All Issues are Interconnected
All of the below issues are linked to each other and have some amount of influence on one another. In order to solve many of these problems, we must consider their intersectionality. For example, climate change is an increasingly pressing issue which must be addressed at all levels of government. Summers that may become intolerably hot will negatively affect the homeless and elderly populations causing needless deaths. Those who rent, especially in older buildings that are poorly insulated and without air conditioning, will also be negatively impacted by their overly hot, unsuitable housing. This ends up costing more, environmentally speaking, to both cool in summer and to heat in winter. The reliance on air conditioning will worsen the climate crisis by consuming more energy. Those who walk, bike, or bus for transportation are disadvantaged by the lack of tree cover over the majority of our streets, trails, and bike paths. Thus, addressing the overall issue of climate change will take looking at each of these smaller issues in a concerted effort. This type of analysis can be done for any of these concerns and I will make it my mission to understand the complexities of the issues and to support holistic solutions for affordable housing, homelessness, urban intensification.
Housing is a Human Right
The right to live in a suitable, affordable, and safe dwelling belongs to all people—no exceptions. You deserve a home that is suitable for you and your family: sufficient space to thrive, in an area that is convenient for the needs of your life, and one that is maintained to appropriate standards. You deserve an affordable home, one that does not eat up more than 30% of your household income. Sadly, affordable homes are in short supply in our city, and Kitchener needs to do more to ensure the supply of affordable dwellings. Government of all levels need to step up and directly fund the creation of affordable homes, as opposed to trying to entice private for-profit developers to build affordable housing. For-profit developers want one thing, and that's profit: they do not care whether housing is affordable, they care that housing is profitable, and it's hard to make a profit off of poor people. Our reliance on capitalistic interests to do the right thing for society is expensive, both financially and morally.
Currently, a household in Kitchener must make $73,000 in order to rent a one-bedroom apartment affordably. This means that a household consisting of two full-time, minimum wage workers are unable to afford shelter without spending nearly 50% of their income on housing. It is nearly impossible for a median income worker to rent an apartment without having roommates. This is entirely unsustainable. Despite both federal, regional, and municipal initiatives to make housing more affordable, housing conditions continues to deteriorate: average rent for a two bedroom apartment in Kitchener has risen 22% this year alone! Kitchener's Housing Needs Assessment, conducted in 2020, shows we need over 10,000 affordable homes, while we add a pittance of several hundred per year. And still, governments seem to think their only role is giving money to developers to line their pockets and inhabiting a solely regulatory role. Governments at all levels need to re-start directly building housing. The federal government transferred its responsibility to the provinces in the mid-1990s, many of which, including Ontario, then abdicated responsibility to the municipalities, who then, it seems, gave up and let the current situation run out of control.
I will work tirelessly for the creation of meaningful amounts of affordable, supportive, and low-income housing, while pushing for increased rights for renters.
Homelessness is a Societal Failure - Not a Personal One
Homelessness is an intersectional issue—there’s rarely a single reason that a person becomes homeless but rather a confluence of factors sometimes beginning as far back as childhood. A disadvantaged or traumatic upbringing, untreated and unsupported mental health issues, drug addiction, physical disability, unaffordable housing, sudden loss of employment/living situation changes, domestic violence and abuse, poverty, discrimination, racism, and other factors can all cause a person to be unhoused. Very few people make a willing, sound-minded “choice” to be unhoused. Moreover, homelessness, mental health struggles, and addiction should not be viewed as moral failings—unless the morals that have failed are society’s.
Whenever I think about the issue of homelessness, I always have the thought “but for the grace of God, go I”. I have not experienced homelessness simply because I have been fortunate enough that factors in my life, such as my struggles with mental health, my experiencing domestic violence, or periodic poverty and unemployment, have not caused me to be homeless. This is not due to my own virtue, it's due to luck and circumstance.
We should approach homelessness as a social issue that requires a multi-pronged approach to resolve that includes better mental health community supports, an increase in affordable, low-income housing, increased supportive housing, addictions treatment, greater year-round shelter capacity, coupled with a variety of other socially-minded solutions.
I encourage you to take a look at homelesshub.ca to learn more about the multi-factor nature of homelessness and the possible solutions to solve the problem in a more permanent way.
Urban Intensification is a Necessary Good
Kitchener continues to develop and grow at a breakneck speed and we've seen much development over the last number of years. Intensification is the process of building up a population centre without the continuous outward expansion so often seen in North American cities. This outward expansion is nearly always comprised of single-family, detached homes, and chronically suffers from low-density. Such expansion into the countryside has several ill effects such as reducing farmland and Greenspace, increasing infrastructure spending due to the lower density of the suburbs, leads to increased traffic congestion/pollution due to over-reliance on automobiles, makes effective public transportation difficult to achieve, and decreases the walkablitity/bikeability of a city. Outward expansion of suburbia essentially means that the infrastructure resources of a city are spread out over a larger geographical area, logically raising costs to build and maintain public works like roads, water, sewer, etc.
Intensification is a long-term process that should include varied initiatives. We need things like: a moratorium on sprawling outward development (and ideally no new single-family, detached houses); densification and intensification throughout the city, not just across the downtown core; construction of the so-called "missing middle" housing, i.e. homes other than just single-family detached houses and high-rises; examining where amenity "deserts" exist (such as no grocery stores within a short walking distance) and remedying the situation; prioritising people over parking; conversion of select streets into either car-free zones or one-ways to increase space for pedestrians and cyclists; ensuring every street is a "complete street".
The above are just some of the ways in which we can effectively intensify our city and make it better for the majority of those living within it, not just those who can afford to buy a detached home in the suburbs.
The Climate Emergency Requires Proactive Preparation
The climate emergency is a source of worry and consternation for many in our civilisation, especially the younger generations - they have the most time through which to suffer the consequences of our negligent actions. While it does not seem likely that greater society will take concrete, effective actions to mitigate a climate disaster in the not-so-distant future, we have a moral imperative to do all that we can as individuals and as a city to cope with what's to come.
Things like planting tree cover over pedestrian walkways and bike paths, updating old residential buildings with better, modern insulation, reducing our cities' reliance on automobiles, examining the sources of our energy and the viable alternatives, and encouraging the transition to electric cars (ideally, no cars!) by the installation of charging stations. These are just a handful of the measures that can be implemented to offset a small portion of the damage being caused and prepare for a changing climate.
Unfortunately, the ability to implement real change at the municipal level is quite limited, and meaningful changes to our greenhouse gas emissions will have to come from more overarching societal changes. Nonetheless, it is still our responsibility to do all that we can to save the lives of those coming after us.
This land acknowledgement is necessary because the the history of Canada as a country was, and is, oppressive. Our region comprises what is known as the "Haldimand tract", a parcel of land surrounding the Grand River, six miles on either side, that was "given" to the Indigenous Haudenosaunee people via treaty in 1784 by those who thought they "owned" the land through violence and oppression of the Native people. This land was colonised, immorally and unjustly, by oppression of our fellow humans through destruction and devaluation of their way of life. Systems of oppression were put in place over many years and these systems have benefitted people like myself while disadvantaging Indigenous people. These systems mean that Indigenous people end up comprising 0.5 percent of the population of Toronto, but end being 15% of the city's homeless population; that 0.78 percent of the general population in cities will experience homelessness, while nearly seven percent of Aboriginal city dwellers will at some point be homeless; it means that Indigenous students face many hardships and barriers to their education, leading to, and compounded by, poor high school graduation rates; the United Nations has called the living conditions in many Native communities "abhorrent"; the residential school system operated by the Canadian government literally ripped children from their parents, abused, and in many cases murdered them and buried them in unmarked graves which are still being found to this day. The systems of oppression we have created must be torn down; a large part of doing that is to return oversight of the land that was not ours to take nor give away.