Priorities for 2024: Housing & Homelessness
As mentioned in our January 16th newsletter, I’m going to be using the first several issues of this newsletter to let residents know about some of the key issues I’ll be focusing on for 2024. My team and I have already gone through a process over the past few weeks to “re-set” our priorities for the year, so that we can have strong plans in place to achieve results. Like the famous quote goes: “A dream without a plan is just a wish.”
The issue that I want to focus on for this newsletter is Housing & Homelessness. If ever there was a time in recent memory when this issue was front and centre in the minds of pretty much everyone, this is it. Whether you’re homeless yourself, whether you can’t afford to buy a home, or re-finance your home, or rent an apartment, or whether you’re worried about challenges that will be faced by the next generation, our current crisis is affecting a majority of Ottawa residents.
Long-time readers of this newsletter might remember that during my first few weeks as Councillor, my team and I developed what we call our Mission Statement, which is a set of guiding principles and values that help steer my agenda and decisions. Briefly, my mission statement is:
“As the City of Ottawa's population is projected to grow at an accelerated rate over the coming decades I must support and guide that growth in a way that is sustainable, responsible, forward-thinking, and just.”
The lack of available and affordable housing is key to accomplishing this mission. Equally important is where and how that housing gets developed. These are the questions that I must contemplate when making decisions on development plans like the one at 780 Baseline (more on that below), or in advancing my initiatives for a new secondary plan for Merivale, to gradually turn an inefficiently used shopping corridor into a far more appropriately designed mixed-use residential/commercial corridor. But more on that later! Today, I’ll speak to you about a handful of current initiatives.
Zoning By-Law Review
Starting this March, and likely continuing until the end of 2025, City Council will be undertaking a Comprehensive Zoning Bylaw Amendment. Briefly, this process will support the updating of our Zoning Bylaw, which has not been amended since amalgamation. This will affect every resident in Ottawa, as it will “set the ground rules for everything from residential density to building heights to how much street parking is needed.” There’s a good article in the Ottawa Citizen which provides a lot of info on what this will mean to residents. As Ottawa prepares for a population increase of between 400,000 and 560,000 new residents over the next few decades, this Zoning Bylaw amendment will set the guidelines for an end to R1 “exclusionary zoning”, as has been mandated by the provincial government, and clearly supported by the federal government. Residents across Ottawa need to understand that significant change is coming to every community in our city.
Ottawa Community Housing Acquisition
In our last issue I spoke in detail about the recent acquisition by Ottawa Community Housing of over 300 townhomes in Ward 9 previously owned by Minto. Since this acquisition was announced I’ve had several conversations with Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) to get a proper understanding of the nature and importance of this acquisition, and the impacts it will have locally and nationally. OCH was very proud to report that since the public announcement they have been contacted by municipalities and social housing providers across Canada eager to learn about how such a cost-effective acquisition was made.
Alliance to End Homeless: The Empathy Project
Last week I joined several of my Council colleagues in a very impactful simulation exercise called The Empathy Project, led by the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa. This immersive role-playing exercise offered a unique opportunity for participants to step into the shoes of those facing poverty. The experience is designed to offer firsthand insight into the challenges people encounter while striving to respond to sudden crises, or even to meet their basic needs. Housing workers engaged in the roleplay to simulate a “day-in-the-life” of an individual seeking housing, employment, legal aid, food and income support. My role was that of an Inuit, single parent being illegally evicted from their apartment.
Even though this brief exercise does nothing to truly simulate the severe challenges faced by people in these kinds of crises, it certainly painted a vivid picture of just how hard it must be to try to navigate a very decentralized, disjointed and under-resourced support system. To be blunt, it was very discouraging to be confronted with what people in these circumstances go through.
Lessons from Finland
And while it can be easy to be discouraged by the current state of those facing homelessness and extreme poverty, we need to find encouragement in the proven successes of others. To do this, we found some recent encouragement from our counterparts in Finland!
Earlier this month, several councillors attended an inspiring panel discussion called “Ending Homelessness is Possible: Lessons from Finland”, where attendees included Federal Housing Minister Sean Fraser, as well as two leaders from Finland’s housing sector.
For a variety of reasons, Finland is currently the international leader when it comes to addressing homelessness. Their secret is quite simple: invest public money. They are the only country in the EU that has seen a decrease in the numbers of homeless individuals.
This presentation took place in front of a full-house in-person at an event centre downtown but was also watched virtually by over 1,800 people nationwide. Anyone who wishes to learn what Finland has to offer can watch the YouTube recording.
During the “Lessons from Finland” panel discussion, I noticed a remark from Housing Minister Sean Fraser, where he talked about the need to support innovative housing construction methods like prefabricated and modular housing. That comment was perfect timing for myself and my colleague Councillor David Hill (West Barrhaven) as this is something that he and I have been collaborating on for some time.
This week Councillor Hill and I hosted a small group of councillors, housing staff, as well as leaders from the housing sector, at a meeting with the leaders of ABIC (Advanced Building Innovation Company), which is a subsidiary of Caivan Construction. The potential advantages to be had from the kinds of technological innovation that we witnessed at ABIC could lead to a dramatic increase in the speed and efficiency of homebuilding, land-use planning, and hopefully a significant decrease in cost once these operations scale up.
Councillor Hill and I first did a site tour of ABIC back in 2023 and knew that we wanted to bring more of our colleagues back to learn about the ways in which ABIC’s advanced building process could help address our housing crisis.
Another element of addressing our current housing crisis is the issue of tenants being illegally and unfairly evicted by landlords seeking to renovate their properties in the hopes of significantly increasing rents. This is a growing problem across Canadian cities where, for each new unit of affordable housing, we lose many more to actions like renovictions.
Last week the City of Hamilton became the first municipality in Ontario to pass a Renoviction By-Law in this province. Back in November, when I first learned about Hamilton’s work on this matter, I reached out my Hamilton counterpart, Councillor Nrinder Nann, who has been leading Hamilton’s progress on this file. I’m happy to announce that I’ve been successful in persuading Councillor Nann to share Hamilton's experience with me and a small group of Ottawa City Councillors who share an eagerness to explore how the City of Ottawa might pursue its own renoviction by-law. Stay tuned for more!
Looking back on 2023: Extreme weather events
In a future issue I’ll focus on another of one of my office’s priorities, which is to continue building our infrastructure resilience in the face of increasing risk from severe weather events. To set the stage for that conversation, I wanted to remind residents of just how historic 2023 was in terms of extreme weather for the City of Ottawa. As reported in one article: “Environment Canada revealed that Ottawa had 65 weather advisories and warnings in the previous year , more than any other of the country’s major population centres.”
Here’s a summary of the year that was in terms of weather:
- It was the first winter in 52 years where the Rideau Canal didn’t open for skating
- A spring ice storm on April 5 left 163,000 homes without power
- Massive wildfires in June blanketed Ottawa with smoke, and for a few days our city’s air quality was the worst in the world
- July brought severe thunderstorms and a record number of lightning strikes – “6,066 lightning strikes within a 50-kilometer radius of Ottawa in July 2023, compared to 736 in July 2022”. Two Ottawa residents died from being struck by lightning.
- July and August also brought tornadoes – two tornadoes struck Barrhaven in July and another tornado struck Findlay Creek in August.
- On August 10 Ottawa experienced a historic downpour of rain, which saw 77 millimeters of rain fall in 2 hours, and which overwhelmed our stormwater management system and caused flooding damage across the city.
- And finally in October we had a different kind of record: the warmest days ever measured in October, when on October 3rd we saw the temperature reach 30.9 C.
Save the Date – February 21: Hydro Ottawa Outreach in Parkwood Hills, Skyline, Fisher Heights
Hydro Ottawa has finally begun their Keeping Ottawa Connected presentations, which are a targeted outreach initiative that Councillor Devine requested, focused on parts of Ward 9 that have experienced a lot of hardship from frequent and long-lasting power outages.
Councillor Devine has requested that Hydro Ottawa hold two separate events:
- One focused on the highly impacted communities of Parkwood Hills, Skyline and Fisher Heights
- One focused on the highly impacted communities of The Glens, Merivale Gardens, Manordale, Tanglewood
Hydro Ottawa has committed to an initial presentation on February 21, focused specifically on Parkwood Hills, Skyline and Fisher Heights. We have not yet secured a date for the second event. The area to be covered by this initial event is generally represented in the map below. These boundaries have been selected based on the design of Hydro Ottawa’s infrastructure and data sources. Residents from anywhere may join but please note that the presentation will be focused on items related to these specific neighbourhoods.
Representatives from Hydro Ottawa will provide updates on how they are building resiliency, what is happening in the Parkwood Hills, Fisher Heights and Skyline neighbourhoods, and some of the new ways they're communicating during power outages. There will be an opportunity for residents to ask questions about the presentation.
Our office will confirm additional details, including a meeting time and location, in our next newsletter.
Greenbank & West Hunt Club Intersection Modifications
As we have mentioned in previous newsletters, a new infrastructure project was recently announced at the intersection of Greenbank and West Hunt Club. The objective of this project is to construct additional eastbound and westbound through lanes on West Hunt Club at Greenbank, including the extension of the eastbound through lane to Knoxdale to improve vehicular level of service.
The proposed modifications will also accommodate a standard protected intersection to accommodate the bi-directional cycle track from the multi-use pathways (MUP), the extension of the MUP along the west side of Greenbank Road south of West Hunt Club northerly to the intersection.
The eastbound bike lane is to be removed from street level and transitioned to a cycle track for the length of the proposed modifications and widening. The westbound bike lane is to be left on road as the MUP along the north side of West Hunt Club providing a separated facility.
There will be a community information session provided by the City regarding this project and we will be sure to distribute that information as it becomes available.
Frozen Water Pipes
During the cold months, the frost deepens in the ground which may lead to frozen water service pipes. Depending on location and installation year of a water service pipe, some are not buried as deeply or properly insulated as others, meaning they are at risk of freezing at this time of year. Approximately 2,000 Ottawa homes and businesses may be impacted by frozen water service pipes. During typical winters in Ottawa, some homes and businesses experience a frozen water service pipe that prevents water from reaching their internal plumbing. The City’s Infrastructure and Water Services Department has published useful information for residents to help prevent frozen water service pipes.
If you require immediate assistance or need to report a frozen water service on behalf of a resident or a business, please contact the City of Ottawa at 3-1-1.
Kindergarten Registration at the Ottawa Catholic School Board
The Ottawa Catholic School Board Kindergarten Registration is now open. If your child was born in 2020, it's time to register them to start Kindergarten in September 2024.
Registering is easy: simply complete the OCSB’s online registration form and upload your documents. If you have questions, please email the OCSB’s Admissions team at [email protected], and they will be happy to help.
And to peek inside an OCSB classroom, the OCSB is offering virtual 3D tours of their Kindergarten classrooms. No need to wait — visit your child's class today!
Grenfell Crescent Road Repairs
Residents of The Glens will be delighted to find out that the Grenfell Crescent resurfacing project will be included in one of the City’s 2024 resurfacing contracts. Grenfell will be bundled with 7-8 other roads and the construction schedule of each location will be determined once a contractor has been selected. The project has yet to be assigned to a Design & Construction project manager yet, but our office will share more details as they become available.
Woodroffe Watermain Repair Project Update
The Woodroffe Avenue Watermain Repair Project has progressed well this week. Woodroffe Avenue at Slack will continue to be reduced to one lane going southbound for a minimum of one more week, as it was it was identified that further excavation was required in order to complete the urgent repair of the watermain.
Portable Variable Message Signs have been installed to keep commuters informed, and we will continue to keep you updated and share the relevant information.
Emergency Preparedness for Persons with Disabilities
The city of Ottawa is hosting a discussion on emergency preparedness for persons with disabilities on February 13 from 1-3pm. The purpose of the discussion is for the City’s Office of Emergency Management, Accessibility Office and Ottawa Public Health to share important information and resources with a focus on key emergency preparedness considerations for those living with disabilities. It will also give residents the chance to have a conversation to share needs, perspectives, concerns and questions, as well as explore opportunities for further collaboration. Registration will be open until 4pm on Monday February 12.
Applications being accepted for “Paint It Up! 2024”
The city’s annual call for young artists to pour out their creativity on the walls and underpasses of Ottawa is underway. “Paint It Up!” promotes the use of outdoor murals to:
- Support local arts and culture, while
- Enhancing the city’s beauty for residents and visitors, and
- Engaging youth in positive skill-building experiences.
If you know someone who might be interested in participating in this year’s program, you can find all the information you need on the city’s “Paint It Up!” web page and they can attend one of two virtual information sessions on February 1.
Ward 9 is Looking for Singers/Groups to Perform National Anthem
Who wants to perform the national anthem? For every City Council meeting, a different Ward Councillor has the privilege of bringing in musicians to kick off the meeting with their rendition of Oh Canada! And Ward 9’s turn is coming on August 21. So, if you or someone you know would like to step into the spotlight and give us their best version of our national anthem, here is their chance! Drop us a line at [email protected] and give us your suggestions!
Coffee Houses on Sustainability
The volunteer planning committee for the Coffee Houses on Sustainability is organizing a six-series event to bring Ottawa neighborhoods together to learn from each other when making sustainable choices for our lifestyles. You are more than welcome to bring your own mug, as residents share their insights and experiences on how we can act to reduce our individual carbon footprints. You can learn more and register for the events here. The next event will be on February 24.
Be like Gord: volunteer at your local outdoor rink
This is Gord. Gord's a volunteer at his local outdoor rink in The Glens in Ward 9. Gord is doing an amazing public service for his community. If you'd like to be like Gord in your own community, email us at [email protected] and we'll connect you.
Pinhey Forest and Pinhey Dunes Update
Last week Councillor Devine attended a very productive meeting with Forestry staff from the NCC, along with community leaders from Merivale Gardens and The Glens, to discuss ongoing safety and environmental issues pertaining to the residual effects that the derecho had on Pinhey Forest and the Pinhey Dunes. While there remain significant challenges ahead to restore and remediate these areas, the communities appreciate the NCC’s commitment to putting forth solutions to these critical matters. The community is also grateful that the NCC is consulting with community members to learn from local insight and experience to advance the most effective and responsible solutions possible. Stay tuned for more details on upcoming NCC initiatives in this area.
Volunteer Ottawa Community Breakfast
Volunteer Ottawa is hosting its Community Breakfast Open House on February 22! It will include a light breakfast, a prize draw and a great opportunity to learn about various volunteering opportunities in Ottawa. You can register for the event here.
ACORN’s Eco-Tenant Survey
ACORN Ottawa is developing a new campaign focused on helping tenants mitigate the impacts of climate change in their units, by facilitating their access to, and understanding of retrofits. To support this work ACORN has launched an Eco-Tenant Survey to help them get better data on tenant issues related to energy efficiency, climate resilience and mitigation capacities. ACORN will then share this valuable data with the city and the public. This survey can be answered anonymously.
PUBLIC HEALTH & SAFETY
OPH Update: Respiratory Virus Season
The levels of COVID-19 and influenza circulating in our community are high but while COVID levels are similar to last week, influenza is beginning to decrease a little. If you’re feeling sick, you should stay home and take care of yourself. You should not consider returning to work or circulating in public until, at a minimum, you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours and your symptoms are lessening. If you need to go out in public, be sure to wear a well-fitting mask. It’s important to know: when you do your part, it helps ease the burden of disease and protect your loved ones and members of your community. It also helps reduce pressure on local hospitals and frees up resources to help those in need.
Ottawa Fire Service: What to do if you fall through the ice
Many Ottawa residents will recall the tragic incident that took place last month when two youth fell through the ice on the Rideau River and lost their lives. To help protect residents, Ottawa Fire Service has produced a series of videos offering residents safety tips on what to do should you ever fall through the ice, or what to do should you witness someone falling through. We urge you to watch and share these videos.
New Ottawa Police Service Delivery Model
Last week Councillor Devine met with senior leadership from Ottawa Police Services to discuss their proposed plans for a new service delivery model, an integral component with the OPS’ Strategic Plan.
Briefly, the new service delivery model would see the OPS divide its resources among four geographic districts within the City of Ottawa – east, west, central, and south. Each district would have its own contingent of dedicated resources, comprising the unique needs of that district. This is based on the principle that the policing needs of the central district (which includes urban wards) are different than the policing needs of the south district (which includes rural wards).
One anticipated outcome of this new service delivery model is that it will provide an improved level of responsiveness, based on developing better insights into a community’s specific needs, and based on developing closer relationships with communities and community members.
However, Councillor Devine does have concern with how much the OPS has said it will need to grow its forces over the next several years to accomplish the goals of its strategic plan, including the new service delivery model. Ottawa Police Service have forecast that “they will need to hire 75 officers a year for the next three years, just to replace retirements and resignations. In addition, OPS says it will need to hire another 240 officers over the next three years to meet its responsibility for special events and to respond to growing needs for traffic enforcement — a perennial demand from the public — and cybercrime.” To read about this in further detail, please refer to this Ottawa Citizen article.
In the next few issues of this newsletter, we’ll begin to address the critical situation that the City of Ottawa will soon be facing when it comes to budget requirements for 2025 and beyond. The residents of the City of Ottawa, and its elected representatives need to have an honest and transparent process to determine what are the city’s needs and priorities, and how to support them. Get ready for some tough conversations.
The subject of auto theft continues to be a central focus when it comes to local crime. Auto theft continues to rise across the city, and Ottawa Police readily admit that they cannot solve this problem alone. “Ottawa police say they've have had their hands full trying to stop a surge in vehicle thefts that shows no sign of slowing down, with the equivalent of five vehicles going missing every day last year.” You can read more about this in a recent CBC Ottawa article.
Recently, the federal government announced that a National Summit on Combatting Auto Theft will take place in Ottawa on February 8th to “bring together leaders from key jurisdictions and sectors to ensure a coordinated response to this issue.”
Councillor Devine looks forward to hearing what comes out of this Summit, including a coordinated, multi-jurisdictional strategy that helps take some of the pressure off local police.
PLANNING & DEVELOPMENT
780 Baseline at Planning and Housing Committee
The application to build three new residential towers at 780 Baseline (the “Lone Star plaza”) returns to planning committee on Wednesday. The application was split into two parts in late November with the first part (a single, 24-story tower along Fisher) receiving zoning approval and the second part (two towers along Baseline) sent back for further investigation and discussion. Of concern was the impact the proposed towers might have on the operations of the Central Experimental Farm given the increased shadowing the new towers would bring to the fields along Baseline. The city, Agriculture and Agri-foods Canada, and the developer have been in discussions since then, attempting to reach a consensus about the issue. Staff will be bringing their recommendation to Planning & Housing Committee this week. Councillor Devine and his team have worked extremely hard on this file, helping to broker good faith discussions between the various stakeholders, with an aim to find workable compromises. We are confident that we have made positive improvements to this file, and that we’ve had a positive impact on the development process. We’ll speak in more detail about this matter after the file is decided at the January 31st Committee meeting. Regardless of the outcome, Councillor Devine will continue to work with the parties in an effort to ensure the best possible outcome at the site.
1545a Merivale – No Left Turn
There are changes coming to the road design around the intersection of Capilano/Withrow and Merivale. The centre median south of the intersection on Merivale will be upgraded and extended further south. The update to the road coincides with new development in that area and will bring the design into alignment with current road engineering and safety standards. Both area Councillors, Devine and Johnson, are aware of the change and support city staff’s decision to improve safety and traffic flow in the area by following best practices and directing left turns to signalized intersections.
COMMUNITY NEWS & EVENTS
Ward 9 Winter Carnivals
It was so much fun to be out in the community this weekend and participate in the Fisher Heights, Tanglewood and Trend Arlington Winter Carnivals. It’s always a pleasure to meet with residents, support your events, learn about your priorities and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate.
A special thanks to Hydro One for their ongoing support of the community of Tanglewood, where Hydro One is developing their Merivale Transformer project. Tanglewood residents were happy to getheir hands on a free Beavertail, provided by Hydro One.
See you soon at the Winter Carnival hosted by Manordale-Woodvale Community Association on February 3 and the Winter Fun Day hosted by Parkwood Hills on February 11.