My answers to Making Voices Count’s survey

Recently, I responded to Making Voice’s Count and Women Reducing Poverty Together – Maamawe with my yes/ no answers to their election survey. My thanks go to them for their championship of these equity issues. Yes/no can sometimes lack nuance, so provide here a fuller explanation of my answers. Their questions and preface material are in italics.


Elections Candidate Survey

A City for All Survey to All Candidates

City for All Challenge

2018 Ottawa Municipal Election

As a candidate running for Ottawa City Council in 2018, we want to know where you stand on the issues important to the communities and organizations engaged in Making Voices Count and Women Reducing Poverty Together – Maamawe. Results of this survey will be posted on www.makingvoicescount.ca, social media and widely distributed to help people choose the Mayor and City Councillor they will elect.

Let us know where you stand.

Making Voices Count works with City decision makers to create a city for all. It is driven by residents, the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres, City for All Women Initiative, and community partners.

Women Reducing Poverty Together – Maamawe brings together organizations working with women and women with lived experience of poverty to bring an intersectional gender lens to poverty reduction.

We envision a City for All where:

  • everyone has access to affordable transit so they can access jobs, services and participate in their communities;
  • everyone has an affordable place to call home;
  • everyone has access to social services; and
  • everyone has opportunities to succeed regardless of race, sex, gender identity, ability, religion and sexual orientation;

We will work with you once elected to make this happen.

Safe and Affordable Transit In Ottawa:

  • In the last five years, transit prices have increased a lot more than the rate of inflation.
  • Since 2008, transit fares have increased by 40%.
  • Since 2011, OC Transpo ridership has fallen by 6.7%.
  • With higher transit fares, some women end up walking in unsafe situations or remain isolated at home.
  • EquiPass is a monthly adult pass for people living on low income, but it is still unaffordable for many.

Will you reduce EquiPass fare from $58/month to $43/month no later than 2019?

Leiper: Yes. While the current EquiPass fare represents a significant discount, its take-up has been less than projected. Even the difference from $58 to $43 (the price of a Community Pass available to recipients of disability supports) is significant when dollars for food, clothes, shelter and other necessities are stretched. I believe strongly that Council should be striving to reduce the price of the EquiPass to that of the Community Pass.

Will you freeze transit fares to make them more affordable for everyone?

Leiper: Yes. The price of transit continues to rise at 2.5% per year in line with Council’s long-term plan. During this term of Council, I advocated for a fare freeze that would have seen more of the operating cost of transit put on the tax base rather than paid for by users. The current 45% tax and 55% fare funding formula should be reversed, and even gradually see more of transit costs put on the tax base. Throughout this term of Council, we have heard that transit use is relatively price inelastic – that is, impervious to a degree to price increases. However, ridership has declined, service levels continue to be challenged, and competitors such a ride-for-hire services have entered the market. In the meantime, congestion increases.

Encouraging transit use is critical to Ottawa’s success as an affordable, sustainable City. It’s time to reverse the trend of decreasing and stagnant ridership by encouraging all residents to take transit. I believe that affordability for all residents is key to this. For a relatively low amount each year spread across the entire commercial and residential tax base, we can encourage greater ridership, mitigate congestion in a growing city, and ensure that all residents regardless of income make the choice to use transit.

This now-expropriated strip mall on Richmond will soon be demolished for LRT. Under City ownership, it should be re-developed with affordable housing top-of mind as I continue to stress with City planners.

Affordable Housing:

In Ottawa:

  • Overall shelter use increased by 16% and length of stay increased by 12% from 2014 -2017. This is primarily influenced by the increase in family and newcomer shelter use.
  • Up to 21% of single shelter use in Ottawa are single women. This data doesn’t include the number of women staying at Ottawa’s Violence Against Women shelters.
  • There is not enough affordable housing in Ottawa to meet demand, with over 10,000 people on the Centralized Waiting List for social housing in 2017.
  • National trends indicate that housing costs significantly increase near rapid transit systems.
  • High rent costs place many individuals at risk of homelessness or living in sub-standard conditions. 42% of Ottawa households spend over 30% of their income on rent and utilities.

Will you ensure that the City’s plan to reduce homelessness has specific actions, targets and money attached?

Leiper: Yes. Without targets, a plan is just an aspiration. Attaching targets to our homelessness plan is critical to holding Council accountable. Significant progress has been made addressing homelessness in the last term of Council, but the lack of clarity around the relationship between different programs such as rent subsidies, capital expenditure on housing, and temporary motel shelters makes clear that we need a more laser-focused plan built on a foundation of evidence.

Will you advocate for at least $12 million/year of City funding, over and above federal and provincial grants, to build new affordable housing?

Leiper: Yes. In this term of Council, a provincial download of inflationary costs for the operation of social housing resulted in a shift of $4 million from the capital budget previously available to top-up capital dollars for housing from the federal and provincial governments. Those dollars were not replaced. I strongly agree that while the federal and provincial governments will need to shoulder the majority of the burden of reducing homelessness, the City of Ottawa must also contribute. Reducing homelessness is not just a moral obligation on all levels of government, but an investment in the sustainability of our city. The financial cost of homelessness is too great a burden on taxpayers, and an investment in tripling the previous capital funding available will be repaid several times over.

Will you ensure that 25% of new development is dedicated to affordable housing with a special emphasis on deeply affordable housing within 1 km of rapid transit stations?

Leiper: Yes. In this term of Council, I have been a key champion for inclusionary zoning. Briefly, inclusionary zoning is a tool recently allowed by Queen’s Park that gives the City the ability to mandate that a certain proportion of new housing development be affordable. I have been very active with Council, staff and working with a coalition of councillors across Ontario to ensure that those rules were passed giving cities the maximum flexibility to determine the appropriate levels.

In the next term of Council, we will debate the required changes to our Official Plan to implement inclusionary zoning, and I will be seeking at least 25% in the vicinity of light rail and bus rapid transit stations. I will also be seeking to ensure that is a mix of pricing according to different levels of affordability, including to lowest-income residents as well as those requiring just a little support. I will also be seeking to ensure some level of inclusionary zoning across the city in all significant projects, recognizing that the priority will be on development in close proximity to transit. I and Councillor McKenney have led in this term of Council the preparation of the ground to use City and other public lands for affordable housing near transit, and will continue in this vein in the next term.

I was pleased to be on hand recently as Options Bytown recognized the Cooperative Association of Eastern Ontario for their work on affordable housing

Access to services:

Ottawa has a growing, aging, increasingly diverse population.

  • Social services play a key role to decrease crimes and enhance wellbeing and belonging.
  • In the 2017 City Budget, the City-funded social service providers requested $2.8 million to address growing demands and emerging needs. This shows the size of the problem and the need to increase community funding.
  • In a 2018 survey to City-funded social service providers conducted by Social Planning Council, 87% of respondents reported an increase in demand for services, 44% reduced services, 18% turned clients away.

Will you advocate for community and City social services to have sufficient funding to keep pace with the growing demand?

Leiper: Yes. Our social services and funding to community partners has not kept pace with demand. New organizations providing needed services to our most vulnerable populations simply can’t get City funding, and the increases for those already in the fold aren’t meeting the need.

There is an immediate need for at least $3 million in new partner funding that I would support.

Will you raise taxes as needed in order to meet the unmet and emerging needs of our increasingly complex city (i.e. housing, transit, social services)?

Leiper: Yes. Council’s adherence in the past four years to a 2% tax increase has meant, in real terms, that spending is falling below demand. Municipal expenses have been growing at a higher level, which has meant the City is less and less able to find the funds necessary to provide the services that residents expect. As each year passes, we exacerbate the shortfall and the need for an eventual reckoning through either very high tax increases or deep cuts. This is true across all spending areas at the City, but is particularly keenly felt where the human cost is high.

I will be open to raising taxes if necessary to provide the services that residents demand, and that largely represent an investment in lower tax increases in future as we stop deferring the costs of under-spending to future Councils.

In my answers to the questions above, CAWI has identified $20 million in spending that I would support: $12 million for housing, $5 million to freeze transit fares, and $3 million for social service partners. It’s important to understand what that would mean in terms of cost to taxpayers. In the 2018 budget, a 2% tax increase raised $32 million in new taxes. For the owner of an average priced home in the urban area (as opposed to rural), that was an increase of $75 per year – $6.25 per month.

Had taxes risen by 3% instead, the City would have raised $48 million in new taxes – $16 million more than a 2% increase – at an average cost to urban homeowners of $114 per year, $9.50 a month ($3.25 more per month than a 2% tax increase).

Had taxes risen by 3.5%, the City would have raised $56 million in new taxes – $24 million more than a 2% tax increase – at an average cost to urban homeowners of $133 per year, $11.08 per month. ($4.83 more per month than a 2% tax increase).

With those millions, at the cost of less than a couple of cups of coffee each month, we could have frozen transit fares, put millions into new housing, and provided critical services to residents and accelerated needed repairs to our roads, parks and other infrastructure, saving money in the long-term. We could have boosted transit ridership, saved money on temporary housing costs, and invested in helping all residents with attendant savings in health, housing and other support. These are the decisions that your councillor is being asked to make, and my commitment as in this term is to make those choices with you.

Of course, it’s always critical to find ways to pay for things without unnecessarily increasing the tax burden. We should encourage the City Manager and Treasurer to continue to seek efficiencies in how we run the City, including soliciting residents’ suggestions to find those in ways that don’t hurt service delivery. We should continue to seek new revenue sources from other levels of government and explore tools used in other municipalities such as land transfer taxes – perhaps for transactions above a certain threshold (which would require new powers from Queen’s Park). There may be hard choices about what capital projects to pursue in areas such as transportation.

At the end of the day, though, we can pay now for the services we want and need, or we can pay later. Reducing homelessness, boosting transit ridership, and funding social services adequately will reduce costs in the long run.

The 2017 graduating 13: A Social Enterprise class.

Inclusive City:

People who are Indigenous, immigrants, racialized, living with disabilities and trans are more likely to be unemployed, with lower salaries and less opportunities for advancement.

In comparison to men, women are more likely to have higher rates of unemployment, over-representation in part-time jobs and higher rates of poverty. On average, women earn 72 cents to the dollar earned by men.

In order to have City staff and managers that are representative of Ottawa’s population, will you increase hiring and advancement of people from equity seeking groups including Indigenous people, women, racialized people, LGBTQ, people with disabilities and newcomers?

Leiper: Yes. The City has an important leadership role to play both demonstrating the way forward for hiring practices in the public and private sectors more broadly, as well as ensuring that our City staff is diverse and inclusive in the interest of better policy-making.

City Council has voted to study the creation of a Women’s Bureau in the City. Will you support the creation of a Women’s Bureau to ensure gender differences are taken into account in City decision making?

Leiper: Yes. I was a strong supporter of the motion by Councillors Deans and McKenney to create a women’s bureau. Too often, councillors do not take into consideration a gender lens on policy, a situation that is exacerbated by the uncertainty of gender parity on Council. I stand by that support.

In this term of Council, I have sought ways to champion women’s issues at City Hall, including through the inclusion of sexual assault intervention training for festivals, lobbying for rigorous review of sexual assault cases, and collaborating with my colleagues when an anti-choice flag was flown to have it removed. My commitment is to continue this strong advocacy. I believe a women’s bureau at City Hall will make that easier.

 

I was pleased to join Farhia Ahmed and Nimao Ali at a recent anti-black racism summit hosted at City Hall by a coalition of community groups.

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