The city budget, community security, rent control and the shelter crisis

As I write this to you, my head is very much in the books – the city budget, that is. My staff and I are busy analyzing hundreds of spreadsheets, to make sure that we are making the investments that will move our city forward and serve the residents of Somerset Ward well.

As I write this to you, my head is very much in the books – the city budget, that is. My staff and I are busy analyzing hundreds of spreadsheets, to make sure that we are making the investments that will move our city forward and serve the residents of Somerset Ward well.

Ariel with Councillor Rawlson King and Mayor Mark Sutcliffe at the Help Santa Toy Parade on Bank Street

A huge issue that many of us have been talking about is day-to-day security. In August, more than 200 people gathered in person at City Hall, with more than 100 participating virtually. We heard from residents who don’t feel safe walking down the street, business owners experiencing vandalism and theft, and neighbours who are unsure who to call when they witness someone displaying erratic behaviour or experiencing an overdose. I am pleased to share the As We Heard It report on community security in Centretown, along with updates on the progress we have made to date.

The 2024 city budget makes investments in many of the priority solutions we discussed as a community in August. Notably, more than $2.5 million a year for the next three years will be spent on the new alternative crisis response pilot in Centretown. This will offer 24/7 support to help deal with non-violent conflicts related to mental health, addiction or homelessness.

I was also able to advocate for and win $200,000 in bridge funding to the Somerset West Community Health Centre’s Homeless Crisis Outreach Project – this will allow them to scale up their services, particularly on Bank and Elgin streets. I am confident that these new investments will help improve the day-to-day experience for residents, visitors and business owners in Centretown.

In addition to these investments in frontline supports, Ottawa Police are negotiating with the federal government to gain more support for large demonstrations on Parliament Hill. A problem that keeps happening is that neighbourhood resource teams are often pulled out of communities to help with crowd control at large rallies. Our hope is that with support from the feds, we can keep the officers who know our community closer to home, so they can be more available in situations involving real danger to the public.

Underlying so many of the challenges in Centretown is the lack of affordable and supportive housing. With the average rent for a one-bedroom at more than $2,000 a month, even people with full-time, minimum wage jobs are finding themselves needing to use food banks and sleep in shelters. I was happy to see that the draft budget makes a significantly higher investment in affordable housing – a $23.8 million capital budget, as opposed to the $15 million that was in the city’s long-range financial plan. I still think we can and must do better, and I will be speaking out this Wednesday at the Planning and Housing Committee budget meeting. I cannot think of a greater need in our city than safe and affordable shelter.

I promise to keep you updated as budget discussions progress and welcome your feedback. Stay tuned for a message from me, and Councillors Shawn Menard and Jeff Leiper later this week, describing what we heard in our online budget survey and how you can take action.

More from me soon,

Ariel

William Commanda Bridge closed – but we’re working on it

You may have read the news that the Chief William Commanda bridge is currently closed for the winter. We know how frustrating this is and have been working with Councillor Jeff Leiper and city staff to try and figure it out. The main issue is that the wood planks on the bridge cannot handle plowing or salt. The goal is to re-open the bridge to skiers and fat bikes, once there is enough snow on the ground to groom. We will be sure to give you updates when we know more.

Ensuring Build Ottawa promotes community benefits

Earlier this month, Councillor Troster was able to get a motion passed at Planning and Housing Committee, directing Build Ottawa to incorporate potential community benefits when developing evaluation criteria for the disposal of surplus city lands. This means that when the city decides to sell off land, staff will have to consider whether or not a potential buyer is committed to community values, equitable hiring practices, funding for training, public realm enhancements and greater accessibility. Because land is one of the most valuable assets that the city owns, and we want to ensure maximum benefit for people and surrounding neighbourhoods.

Rent control and the affordable housing Community Improvement Plan

Council recently enacted a new Community Improvement Plan, aimed at encouraging developers to build more affordable housing. The program will offer financial subsidies of $6,000-8,000 for 20 years for every affordable home built under this program. But as Councillor Troster noted, there is currently no provincially mandated rent control for any home built after 2018. She brought a direction to staff to compel them to consider mandating that any rental home subsidized through this program be required to follow provincial rent increase guidelines. We want to ensure that these incentives result in lower rents for tenants, not just act as a financial payout to developers.

Update on emergency shelter crisis

Councillor Troster is a member of the Emergency Shelter Crisis Taskforce, and we are relieved to say that the city is moving very quickly to ensure that everyone who needs a warm bed this winter will have one. As you may have read, Heron Road Community Centre has been temporarily converted into a third overflow shelter. The city has also purchased bunk beds to allow more capacity and will soon purchase sprung structures that can be used as temporary modular shelters in all seasons. We are also connecting with refugee-supporting organizations to help them expand their services, and working to open more daytime warming centres.

Of course, none of this is ideal and city staff are working with the taskforce on more sustainable medium and long-term solutions. We need much more permanent affordable and supportive housing, which Councillor Troster continues to advocate for. We will update you as things progress on this file.

Victory! Snow to be cleared on stairs of pedestrian canal bridges

Councillors Troster and Menard were pleased to work with city staff to convince them to (finally!) clear the snow this winter on the stairs of the Corktown and Flora footbridges. We heard from so many residents who found it frustrating to find barriers blocking the stairways on these popular pedestrian commuter bridges. Council will soon be reviewing the city’s Winter Maintenance Quality Standards, but in the meantime, we are celebrating the end of “stair prison” in a couple of key areas.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence is an annual international campaign that begins on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and goes until December 10, Human Rights Day. This campaign started in 1991 to call out and speak up on gender-based violence, and to renew our commitment to ending violence against women, girls, and 2SLGBTQI+ individuals.

In Canada, we also observe the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women during the 16 Days to remember the women who were murdered during the tragic mass shooting at Polytechnique Montréal on December 6, 1989.

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Shelter crisis update, new heritage designations, downtown revitalization and more

Well, winter is undeniably here. The cold snap has been great for winter sports, including skating on the Rideau Canal (while it lasted!), but my thoughts always turn to people experiencing homelessness in this weather. City staff have been working around the clock to ensure that no one must sleep outdoors in the frigid cold. I have been supporting this work as a member of the Emergency Shelter Crisis Taskforce.

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