How do you determine what market value rent is? And, who determines that?
It was a good question from Coun. Jim Herbert at the Aug. 9 city council meeting and was prompted by the 2020 Progress Report on the city’s 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan.
It’s a question that has been raised in comments from readers of this corner.
Danielle Neilson is the city’s Homelessness and Housing Supervisor and the report in question noted the city owns and manages 558 units of housing, including 512 units of rent-geared-to-income housing.
That’s a significant number and it’s part of the role of the St. Thomas-Elgin Social Services Department to administer and/or deliver “a range of housing and homelessness programs including existing social housing, new affordable housing, rent supplements, housing allowances, portable housing benefits, home repair assistance, homeownership down-payment assistance, funding for emergency shelters and transitional housing, and other homelessness prevention programs including the Housing Links for People (HeLP) program.
Last week in this corner we quoted from a letter Heather Stillitano, chair of the Elgin Community Drug & Alcohol Strategy, directed toward Mayor Joe Preston and members of council. She stressed, “the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been effective at the individual, community or societal level throughout history and it fails to address the connection between mental health and opioid use.” She went on to note, the opioid overdose crisis does not exist independently from other public health issues. “For example,” Stillitano advised, “infectious diseases and other mental health concerns are highly associated with drug use.” At the council meeting, Monday (Aug. 9) members spent several moments debating the implications of her correspondence. Coun. Lori Baldwin-Sands opened the discussion by acknowledging “I am fully supporting moving this motion forward.” The motion in question isfrom BC-based Moms Stop The Harm urging council to endorse their call for the federal government to declare the overdose crisis a national public health emergency and that the government “immediately seek input from the people most affected by this crisis and meet with provinces and territories to develop a comprehensive, pan-Canadian overdose action plan.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek points to a “a gap in the system.” He is referring to the situation of unlicensed group homes like Walnut Manor, shut down this week by Southwestern Public Health until all health and safety violations are remediated. “I think we’ve acknowledged that across the board,” continued Yurek in a conversation Thursday (July 8).” We asked him about Jeff Burch, NDP MPP for Niagara Centre who, in December of 2019, introduced a private member’s bill to regulate supportive living homes like Walnut Manor and others owned and operated by SupportiveLiving.ca. The Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Bill provides a framework for operators and sets minimum standards that must be met so that tenants are no longer at risk.
Seven years after the health unit closed the kitchen for three days due to food handling and storage violations, Southwestern Public Health ordered Walnut Manor closed due to public health violations. After years of enduring rodents, bed bugs, mould and food best described as appalling and not appealing, the health unit today (July 7) issued a Section 13 Order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act to close Walnut Manor in St. Thomas due to the existence of significant health hazards. The closure comes on the heels of an exterior fire back in May in which, luckily, no one was injured. The only surprise in this closure order is the fact it took the health unit, city hall, mayors and councils, the fire department and other agencies in St. Thomas years to send a message to owner Vishal Chityal of SupportiveLiving.ca that our most vulnerable residents do not deserve to be warehoused in the fashion they are at Walnut Manor.
Is it possible opening up Lake Margaret to additional uses could become as divisive an issue as the twin-pad arena controversy more than 15 years ago? It certainly divided council when put to a vote and based on comments we’ve received – some documented further on here – it has splintered opinion with city residents. As noted at a previous meeting of council, fishing in Lake Margaret is regulated by the Ministry of Natural Resources and the city has posted on its website the lake is closed to fishing from now until the fourth Saturday in June in accordance with the Ontario bass fishing season. The city notes, “Once the lake is open again for fishing we ask that you carry a valid Ontario fishing license and adhere to the posted signs that direct you to where fishing can occur at the northwest and southwest end of the lake. “No fishing is to occur behind the homes on the north and south shore of Lake Margaret.” Furthermore, “Boat Launch signage will also be posted on the east end of the lake at Jim Waite Park, where you can park on Lake Margaret Trail. Parking is also available at Pinafore Park near the Celebration Pavilion where directional signage will lead you to the northwest boat launch.”
It’s time to get serious and address the escalating challenges looming over the city’s downtown core, advises St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge. After a couple of phone calls this week and an exchange of emails, Herridge took the time to present a case for taking a leadership role in confronting those challenges. “We are seeing a trend where drug and property crime has been increasing,” notes Herridge. “If we do not get a handle on the issues we are currently facing, the big city issues that quickly arrived here three to four years ago are going to turn into the serious issues occurring in larger centres across our country. “As I have mentioned many times in the past, St. Thomas is not unique to the social, health and crime problems being experienced, but we can be leaders in addressing these issues if we focus on where the challenges are and, right now, the challenges are predominantly in and around our downtown.” Herridge starts with a resource primer that should be pinned within easy reach for downtown merchants and their staff.
City council will hold two meetings this coming week to begin deliberations on 2021 proposed operating and capital budgets.
The first will start immediately after Monday’s (Dec. 7) council meeting which begins at 5 p.m., with the second to be held the following day starting at 5 p.m.
As it stands now, the budget calls for a 2.48 per cent increase to the property tax levy next year.
Capital projects as proposed would require just under $41 million in funding and, if passed by council, would mark the largest capital budget where debt was not drawn.
Items in the capital budget recommended for approval include up to five electric light-duty vehicles as the city begins to make good on reducing its carbon footprint.
The biggest project at $10.8 million is rebuilding Fairview Avenue from Elm Street to Southdale Line.
Annual road rehabilitation comes in at $2 million and the ongoing Complete Streets program next year will require $6.8 million.
For many of us, we’ve settled into a pandemic dictated routine where our days are punctuated with Zoom meetings interspersed with live-streamed gatherings, exponentially increasing our screen time. Leaving us to wonder how much of this will pivot over to the new reality? But what happens when one of these feeds fails or the audio stream is so out of whack it is impossible to follow along? It has happened twice this month with city council: once with a reference committee meeting dealing with community grants and again this week with the scheduled council meeting.
The city likes to refer to it as “unintended consequences,” we prefer a consequential collapse in communication.
We’re referring, of course, to last month’s surprise announcement the city is to proceed with a procurement process to designate new operators for the EarlyON system in St. Thomas-Elgin.
Community Living Elgin (CLE) has been the agency to deliver the EarlyON program since July of 2018.
One of the “unintended consequences” is the realization the city cannot possibly have the new delivery model in place for the Jan. 1, 2021 launch.
This is required to offer a seamless transition from the old model as the CLE agreement with the city expires at the end of this year.
And so the existing agreement will have to be extended into the new year in order to get the new operator(s) up to speed.