Music and nightlife in Ottawa

This morning, one of the candidates for Mayor made an announcement in support of the city’s music industry. I’ve been asked about it and thought I’d share my perspective. In my time on Council, I’ve been a champion for the music industry and its unofficial music liaison. In the last term, I was happy to be joined often in some of that work by Councillor Luloff, who is actually a musician (and a damned good one).

In 2017 the Junos were the impetus to the creation of the Ottawa Music Strategy that came about after significant consultations with stakeholders in the industry and broader economy. I was fortunate to have as an enthusiastic partner in that effort the Mayor as well as City staff. The strategy set out a number of achievable goals. There was follow-up on the City’s part with respect to several of the recommendations, including a review of the zoning by-law to ensure non-traditional venues could be used as performance space, the creation of a load-in permit, and a commitment to better use City facilities. I also worked with our events folks to build in sexual assault training into permits. We now have an annual awards show that is a must-attend for those interested in the local music scene. We don’t yet have, though, a full-time music officer – a staff person in Culture has that responsibility on a part-time basis. And, we don’t yet have a hall of fame.

Likely one of the most impactful outcomes has been the new priority that the City’s economic development folks have put on live music in partnership with the Ottawa Music Industry Coalition. There is stable funding for that organization now, which has helped support professional development.

One of the most obvious consequences of that new priority has been the funding that has flowed from the City into live music performance as an economic spur to respond first to the pandemic, and then to the occupation. There have been several rounds of funding that have resulted in live music shows on the street in partnership with BIAs in our public realm spaces. There was also, in recognition of the impact the pandemic has had on the live music industry, several shows funded by the City with dozens of artists streamed and archived from Centrepointe and Shenkman. These are all important events that paid artists and techs and celebrated the incredible music talent we have in the city.

In his announcement this morning, candidate Mark Sutcliffe has put his finger on a key piece of unfinished business: show listings. Organizations like Apartment613 do their best to let residents know what’s going on, but visitors to the city and folks who may not be fully engaged with the music scene likely struggle to find shows. Venues and promoters don’t have great channels to put their offerings in front of residents who may not be regular show attendees, but who would love to know what’s going on tonight on those occasions when they have a babysitter or friends in from out of town.

All in all, the announcement speaks to work that is already ongoing and where there are a few pieces of unfinished business. This Council made music a priority in its economic development priorities, and we’ve been making steady (and sometimes quick) progress on that. My expectation is that we’ll continue down that path no matter who the new Mayor is.

What we’re still missing are some more game-changing commitments. Our venues have struggled. This year, Mayor Tory announced permanent tax breaks for music venues. We’ve got some precedent in the targeted post-pandemic tax relief that we’ve offered small businesses that could contemplate doing the same here. A new Council and Mayor could be the opportunity to do make the same commitment. And, there is always discussion about the “missing middle”: a mid-size venue that would host larger shows and capture more shows that currently skip over us between YYZ and YUL. The OSEG proposal for Lansdowne may be that opportunity, but that’s up in the air.

Finally, in the nightlife strategy consultations to date there has been one dominant theme: the need for better public transit that serves people out for a night of entertainment. Of all my suggestions for a truly game-changing announcement, later LRT hours and transit convenience/affordability would be top of the list.

What I hope many of the candidates running for mayor and councillor share is a common appreciation that music, especially performance, is part of what makes living in the city so enriching. When we’re surrounded by people who are sharing their talents and gifts, we all benefit. Music is also critical to our economy, and we all prosper when artists and technicians are supported. I’m glad to see the arts as part of this campaign’s conversation, and my commitment is to keep that going through the next term of Council.

Campaign launch on Saturday!

Hi Kitchissippi! I’d like to invite you to join me for my informal campaign launch tomorrow, Saturday September 24, at Mino’Weesini, the Parkdale Food Centre’s grocery store at 5 Hamilton Avenue North.

Sia Veeramani and Valerie Leloup are pictures in the Nu Grocery store.
Sia Veeramani and Valerie Leloup

We’ll be at Mino’Weesini from 2 pm until 4 pm. At 3 pm, I’m looking forward to hearing from Nu Grocery‘s Valerie Leloup about the work she’s doing in our community to support a zero waste goal. We’ll also hear from Suzanne Nash who is running to become trustee in the OCDSB’s zone 4 – Kitchissippi-Bay! Find out more about her campaign here. I’m excited to say a few words about why I’m excited about the next term of Council, and some of the important work we’ll have to do.

Staff at Mino'Weesini open the door and welcome visitors
Mino’Weesini is located at 5 Hamilton Avenue North

Learn more about Mino’Weesini Grocery program and how it’s addressing food security in our community here.

While you’re visiting Tastes of Wellington drop in to my launch to pick up a sign or drop off a donation, and please consider bringing an item of fresh food for Parkdale. There’s always a need for milk and other dairy like yogurt, as well as fresh food and vegetables.

Development charges and housing affordability

Recently, one of the candidates for mayor suggested that part of the solution to building more affordable housing could be the waiver of development charges (DCs). I used social media to issue a caution, noting the important role that DCs play in building the infrastructure that supports growth.

I wanted to explore that a bit more in this post. By the end, I hope I’ll have explained why waiving development fees for deeply affordable housing may be appropriate, but a very broad commitment to waiving development fees for an undefined level of “affordable” housing may be dangerous.

DCs are one of my favourite topics and understanding them is the gateway to understanding how cities in Ontario are planned and the infrastructure built to support growth.

As a bit of background, I’ll revisit some ground I often explore when residents ask how parks or roads or libraries are built to support larger populations. It’s important stuff.

Planning: policy statement to shovels in the ground

In Ontario, Queen’s Park (which has constitutional authority over municipal planning) has told cities in Ontario how they’ll grow. As a gross oversimplification, Ottawa has as its marching orders to grow mostly through intensification, with new density concentrated near and supported by higher-order transit. This is the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS).

Cities in the province are required to produce an Official Plan (OP) that describes how the PPS will be implemented in their jurisdiction. We’re required to project the population growth, which our staff has said is likely to be around 400,000 people over the next 25 years. We’re required to describe at a high level where that residential, commercial and industrial growth will be while preserving natural features, resources and agricultural land.

In Ottawa, the OP we’ve just passed says we’ll accommodate a bare majority of those new residents in parts of the city that are already serviced and accommodate a bare minority in new lands added into the urban area. Big tall towers will go on higher-order transit lines, mid-rise buildings will line key corridors like big collector roads and traditional mainstreets, and the interior of neighbourhoods will be built at a low-rise, ground-oriented scale. In addition to the three satellite centres (Kanata, Barrhaven and Orleans) that have been planned for decades, our new Official Plan adds a fourth – the Tewin development about which much ink has been spilled of late (and which will require very significant new infrastructure).

Once an Official Plan is passed, the real work begins. We develop neighbourhood zoning plans that put meat on the bones of the high-level statements called secondary plans. And – importantly for this discussion – begin work on a bunch of master plans.

Master plans describe how specific features like natural areas will be preserved, as well as what infrastructure has to be built where in order to support the patterns of growth described in the OP. That infrastructure might be libraries, roads, LRT/bus rapid transit lines, affordable housing, waste management facilities, sewers, fire stations, pools and similar infrastructure.

Development charges: growth pays for growth

Ultimately, those master plans describe a universe of capital investments the City needs to make in order to support the growth we anticipate. In Ontario, growth is supposed to pay for growth. The new infrastructure is supposed to be paid for by the developers who pass the cost on to new home buyers. I will get notes from our planning staff, but again as a gross oversimplification we total that capital investment, divide it by the number of new houses and apartments we expect to be built, and start charging those as development charges. There is a rate for inside the Greenbelt, outside the Greenbelt, and city-wide. Money starts accumulating in reserves and when there’s enough, a capital project moves ahead.

The good news for developers and those who rent or buy new units is that development charges are highly constrained by provincial law. We can’t vote at Council to charge enough development fees that every neighbourhood will suddenly have a Sportsplex.

Two key constraints come into play. First, the charges must be related to growth. We’re not allowed to improve services on the back of development charges. Every piece of proposed spending gets put under the microscope to make sure that DCs only pay for the growth-related component. If a portion of a project is deemed to benefit existing residents, that gets carved out. The second big constraint is that provincial law largely constrains us from charging for a higher level of service than has been provided in past. If in past we’ve provided a fire station for every X number of residents, we’re not able to unilaterally start charging enough development charges that we’ll provide 1.25 fire stations per X number of residents. The historical level of service is calculated for each type of infrastructure, and we’re only allowed to collect to provide new residents with the same service.

We wrap all this up with a bow and pass a development charge by-law once every five years or so, which is subject to appeal to the Ontario Land Tribunal.

You can see the development charges now in effect and how they’re divided up here.

Now that we understand what development charges are and how they’re calculated, I think it becomes clearer why I’ve cautioned that waiving them to accomplish housing affordability could be short-sighted and impose huge costs on our children as we are forced to pay for needed infrastructure using the only other revenue source we have: property taxes. If we don’t charge new home buyers the development charges, those fees have to be spread out across the tax base.

There are times when waivers are appropriate. In order to accomplish very deeply affordable housing (social housing), Council will sometimes waive DCs. Generally speaking, though, the magnitude of revenue loss to the city to build the infrastructure that will support those residents is relatively small. Waiving the DCs on a 32-unit supportive or rent-geared-to-income development is very different from waiving the DCs on a development that might have hundreds of homes or apartments.

Affordable to who?

Mark Sutcliffe’s commitment should he be elected is to “[r]educe or eliminate development and other city charges and/or allow limited height exemptions from residential housing projects in areas targeted for intensification and where at least 20 percent of units are affordable for residents.”

But he doesn’t define affordability.

This is a problem with which Council has been grappling for the past term. It is very possible that this commitment could include waiving development fees on developments like, say, a 200-unit apartment building in which the CMHC criteria is met, that is to say at least 20% of units must have rents below 30% of the median total income of all families for the area, and the total residential rental income must be at least 10% below its gross achievable residential income.

In other words, in return for taking a 10% haircut on rents for 10 years, and with 40 units rented for what most families in the area can afford, that 200-unit apartment building could be exempted under this candidate’s proposal from development charges that will build the pools, arenas, sewers, roads, libraries and other infrastructure needed to support the new residents.

Before we sign on to development charge waivers for “affordable” housing, it’s critical that we understand the trade-off. It would be short-sighted to waive development charges on the new units that will house thousands of people near transit in return for housing that is not much less expensive than what the market would provide on its own. If we grow in Kitchissippi and the inner urban area by thousands of people without new recreation amenities, storm and wastewater facilities, and active and public transportation upgrades to handle a big new population, we will have failed to build a sustainable city. We’ll be millions shy of the cost of developing the infrastructure we need to support the growth.

A proposal to waive development charges on “affordable” housing looks like an easy way to incentivize that housing. But before we make that choice, we need to have our eyes open that we will still need the new infrastructure. How that will be paid for becomes just as critical an affordability question for all residents as the sticker price on the housing built.

I endorse the Starts With Home platform

Starts With Home is a housing coalition supported by the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa. They’ve asked candidates to endorse their housing platform, and to reply to a survey exploring the specifics of that platform. You can view my endorsement of their efforts here.

In endorsing it, I wrote:

 “The Starts With Home platform is a pragmatic, achievable program that recognizes the critical importance of maintaining affordable housing stock, stopping preventable housing loss, and building more homes.

Read more about Starts With Home and its efforts here.

Rogers debate now posted

It was my pleasure to take part in the Rogers ward 15 debate moderated by Derek Fage. We discussed policing, housing, development, transit and more. Take a look here to watch!