fold. It does start from my perspective in a city like Toronto in the concept of the place. And when you get neighborhoods that are, hey, it’s only for the rich people and only the poor people live here, you begin to get that call it balkanization of a city that happens now that creates some of those sort of dynamics to begin with. I mean, I think there’s a lot more on education, on exposure, on incentivizing. I hesitate saying that because I’m not sure it’s necessarily the government’s role, but incentivizing organizations, corporations, venture capitalists- and there on the venture capitalists, I think there’s a role for government because even in this budget, there’s announcements for venture capital funding in this country and there is a big problem in that world.

Mary Rowe [00:43:49] Colin, what about if the- I go to the neighborhood scale and Frances has been lamenting the fact that there’s this NIMBY thing that exists, and Amarjeet was agreeing, it’s- and Doug just made a particular proposal for a cost sharing to densify neighborhoods. Do you think if we could find- could we use housing as the tool to introduce more diversities of every kind into neighborhoods and potentially along Main Streets, maybe?

Colin Lynch [00:44:17] Yes.

Mary Rowe [00:44:18] Is that a tangible intervention that we could make? Doug, I’m interested for Doug to continue with on the side. And Colin you respond and then let’s see what Doug thinks.

Colin Lynch [00:44:26] Yeah, I think that’s in the art of the possible for sure. I mean, if you look at the- I was in my role at TCHC, but also in other hats, I’ve had a fairly good line of sight to city planning and how that works. And cities are incredibly intentional as it is right now on what gets developed, where it gets developed, how it serves communities as a  mix, et cetera right. So there’s a lot of those tools in place from what I can tell. We just now got to start using those tools. And as it relates to just on the housing piece, there’s a few points. One is there is a supply shortage. And I fully agree with that. And that’s not just a Toronto Vancouver story. You see it in cities around the world. I hesitate saying that point because it’s made by a lot of people in the real estate world and they have an incentive to make that point right. They want to build buildings and make money. I think, however, the solution needs to be very intentional on what type of housing is constructed. And when you look at the rent situation, at least in Toronto. The vast majority of new rental units are contributed by condo owners that have bought condos for pure speculative purposes. They’ve bought them to make money, hoping for capital appreciation, and they’re going to try to drive up the rent as much as possible because they’re investment condos, right. We haven’t actually seen a ton of purpose-built rental built, right. And so and for various reasons. So all I’m saying here is there’s stuff being built right now. We’ve got a process, at least in the city of Toronto for which I can talk to. We just have to use these tools a little bit more intentionally to create outcomes that reduce balkanization in a city like Toronto.

Mary Rowe [00:46:17] I think the balkanization comment is just very telling. You can see in the chat you’re getting lots of response. One of the things that CUI is doing is a big thing on bringing back Main Street and restoring the core. And we’re trying to make the point, housing, diverse housing choices need to be part of the option and solution in bringing your downtown back, not just high end condos, right. And similar your main streets. Doug, you had a proposal and then I went around the world about it with this gang. The idea that the Federal government create a cost sharing program to introduce different kinds of housing mix and choice in neighborhoods. You want to expand on that? Did you see enough of that in the budget as you- as laid out on Monday, or do you want to see something more?

Doug Saunders [00:46:55] I don’t think we have enough for the fine print yet to know how it’ll work. And it’s certainly- it’s not enough to really get it started. It’s interesting to see a federal role in urban housing beginning anyway. Colin raised a really important point, I think, in identifying what we tend to call structural racism as being a process of path dependency, basically. And he was talking about it and things like the hiring process and that sort of thing. People go with what they know. Tend to be people who look like them and come from similar backgrounds. And that’s an important part of the housing process as well. And that contributes to this geographical- I mean, really what you could call segregation. I mean, if you ask in Toronto, why do most black people live out on Rogers Road or up in Northern Etobicoke in North York, even though they come from a fairly variegated backgrounds; the Caribbean and East African immigrants and some Afro Canadians and that sort of thing with no reason. If you ask the families who live there, they’ll often tell you a story that involves them arriving in the seventies or something, and they couldn’t rent a house south of Eglinton because nobody would rent to them, which is sometimes outright racism. Let’s not discount that, but it’s also sometimes path dependency. They were renting to the Portuguese or Italian or WASP families that they knew and they’d created a closed circuit neighborhood. And so a city that’s known for tolerance managed to generate segregation and along color lines based on market forces being allowed to do what they do. Now, simply increasing population density of neighborhoods is not necessarily going to solve that or building more social housing or so, and there are intrinsic reasons to be doing that. I think we need to talk about mix in terms of looking at- I sort of keep getting back to this- but looking at the life course of people. Do- when people move out of the level where they’re in social housing or very low income rental housing, they usually have to move to a completely different neighborhood. And they often don’t want to. But it’s because Canada has structured its housing so that we have different types of housing which are in different buildings and structures, so that once you once you move up the ladder, you literally have to move. It’s worth looking at countries like Mexico or Singapore or the Netherlands, where social housing is owned by its residents. They have a mortgage and they own it. They have a stake in it. It’s heavily subsidized so that it can be done on a lower working class income. Or they have a system where you can transition from social to rental to ownership in the same neighborhood, same building and sometimes even the same apartment. You can change its status from social housing to a rental housing to you can purchase your unit. This is really important, this sort of stuff, for the stability of families, for the stability and continuity of neighborhoods. You don’t want neighborhoods to always be stepping stone neighborhoods. One of the weird, perverse effects of the housing crisis is that some really transitory stepping stone rental neighborhoods have turned into more stable places because families have been stuck there. And rather than staying for five years, they’re staying for 15 years until they can get enough money to buy a house. But you don’t really want to create stability that way by people feeling like they’re stuck and they’re still going to move eventually. So I think it’s worth Canadians and Canadian policymakers starting to break down this idea that there are different types of housing for different sorts of people and that you have the poor and then you have the middle class and so on, and recognizing that they’re often the same people in different stages of life and that they would ideally like to be in the same neighborhood,

Mary Rowe [00:51:06] You know, cities, I think in the abstract we imagine them being hives of connectivity and mobility and porousness. And you can move more freely in all the ways in which we know as an organic system they would function healthily. And each of you were identifying a particular disconnect or ways in which that has been breaking down. Going- just if we can take us back for just for the last few minutes we’ve got together, in terms of the federal intervention, which seems to be principally through money. You’ve talked about housing. You’ve raised the issue of immigration, which was hardly breathed in the budget, to my knowledge. We’ve had a year- this would be the first year and how many folks that we haven’t had an influx of newcomers significantly down. Are there- well, I don’t know Doug’s maybe telling them wrong on that- are there any are there any other kinds of interventions? Go ahead, Doug. Do you want to respond there?

Doug Saunders [00:51:59] Canada is welcoming four hundred and one thousand new Canadians this year, the highest level it’s ever done since the mid 60s. But they all are people who are already living in Canada on non permanent bases. The pandemic has caused Canada to correct an injustice in doing so. So you’re right, but it’s more complicated

Mary Rowe [00:52:22] In terms of other kinds of priorities- go ahead, Frances. Did you want to jump back in and then Amarjeet can come back in. Frances.

Frances Bula [00:52:30] Just when keep- have brought up a couple of times about is it just about money? I mean, money is being used to change certain things. Like I was writing in the chat about American states are increasingly moving to this thing of taking control or demanding certain things from cities that before they had said, oh, you do whatever you want local control is the best. They’re now saying, you know, many cities are moving to a system where they’re requiring cities to meet housing targets. They can choose which way they want to do it, but they have to accommodate newcomers in some way. They’re not allowing cities to ban certain types of housing like laneway houses or triplex or whatever. And I keep hearing that this is going we’re going to see more of this in Canada. And there’s been a lot of discussion and Amarjeet probably knows about this, you know, say, tying transit dollars to municipalities’ willingness to provide new housing. And that has happened in some states. If they’re not willing to provide the housing, the transit dollars don’t go there.

Mary Rowe [00:53:39] So in this way, would you be advocating for that based on what you’re hearing? Is that maybe that’s the way to get around NIMBYism and local resistance is you set some-

Frances Bula [00:53:47] Well, that is what federal and state governments are doing and starting to talk about this in Canada more is- so it becomes not just money. Money, is the lever to produce other kinds of changes. And I can see I’m getting excited here.

Amarjeet Sohi [00:54:05] Yeah I think Frances what are you touching on is really- it’s about affordability. How do you make your living affordable in urban centers and affordability is not only tied to housing, it’s tied to access to public transit, it tries to access to recreational facilities, to libraries, to parks and other amenities that people living in urban centers need. So that integration of transportation and land use planning and where the amenities are is a big piece of puzzle that needs to be resolved in order to make sure that living is affordable.

Mary Rowe [00:54:49] Amarjeet, where would the leadership come from on that?

Amarjeet Sohi [00:54:51] I think leadership comes from municipalities on that. I think of what Federal government has to do is provide tools and particularly mainly funding tools. They do. And I think you don’t want to have federal government dictating to municipalities to how to design their neighborhoods. I don’t think they’ll be at all the wrong approach. I think there’s enough leadership at the municipal levels to tackle those issues as long as you give them the proper tools. And the final point I want to make, which ties to the other earlier conversation, is that housing as a human right? Absolutely. I believe that. But we will not be able to deal with issues of social issues until we have more of a systemic approach to housing, to mental health, to addiction, to poverty, to racism and marginalization, and you add many other things. I think what we need is more of a how do we see intersectionality of all these things together and how do we find solutions that are not siloed, but more of integrated solutions?

Mary Rowe [00:55:59] It’s interesting. You know, we had the occasion of the federal budget to pull you together. It’s an old trope in Canada. We wait to see what the Crown is going to say and then we respond. Is there- Colin, is there a way to build this from the ground up? What Amarjeet- Amarjeet just made a big call there for a kind of new urban agenda, I think I heard. Just saying. Colin, what do you think? What would- we’re in the round here where each of you really can just give us one last thought about reflecting on the federal engagement in cities. So over to you first Colin.

Colin Lynch [00:56:30] Yeah, I think there’s there’s a picture there’s opportunity to do this more from a ground up perspective, and it should be done from a more ground up perspective. I think that’s what we’ve seen in the last year and a half and more that it should be. I do think government plays just on the money piece. Government doesn’t just give money. Government convenes. A government should convene. And all three levels of government should convene. But one of the things on the Black Opportunity Fund, the reason why we’ve structured it in the way we have is on the belief that we should convene government with courts, with philanthropy, with foundations, with individuals to help us address something systemic in society right. Now we saw government take first steps on that two days ago with the budget. Not enough, in my opinion, but they took first steps. But I think there’s- as I went through the budget- there’s different areas where they’re hinting at that. But I think we’ve got to take- call it a quantum leap forward and look at, you know, the government, the budget, just not as a dollar figure, as an opportunity to bring multiple actors together to actually try to deal with stuff. There’s plenty of other things like the opioid epidemic, mental health. Those are going to be massive issues. My partner treats folks with addictions. I get to see this all day and it’s especially acute in this pandemic. And I think when we come out of this, hopefully soon, we will be dealing with something very significant there in cities as well.

Mary Rowe [00:58:10] So there’s government as leader and maybe, Frances, 30 seconds to you government as having a setting, a standard to which the other level government has to live up to. Is that right?

Frances Bula [00:58:23] Yeah, I mean, you know what everyone says, if states and federal governments are going to intervene in how cities work, they set a goal, but they let each city figure out how they’re going to get to that goal. So it’s not a question of coming in and rezoning every lot, you know and things like that. It’s left up to the cities to figure out how they get to that goal. And states and provinces and federal governments have an interest in that, because one of the things that we ignored here, we’ve talked a lot about equity, which is important, but cities are the economic engines. And if they start failing because they can’t house people, that is a problem for everybody.

Mary Rowe [00:59:05] And if they start failing because they don’t have enough workers or the workers are being so poorly paid that they have all sorts of other disadvantages and a cost to the system. 30 seconds to you, Doug on federal engagement in cities. Any further thoughts from you and then to you, Amarjeet, to take us home? Go ahead, Doug.

Doug Saunders [00:59:19] Well, I think my colleagues here have provided a set of options that work really well. I’m going to be optimistic and say this is a foot in the door. This is the beginning of an understanding that the federal government can bypass provinces that are difficult and can help- and cities imprisonment under provincial governments by engaging in shared cost programs. It doesn’t have to be big spending programs. It can be incentives and leverage and  assistance in other ways.

Mary Rowe [00:59:55] OK, last word to you, Amarjeet,

Amarjeet Sohi [00:59:58] Well we need to have tons of more conversations like this-.

Mary Rowe [01:00:02] yeah we do-.

Amarjeet Sohi [01:00:03] In order to really figure out the solutions to these very complex, complex problems. And I think I am optimistic. I think we will come out of COVID more stronger in a way, because there’s more realization that the issues that we have ignored for decades cannot be ignored no longer. So- and we need to tackle them. I think that realization is happening at the federal level. It is happening absolutely at the municipal levels, and I hope they’ll be more realization at provincial levels as well. I think that sense of collaboration that we saw at the onset of COVID, we need that kind of collaboration coming out of COVID and tackling these big issues.

Mary Rowe [01:00:51] Just an extraordinary wake up call, I think, for all of us to care about the places that we live in. All of the different circumstances that are coalescing to make us realize what we have to still fix and what we have to change. And with that comes an opportunity, right, to do some changing. So thank you so much, Colin and Amarjeet and Doug and Frances. I agree with Amarjeet. We need more of these conversations. Honestly, I could spend several hours with you four.  I appreciate all the different perspectives. Thanks for all the engagement in the chat. Those of you that are missing city talk in terms of our regular meter, just be aware we are helping administer the Canada Healthy Communities Initiative and that is placemaking tangible on the ground in neighborhoods being led by community groups and municipalities and different kinds of organizations across the country to actually make a difference in their community by doing various kinds of interventions. And we hope they’ll be more and more of that. We hope you’ll join us for some mobilization sessions. We have one on the 4th of May and then we have another one on the 12th where we’re going to talk about how other cities are finding tangible ways to improve neighborhoods that we hope catalyze this kind of thing. I want to do something on housing with you guys so I’m not losing your phone numbers and all the different imaginative ways that you’re proposing a kind of revolution with- evolution without a revolution is, I think, what I heard Frances hinting on and Amarjeet’s in the thick of it. So, Doug, always appreciate perspectives. Colin, great to have you. Thanks, everybody, for joining us on City Talk. I hope you enjoy the magnolias and the snow and that we just stay in it together as we try to find our way through the third wave. Thanks, everybody.

Amarjeet Sohi [01:02:21] Bye everyone.

Full Audience
Chatroom Transcript

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12:01:11 From Canadian Urban Institute to Everyone : Welcome! Folks, please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:01:22 From Canadian Urban Institute to Everyone : Attendees: where are you tuning in from today?
12:01:36 From Laura Wall to All panelists : London, Ontario
12:01:36 From Odai Sirri to All panelists : Lantzville, BC
12:01:37 From Jordan Riemer to Everyone : Tuning in from Edmonton, Alberta
12:01:58 From Guhad Hersi to All panelists : Hello From Toronto
12:02:03 From John Mungham to All panelists : Tuning in from Calgary
12:02:11 From Catherine Howett to Everyone : Saskatchewan
12:02:15 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : Here from the traditional territory of the Treaty 1 Nations & the Homeland of the Métis Nation: Winnipeg!
12:02:17 From Chelsey Andrews to Everyone : Campbell River, BC
12:02:26 From Simon Chamberlain to Everyone : Tuning in from Mount Dennis, Toronto
12:02:26 From Michael Phair to All panelists : Michael Phair from Edmonton
12:02:34 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Vancouver/Toronto
12:02:53 From Laurel Davies Snyder to All panelists : Hello from Stratford, ON. And it’s snowing.
12:03:20 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Hello from Tkaronto. Really glad to hear what everyone has to say. Welcome back Mary and CUI
12:04:02 From Toby Greenbaum to Everyone : Hello from Ottawa.
12:04:10 From Ralph Cipolla to Everyone : Hello from orillia ontario
12:04:29 From Frank Murphy to Everyone : Good morning from Nanaimo.
12:05:11 From Samantha Krahn to Everyone : Tuning in from beautiful Saskatoon, SK today
12:05:20 From Rod Bovay to All panelists : Hello from Belleville, Ontario
12:05:25 From Augusto Mathias to All panelists : Good Morning! Sao Paulo – Brazil
12:05:33 From Canadian Urban Institute to Everyone : Frances Bula, urban issues and politics writer

Doug Saunders, International Affairs, Globe and Mail

Colin Lynch, Co-Founder of Black Opportunity Fund and Head of Global Real Estate Investments at TD Asset Management

Amarjeet Sohi, Senior Advisor at ALAR Strategy Group, Former City Councillor and Federal Minister

12:11:22 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Our larger cities lack the resources and the autonomy to implement the policies that they need to meet the needs of their residents. Decades of downloading by higher levels of government without the attendant stable funding has inflicted deep and ongoing damage to our urban regions.
12:14:03 From Robert Sauvey to All panelists : Is it time to consider Canada’s major cities as city states to alleviate these cities issues and create direct support to these regions directly?
12:14:05 From Abby (she/her) Slater to All panelists : @Baldwin 100%. Our tax base in Toronto comes from one source, which creates this incentive to look at development growth only…and even then developers are not paying their fair share.
12:14:41 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : @Baldwin 100%. Our tax base in Toronto comes from one source, which creates this incentive to look at development growth only…and even then developers are not paying their fair share.
12:15:24 From Robert Sauvey to Everyone : Is it time to consider Canada’s major cities as city states to alleviate these cities issues and create direct support to these regions directly?
12:18:35 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : Ex city councillor here, and FCM board member.. and yes.. IT DRIVES MUNI’s CRAZY!!!
12:18:49 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Hear hear Mary1
12:18:51 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : !
12:18:54 From Doug Saunders to Everyone : On the point Mary is now raising, here’s an essay I wrote a few years ago about the surprising lack of authority in city government
12:18:57 From Doug Saunders to Everyone :
12:19:44 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : On top of Doug’s great article, check out the book: If Mayors Ruled the World.
12:19:46 From Toby Greenbaum to Everyone : Isn’t there significant legislation change required to give municipalities the powers and taxation required?
12:19:55 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : How likely is it that an Provincial gov’t will cede power?
12:20:31 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Any provincial gov’t?
12:20:43 From Baldwin Hum to All panelists : There’s also a deep democratic deficit in many urban regions, and this is reflected in the lack of interest by higher levels of government in urban issues.
12:20:59 From Diane Dyson to Everyone : @Brian I am currently enjoying Philip Slayton’s Mayors Gone Bad. LOL
12:21:15 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : In Toronto, I think the municipality wanted to take stronger action than the premier…so one would say yes to your question wrt Toronto and environs at least.
12:21:29 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Not all environs, admittedly.
12:21:49 From Lise Bendrodt to All panelists : mary’s point- cities in GTA now overriding prov govt re closures due to 5 plus COVID cases
12:22:06 From Canadian Urban Institute to Everyone : Reminding attendees to please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” so everyone can see your comments.
12:24:46 From Frances Bula to Everyone : On the issue of giving more power to cities and somehow they will do better at solving i.e. inequity problems. One of the trends going on in the U.S. these days is many states exerting more control over how cities provide housing. The problem: a LOT of cities have prevented lower-cost forms of housing from being built in sufficient numbers because local politicians are more attuned to their comfortably housed existing-voter base than to newcomers looking for places to live. The states have started ordering cities to meet housing targets, allow for certain non-single-family housing types where they are not now. So handing over a lot of power to local governments isn’t going to work out the same in every city.
12:25:33 From Calabro Claudia to Everyone : Thank you Colin for highlighting these points.
12:25:57 From Lance Berelowitz to Everyone : Agree with you Frances. But the issue still needs to be fixed.
12:26:09 From Odai Sirri to Everyone : @Colin Well said.
12:26:24 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Canada is an urban country, and urban issues are national issues.
12:27:03 From Robert Sauvey to Everyone : yes! @Baldwin
12:27:17 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Agree @Frances…especially around the “comfortably housed” voters.
12:27:21 From Canadian Urban Institute to Everyone : Check out our COVID signpost reports here:
12:27:26 From Lance Berelowitz to Everyone : Cities need more power and tools. We’ve been talking about this for decades. But nothing changes. What’s with Canada resistance to change?
12:28:38 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : @ Diane. I will have to add it to my reading list!
12:29:14 From Frances Bula to Everyone : And, on the issue of equity-seeking groups in cities — the proportion of those groups may even increase. As a local commentator noted recently, all the stories about people fleeing the cities for smaller towns, rural areas — that is primarily a white-person thing, the idea of escaping to a charming smaller city with great coffee and a brewery. It’s not something new or even second-generation immigrants are flocking to.
12:29:41 From Gloria Venczel to Everyone : Canada is an urban nation today at 82% of people living in cities. In the 1861 census, pre-confederation,” Canada” consisted of 84% rural farmers, when the federal governance model was adopted, including the taxation model. Cities are the economic/innovation drivers of Canada with the least amount of revenue sources- namely property taxes, with the most, “out of scope”, downloaded responsibilities. Canadian cities need a New Green Deal.
12:30:23 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : @frances I think they have also shown that that phenomenon was overblown and the escape from cities on a large scale is unlikely to happen.
12:30:40 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : There does need to be balance between urban and rural regions, but for too long the focus has been on rural regions. Both urban and rural are deeply dependent on each other, and policies need to deal effectively and authentically with both.
12:31:26 From Frances Bula to Everyone : Yes, I’ve seen that analysis too. All the pandemic did was accelerate the moves of people who were already planning to move anyway. And the reason cities seem emptier is because the usual inflow of immigrants, students, movers from other provinces, has slowed during the pandemic.
12:32:22 From Frances Bula to Everyone : But the stories about pandemic moves do highlight which groups it is that typically move out, which don’t.
12:32:39 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : @frances 100%
12:32:42 From Doug Saunders to Everyone :
12:32:52 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Doug’s now classic look at arrival cities I find is a useful one. We know that with the climate crisis that people globally will be on the move. How we prepare or not for new residents in our region will likely determine the success of our collective futures.
12:32:54 From Marie-Josée Houle to All panelists : Would you say that the onset of Rent Supplements and Portable Housing Allowances introduced in the private market rental housing sector be the cause of this: creating more competition for those rental units?
12:34:22 From Frances Bula to Everyone : In Vancouver, I can’t see that. There’s been an incredibly low vacancy rate for decades. The only time it moves up slightly is during recessions/pandemics.
12:35:08 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : I think we lack an overarching long term vision for our urban centres from all upper levels of government which does not allow for long term planning or long term solutions when every decision is on a 3-4 year election cycle.
12:35:21 From P Reddy to Everyone : Hi,
12:35:55 From Frances Bula to Everyone : I have to write long posts here because I haven’t written entire articles and books the way Doug has, that he can just link to. 🙂
12:36:01 From paul mackinnon to All panelists : We saw again in the Federal budget that one of the achilles’ heel is that here, in one of the world’s most urban countries, there is NO ministry dedicated to cities/downtowns.
12:36:20 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : @Frances. Keep going!
12:36:24 From P Reddy to Everyone : My apologies – hello from Durban, South Africa.
12:36:40 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Housing is critical, but cannot be the only focus of our urban regions. We need to move beyond housing, and look at dense, walkable, complete (live, work, play, learn, etc) neighbourhoods and communities that are designed around efficient public transport.
12:37:26 From Laura Wall to All panelists : thank you – is ownership the goal or is it good housing
12:37:26 From Canadian Urban Institute to paul mackinnon and all panelists : Hi Paul. Can you please change your chat settings to “all panelists and attendees” and re-post? Your comment only went to panelists. Thanks!
12:37:27 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : The market can solve some of our housing problems, but we’ve focused exclusively on ownership for the last 30 years. We need diversity of tenure in addition to diversity of density, etc.
12:37:29 From Lance Berelowitz to Everyone : I think there is less pushback from residents in Vancouver to ‘soft’ densification, than from the bureaucrats at city hall. Giving this city more powers may in fact be counterproductive, in terms of affordable housing production.
12:37:36 From Laurel Davies Snyder to Everyone : Housing as shelter vs. housing as commodity?
12:37:45 From Gloria Venczel to Everyone : There has been a shift by institutional investors towards rental and other housing, requiring competitive shareholders dividends, pricing locals out of the housing market. Any thoughts?
12:37:48 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Housing as human right
12:37:50 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : It is a danger to conflate affordable housing and housing affordability. They are two different things.
12:38:05 From Laurel Davies Snyder to Everyone : Agreed.
12:38:07 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Agreed Brian, one is systemic and another is a bandaid.
12:39:26 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : Pressure from “industry” is to address affordability which they argue in the “housing continuum” will address affordable housing. Well, the housing continuum is just a version of trickle down economics. It really isn’t a continuum that people move through.
12:39:36 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : But who is renting to what, and who are the landlords? Are we still relying on condos as de-facto rental units? We know that the longterm stability of these kinds of units are virtually nonexistent.
12:40:13 From Jessica O’Sullivan to All panelists : How can we even begin talking about building a link between low income to market housing when global markets are pouring investment into the Canadian real estate market in order to secure higher and higher returns at the expense of housing availability? This is an inherently global question
12:40:25 From Laurel Davies Snyder to Everyone : Assumption that ownership of a single detached home is the ‘goal’ is an issue to me.
12:40:28 From Calabro Claudia to Everyone : Agree with Frances here. Being a renter wouldn’t be so fraught if the destabilization caused by evictions, no vacancy control, etc was addressed and countered through stronger legislation in support of renters.
12:40:30 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Goes back to affordability of rentals too…and landlords (REITS)…as @Baldwin says
12:41:14 From Frances Bula to Everyone : Calabro, yes, I came to the conclusion some years ago that the frenzy to buy real estate is partly a function of the way renters are not protected, so they live in constant insecurity. That pushes them to buy.
12:41:29 From Frances Bula to Everyone : Even if they can’t really afford it. Even if they’re over-paying in a hot market.
12:41:34 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : The demonization of renters is very deep. We have all been renters at some point in our lives. Do we magically become better people when we take on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt?
12:41:36 From Amy Buitenhuis to All panelists : the federal government was subsidizing rental housing heavily in the 60s and it worked, a large supply was built. The federal government shifted away from that in the 70s towards a stronger focus on housing ownership and other approaches
12:42:40 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Thanks Amarjeet for bringing in a broader perspective here. The racialization of our low-wage and precarious jobs also has a geographic component to it. We create poorly designed and located ghettoes, we de-fund those neighbourhoods, and force certain populations into those neighbourhoods. We need to even out the peaks and valleys in our regions both geographically and economically… and culturally.
12:42:57 From Lester Brown to Everyone : We are starting to see lots of purpose-built rental in Toronto on provincial and City-owned land. It is, however, often high-end. The City, however, especially on land they own, rentals have to include up to 50% affordable. On the market portion, however, there is no rent control.
12:43:15 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : I would venture to say that we don’t want the VC model to become more widespread (not disagreeing with Colin’s network issue), but I think we need to change the issue around evaluations where large dollars accrue to very few people is something we should not strive to expand…but rather make less exploitive and extractive financial models entirely. For all.
12:43:24 From Lance Berelowitz to Everyone : No we don’t. Agreed Brian. Many other societies are rent based housing, e.g. Germany, France, Scandinavia, etc.
12:44:09 From Baldwin Hum to All panelists : Agreed Colin… we cannot discount the network effects, and we need to create communities that allow for these connections for all and not just the wealthy and privileged.
12:44:19 From P Reddy to Everyone : Home ownership should be encouraged and promoted to create intergenerational wealth. Childern can be disadvantaged if we do not gradaute from being a tenant. It makes it difficult to become a homeoner in the future given the cost of a house..
12:44:57 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : The “modern” North American city is built on segregation. We segregate housing from employment, we segregate different types of housing from each other, we segregate different types of employment from each other.
12:45:24 From Baldwin Hum to All panelists : P Reddy: this just reinforces the financialization of housing. We need to look to other places to make money, and look away from housing as the sole vehicle for this for most people.
12:45:29 From Gloria Venczel to Everyone : @Frances- are there effective pedestrian oriented urban design guidelines @ City of Vancouver for rental housing to help ensure cost-neutral “people friendly” streetscapes, enhance neighbourhoods in a way that doesn’t stigmatize renters and rental housing?
12:46:24 From Diane Dyson to Everyone : Condos = “Safety Deposit Boxes” in the sky
12:46:30 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Right…and those condo towers are not necessarily family friendly nor for long term neighborhood growth
12:46:32 From Baldwin Hum to All panelists : Yes Brian, absolutely. Zoning for instance is deeply segregational and is a weird form of micromanagement. What business does the government have in what someone does inside a building? In my view, outside of life safety issues, it shouldn’t be a lot.
12:46:41 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : No schools, parks, etc.
12:46:54 From Toby Greenbaum to Everyone : one bedroom condos for families
12:46:54 From Odai Sirri to Everyone : and no intentionality
12:46:59 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : Diverse choices everywhere..
12:47:00 From Baldwin Hum to All panelists : Agreed Abby, small units, no social spaces, and unstable tenure.
12:47:25 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Agreed Abby, small units, no social spaces, and unstable tenure.
12:47:40 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Yes Brian, absolutely. Zoning for instance is deeply segregational and is a weird form of micromanagement. What business does the government have in what someone does inside a building? In my view, outside of life safety issues, it shouldn’t be a lot.
12:47:49 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : P Reddy: this just reinforces the financialization of housing. We need to look to other places to make money, and look away from housing as the sole vehicle for this for most people.
12:48:00 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Agreed Colin… we cannot discount the network effects, and we need to create communities that allow for these connections for all and not just the wealthy and privileged.
12:48:02 From Frances Bula to Everyone : @Gloria. I don’t see design guidelines that are any different for rental projects compared to condo projects. One problem I do see is that a lot of multi-family —whether rental or condo — is forced onto arterials in the city. That means they breathe more vehicle fumes and it doesn’t create for a coherent neighbourhood, to have people strung along a linear route rather than in a cluster around e.g. a park or a school
12:48:05 From Graeme Paton to Everyone : Majority of condos being built are targeted for single person households (450 to 600 soft) but are too expensive for those single person household to afford.. which then targets investors.
12:49:44 From Lisa Rochon to All panelists : Equitable cities provide 3 things : fine urban grain with an offering of all kinds of housing/rental/affordable/market ownership; internships within ‘downtown’ corporations for high school kids in racialized neighbourhoods; rejection of monolithic condo neighbourhoods which ultimately isolate and disenfranchise. Citylab
12:49:45 From John Mungham to Everyone : In
12:50:24 From paul mackinnon to Everyone : We saw again in the Federal budget that one of the achilles’ heel is that here, in one of the world’s most urban countries, there is NO ministry dedicated to cities/downtowns.

12:50:25 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Community owned housing definitely needs to be a major component of our housing strategy.
12:50:44 From Lester Brown to Everyone : Love Doug Saunders mentioning of path dependency. That, one hand has built communities in Toronto, on the other hand has led to segregation.
12:50:47 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : The ability to remain in neighborhoods and change your housing as your life changes is such an important point—as long as those areas are not stigmatized. But yes, not always a stepping stone is such a key point.
12:50:49 From Chelsey Andrews to Everyone : Panelists- what are your thoughts on Universal Basic Income to shake up some of these ongoing issues that keep us stuck?
12:50:59 From Lance Berelowitz to Everyone : Aging in place in established neighbourhoods is a huge need and social benefit. More people here in Vancouver want to do this, but are stymied by city hall regs and approval hoops.
12:51:27 From Gloria Venczel to Everyone : @Frances-Thank you!
12:51:34 From Brian Pincott to Everyone : What Doug is talking about is the future of affordable housing. Right now, the system, and the buildings, is based on antiquated 1970’s thinking. Operating agreements need to change at the same time as the funding starts flowing.
12:51:52 From Calabro Claudia to Everyone : Would like to note that emphasizing/focusing on the path to individual prosperity through property ownership & the related appreciation of that investment is really counter to decolonial efforts. “decolonizing housing” includes questioning this path to prosperity through individual land ownership.
12:52:11 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Lance, and we can’t forget in Vancouver the deep antipathy by many homeowners to any kind of change in their neighbourhoods.
12:52:14 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Aging in place will become more and more important…where your support systems are and how to avoid impersonal LTC facilities. We all know where that leads.
12:52:47 From Lance Berelowitz to Everyone : Doug touches on the insidious issue of land use zoning as a tool that separates rather then condenses. Zoning needs a total revamp. That’s a city level power, so…just saying.
12:53:42 From Laurel Davies Snyder to Everyone : Aging in place may be more likely if we divorced the concept of where we live from perception of “wealth” and “success”.
12:54:00 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : @Lance not when the province overrides, ignores and bulldozes city zoning policies
12:54:29 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Abby, yeah, especially in Ontario.
12:55:06 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Money shouldn’t be the only tool we use to incentivize change in our society. We can and should be creating proper policies that directly address these issues in their complexity.
12:55:33 From Odai Sirri to Everyone : Education is also a tool that municipal leaders need
12:55:54 From Lester Brown to Everyone : @Abby, but when governemnts can do something they don’t. I would have liked the last Ontario govt. to tell rob Ford to get lost when he killed Transit City. They could have done that.
12:56:13 From Lance Berelowitz to Everyone : Abby, I’m not seeing that override as much here in BC. In fact there is a case to be made that some planning functions should be removed from the municipal level, but no guarantee that BC provincial gov will be any better at delivering housing.
12:56:48 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Lance: BC doesn’t have the horror that is LPAT (OMB) in Ontario.
12:56:49 From paul mackinnon to Everyone : We have been blessed with a good crop of big city mayors. I am worried that, depending on who replaces them, that we may have missed one of our best chances for a new urban agenda.
12:56:51 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : @Lance yes…I am speaking specifically in Ontario. And @Lester…no question we have a failure in leadership!
12:58:02 From Canadian Urban Institute to Everyone : You can find transcripts and recordings of today’s and all our sessions at

Keep the conversation going #CityTalk @canurb
12:58:12 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Lester: unfortunately cities are effectively client states of the province. It’s difficult as a client state to speak up against those who control all aspects of your existence.
12:58:34 From Amanda Kosloski to All panelists : do we use MZO’s to secure the added density as of right (i.e. no NIMBYism slowing or preventing it) that is then linked to funding (Released after MZO secures it as of right).
12:58:43 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Another great conversation…plus now we need to continue to raise our voices so our respective representatives hear us.
12:59:17 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : 💪
12:59:25 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Governments leading would be amazing. But with the amount of regulatory capture by the development and investment communities in our governments, we’ve ceded that leadership to the private sector over the past generations. Perhaps we should return to the public leading the public for the good of us all.
12:59:28 From Isaac de Ceuster to All panelists : As a younger person who cannot afford a home, I come away from this conversation very dissatisfied. Lots of talk, but still no solutions. Imagine thinking immigration was limited, when in fact it was the highest its ever been…
12:59:47 From Lance Berelowitz to Everyone : I think we should get back to something Doug hints at: the creative, entrepreneurial abilities of people to do micro-developments or small businesses in place. Cities need to step back and allow this more. A way out of poverty for new arrivals, racialized communities, etc.
13:00:07 From Frances Bula to Everyone : Like the coffee bus in the alley near us, Lance!
13:00:21 From Lance Berelowitz to Everyone : exactly Frances!
13:01:06 From Gloria Venczel to Everyone : Thank you CUI + Mary Rowe + Esteemed Speakers for such an important cities dialogue!
13:01:14 From paul mackinnon to Everyone : Amarjeet for next mayor of Edmonton?
13:01:18 From Laurel Davies Snyder to Everyone : thank you. great conversation.
13:01:21 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Our regulatory framework needs to be looked at carefully to allow for more micro businesses.
13:01:23 From Lise Bendrodt to Everyone : yes- thank you
13:01:26 From Frances Bula to Everyone : Really appreciate all the back and forth in the chat
13:01:30 From Lester Brown to Everyone : Thank you all. Great discussion
13:01:31 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Thanks all
13:01:31 From Steve Sutherland to All panelists : Transit is clearly failing in its present form – long trips consume precious time.
13:01:32 From Catherine Howett to Everyone : thank you!
13:01:35 From Sasha Sud to All panelists : Thank you
13:01:36 From Lise Bendrodt to Everyone : great panel!
13:01:37 From Robert Sauvey to Everyone : Thanks everyone! Great conversation!
13:01:38 From Baldwin Hum to Everyone : Thanks all
13:01:42 From Abby (she/her) Slater to Everyone : Thank you!!!!
13:01:42 From Steve Sutherland to All panelists : Thank you!
13:01:43 From Jessica O’Sullivan to All panelists : Thank you for everyone’s input and to the great speakers!
13:01:48 From Jordan Riemer to Everyone : Thank you for the excellent discussion, all
13:02:08 From Nathalie Cordelier to All panelists : Thank you.
13:02:10 From Ralph Cipolla to Everyone : Thank you great discussion
13:02:10 From Augusto Mathias to Everyone : Thank you all
13:02:26 From Argyro Tzouras to Everyone : Great discussion! Thank you!