Good Afternoon Councillors,
Thank you for your time today.
My name is Kaite Burkholder Harris, and I’m the Executive Director of the Alliance to End Homelessness in Ottawa. The Alliance is a member-based non-profit organization representing over 55 agencies and individuals in Ottawa that work with people who are homeless and at risk of homelessness. We are dedicated to the city-wide prevention and end of homelessness through public education, advocacy, and system planning.
This City Council is the first in Canada to acknowledge the housing and homelessness emergency that faces constituents in our city and we commend Councillors for this decision. We have a waitlist of 12,000 households who need affordable housing and wait times that range between 5 and 19 years.
Homelessness is a policy choice that was made over 30 years ago due to federal de-investment in affordable housing. While we are glad to see commitment once again to building new affordable housing, we are treading water to try and keep up as we lose more affordable housing than is being built. In five years, we lost almost 8,000 affordable units while only 1,000 new affordable units were added in Ottawa. Simply put, we are losing ground.
City Council is being asked to vote on an LRT extension that would mean demolishing 120 residential townhomes and de-housing hundreds of tenants to make way for the future Knoxdale LRT station. We understand the intention to offer affordable housing to the hundreds of residents who would be displaced, but there are no specifications on how this would be achieved. Without more clear information on what this would mean, and how it can be guaranteed to the tenants of Manor Village, this decision should not be made today.
We hear the City’s concern that the LRT will be louder and more expensive if the tracks need to be turned. I want to remind this committee that homelessness is also expensive and increasingly so. We are currently spending $3000/ month per family in a hotel due to a lack of shelter space, and the numbers continue to rise. As well, there are spinoff costs including higher use of emergency services and a loss of stability for families that create cycles of poverty which become increasingly difficult to escape.
Ottawa is already home to the largest mass eviction in Canada - with the Herongate evictions. It is further proof that homelessness is created by policy and planning decisions that fail to consider the long-term consequences to families and communities. It is in this context that the Alliance strongly urges this committee not to pass any Stage 3 LRT option that de-houses communities. We can end homelessness in Ottawa, as is happening in other communities across Canada. However, we must make decisions with the long-term vision of the kind of city we want.