City of Opportunity III – Resolve

Those of us who were hoping against hope for a change of heart by certain members of council last night all faced a hard lesson in a number of ways. For some it was that the best arguments don’t often win the day, for others it was the shocking display of naked one-upmanship, for a few it was about the anger at those councilors who would say anything to win an argument, but for me it was simply about one lesson.

I was amazed in the last 10 days at the generosity of friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers who rallied around the issues I was facing with my last two blog posts and the reaction by Councilor White and was often left speechless by the unqualified expressions of support and understanding. I am grateful to all of you who supported me through that difficult time but I also stood rapt by the power of the community to come together so quickly and with such focus around the issue of affordable housing which council was about to cut anyway.

In a matter of days we collectively went from vague unease to outright, full-blown advocacy on behalf of those in our city who could not be heard. I saw tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, and in person conversation that gathered together in numbers that the powers in City Hall heard clearly and could not be lightly ignored. We decided we would not stand for cuts that would leave behind our fellow citizens whether they had disabilities or needed a home. We knew and believed that London should be a city that was about our collective good not expedient cuts to justify a policy that our current circumstances had determined was no longer relevant. I was held rapt by the potential of community.

In the last year we have gone through a trial by fire in London and more and more of us are waking up to the fact that we are afraid for our future and that the only way to overcome this fear is to face it openly and transparently, to consider not just our own well-being but the wellbeing of every one of our neighbors as well. We are learning that the world has changed and the only way for us to succeed is to make sure no one is left behind and that the basics of housing, health, and dignity are not open to negotiation.

But because we create community at the speed of light, an idea expressed brilliantly by Glen Pearson, other things can as quickly distract us. Social Media as a means of community building is like quicksilver and flows along the path of least resistance and at this critical time we cannot afford to be distracted.

I am not assigning blame here, I often get as distracted quicker than most, but I am pointing out that we must understand our goals, focus our resolve, and not be distracted by anything until the issues of economic equality, environment, livability, intelligent growth, and fairness in London are achieved. Once we achieve them, and I have great faith in my community that we can, we cannot ever let them be taken away or watered down. This is not only about politics and running for office but is also about continually gathering an authentically engaged community and applying a steady tide of pressure to those who hold public office in our name so that they understand that we demand more than only our participation at the ballot box.

So I’m asking you all friends to think, to talk, to gather, to move forward, to not be distracted, and build upon the amazing accomplishment you all made in the last week. Let us decide to throw out the old ways of power, and create for ourselves and for our neighborurs a place that we can proudly say is city of opportunity for all.

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City of Opportunity II – I speak as a Londoner

I must begin this post by stating clearly: I  AM IN NO WAY REPRESENTING THE OPINION OR POSITION OF ANY ORGANIZATION OR GROUP AND THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED HERE AND ON THIS WEB SITE ARE SOLELY MY OWN AND ARE NOT ENDORSED BY ANY ORGANIZATION OR GROUP

Councilor White in the previous Blog Post to this asked a question at the beginning. She asked ” Will you kindly clarify your comment about the Glen Cairn Centre? Are you speaking for them or as the Emerging Leaders, ED?”  Respectfully I have never claimed publicly nor privately to speak for Glen Cairn Centre or on behalf of Emerging Leaders who is my current employer. I ask Councilor White that when she called my previous employer and current employer Friday to complain about me was she speaking as a City Councilor or as someone who works for Children Aid Society or as a Private Citizen? Does she represent the City of London Council when she handles a CAS case? Does she represent CAS when she speaks at council? Or is she or any other Londoner allowed to speak out when they see something they disagree with?

I have never once spoken on behalf of Emerging Leaders or Glen Cairn Centre here or on Facebook, and would never do so, without express permission. The problem becomes when this happens it has a chilling effect on free speech and citizen engagement. But so be it, I can not be silent, even if it has personal consequences for me and my family.

Councilor White and the Mayor have made some points in defending their position. But the heart of the matter remains and while both of them and others have direct experience with people in poverty and Londoners with mental health issues so do I both within my family and amongst many friends. I have advocated my entire life both privately and publicly on behalf of those who are most often left behind because it affects my life and the life of my City, Province, and Country.

Mayor Fontana had posted the following in response to the outcry on the cuts to affordable housing, he did this on Facebook and I post it here unedited and in it’s entirety:

With a reduction in the contribution into the Affordable Housing Program, we will be shifting our approach to affordable housing. Right now there are a number of vacant units out there and a lot of individuals and families who need them. Instead of focusing on building all new units, our focus is shifting to filling existing units and entering into public private partnerships to convert exisiting spaces (like commercial space no longer being used as commercial space) into affordable housing. It’s a different approach, but it’s still a good approach and we will be able to increase the number of people we can help. London has done incredible unique things and we will continue to do so.

Affordable HousingThe reduced funding for the Program will result in a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.Changes were made to legislation January 1, 2012. The New Housing Services Act repeals Social Housing Reform Act and gives the City of London as Service Manager more flexibility and discretion within local rules.This will give our housing experts the needed flexibility to create new housing policy and new housing programs based on the needs of Londoners, moving away from the previous prescriptive approach set out by the province.This shift in strategy is designed to achieve greater efficiency in using the City’s housing funds: 
• Families and individuals will have access to housing. While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled. 
• The City can leverage the same amount of federal and provincial funding. 
• Jobs continue to be created through construction and renovation projects. 

Working within our funding, we will be using a combination of:
• convert to rent units (increase)
• creating more short term rental supplements (increase)
• home ownership program
• building new affordable housing units (decrease)

Affordable housing right now means keeping people in their homes.”

I think there are a couple of key points here to pay close attention to and to understand more fully and to seek clarification on.  I notice in this post the Mayor states ” a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.” . Notice some important words here?  An emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term? This will mean an increase in temporary housing and not permanent housing.

It’s important to note this as well: “While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled. ” .  Fewer rental units and more short term or temporary housing.
What we need to recognize here is that we are in every case reducing the number of permanent homes as a means to achieve a 0% tax increase. We also need to understand there is an 8+ year waiting list for permanent housing and while moving more families into temporary housing may be attractive in the short term we will in fact be delaying the issue at the expense of those most vulnerable and  sadly who is to say that that temporary housing budget will be there in a year or 3 years or 5.
We also need to understand the economic as well as the human impact of this cut. Abe Oudshoorn ,a recognized voice in homelessness and housing issues, wrote in his blog “this means that the $1M cut to the Housing Reserve Fund represents a potential $8M loss, or at $140,000 per unit, 57 units of affordable housing not built.  Each new unit also represents 2 person years of full-time employment.
Abe goes on to say ” affordable housing represents a much cheaper way to house people who are experiencing homelessness.  Housing an individual in shelter costs $1,450 per month, jail costs $140 per day, psychiatric acute care costs $650 per day, and acute care inpatient over $1,000 daily.  These statistics are clearly outlined in your Council-approved London Community Housing Strategy.  Therefore, putting money into housing up-front saves us much greater costs down the line.You can read the whole post here
Councilor Joni Baechler wrote on her Facebook page ” In My Opinion
Some members of council indicated they support the cut in Affordable Housing by $ 1Million because of the “Mayor’s plan” presented to committee yesterday. To be clear, there was NO plan presented. The Mayor simply outlined how he would divert the Affordable Housing $’s. What may have been missed by some councillors was the “KEY MESSAGE” from staff on the briefing note which states: “The reduced funding from the Program will result in a STRATEGIC SHIFT from the creation of a MAXIMUM number of PERMANENT units to an emphasis on creating shorter term TEMPORARY housing MEASURES”. The plan presented is a significant divergence from the Council adopted COMMUNITY HOUSING STRATEGY. Staff DID NOT recommend the budget cut in this area.As a result of this cut, we will not be able to leverage the same $$’s in order to meet our housing targets ($20 M in municipal housing dollars has leveraged $140 M from other sources). We will construct 75 less units per year which results in the loss of 72 associated jobs. The “temporary plan” does not address the housing crisis as year after year we will fall further behind.The cut to Affordable Housing is permanent. It will temporarily solve a fiscal shortfall on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable in our community
Important in what Councilor Baechler states is that Staff recommended against these cuts and that we will not be able to leverage these dollars and we will construct 75 less units per year.
So despite assertions to the contrary we are left with the same terrible loss at the expense of those that can afford it the least, but if we can focus and share our concerns with Council and the Mayor for just one week ,as so many on twitter and email and by phone have, then maybe, just maybe, we can convince a thoughtful Councilor or a thoughtful Mayor to change their vote and end this tragedy and begin to create a city of opportunity for everyone.

Councillor Sandy White Responds

I had promised City Councilor Sandy White that I would post here on my private blog, her response to the budget cuts unedited and unaltered in any way and do so now here as well as on my  private Facebook Page.

“Thank you for the opportunity to offer a comment, Sean! Will you kindly clarify your comment about the Glen Cairn Centre? Are you speaking for them or as the Emerging Leaders, ED? First, getting to zero for the sake of getting to zero is not my goal. Clearly, we are in a deep financial recession and council needs to find practical ways to help Londoners, through this recession. We have lost hund…reds of jobs in the London area, i.e. Ford and EMD. Sadly, there are more to come. We as a council need to look at what is best for ALL Londoners.

Many Londoners indicate that they want tax relief. They cannot afford their bills for a number of reasons that can include, out of work, fixed income or working poor. People need help now! It does not make sense to take money from the taxpayer for a reserve when they do not have money to put into their own savings account or to feed their family. There are much better ways to help that are immediate, practical and less costly. While we may not be building as many new units under this new housing strategy, we are still getting positive outcomes. We will be helping more people and faster.

That being said, the affordable home ownership program was a great success—and Council may direct more funds toward it—as funds are now exhausted. Families can access a fully forgivable loan up to 8% of a home worth up to $148,000. They build equity and achieve home ownership—and they pay property taxes, so it is a win all around. Even with reducing the contribution into the affordable housing program, we are achieving good outcomes. The numbers are forth coming from Community Services, but here are some of the housing programs we offer.

The reduced funding for the Program will result in a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.

On January 1, 2012, there were changes to housing legislation. The New Housing Services Act repeals Social Housing Reform Act and gives the City of London as Service Manager more flexibility and discretion within local rules.

This will give our housing experts the needed flexibility to create new housing policy and new housing programs based on the needs of Londoners, moving away from the previous prescriptive approach set out by the province.

This shift in strategy is designed to achieve greater efficiency in using the City’s housing funds:
• Families and individuals will have access to housing. While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number
of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled.
• The City can leverage the same amount of federal and provincial funding.
• Jobs continue to be created through construction and renovation projects.

Working within our funding, we will be using a combination of,
• convert to rent units (increase)
• creating more short-term rental supplements (increase)
• home ownership program
• building new affordable housing units (decrease)

Affordable housing right now means keeping people in their homes. We have 4% vacancy rate in London that we can potentially access quickly. Affordable housing right now means keeping people in their homes. In addition, London has a 4% vacancy rate and we have many people who need assistance with affordable housing as quickly as possible. Integrated housing is much more humane and preferable to many.

For example, I have a friend who is in receipt of ODSP and they want to stay in their current apartment. However, the rent is not affordable and in order to manage the cost of rent, they forfeit having food sometimes. Living in London housing is not an option for them. They could not handle the environment and would much rather pay the higher rent for the peace of mind. This individual would welcome a rental supplement. I suspect there are many Londoners in this situation. I believe that integrated housing can be much healthier and I totally support anything we can do to promote this type of housing program.

As for the wading pools, we are moving to splash pads. In fact, Westminster is getting a new pool and splash pad this summer.
Also in an effort to offer some relief to taxpayers, council needs to strike a balance. These decisions are never easy; investing money to help pull us through these difficult financial times for the purpose of creating employment will be beneficial to our recovery.

I hope this helps!

Thank you
Sandy ”

 

City of Opportunity on the backs of the vulnerable

Tonight I witnessed something that was done in a cold and ruthless way on the backs of those who have no voice. Tonight I saw our Mayor Joe Fontana and Counselors Swan, Henderson, Polhill, Orser, Van Meerburgen, D.Brown, and White, all vote to cut One Million Dollars from affordable housing. What is unbelievable is that Joe Fontana was the former federal housing minister and Counselors Polhill and White are in wards with the second highest rate of Ontario Works in the city and yet they slashed away at the people who need their support most.

These Councilors voted to reduce hours at community centres where many of the most vulnerable go for help: Fontana, Swan, Henderson, Polhill, Orser, Van MeerBurgen, Brown. Thankfully they lost.

These Councilors voted to cut $500,000 from accessibility from the Citizens with disabilities reserve fund: Fontana, Swan, Henderson, Polhill, Orser, Van Merbergaan Brown, White.

There are so many of you who voted to put the Mayor in on a 0% tax increase and the result is cuts to the poorest in our City, cuts to children and cuts to homeless Londoners. Was it worth it for the savings to you?

London is a generous city but why can’t we pay more in taxes and show our generosity this way? Would you pay more taxes to eliminate an 8-year waiting list for affordable housing? Would you pay more to taxes to make sure that 1 in 4 children in London do not live in poverty? Would you pay taxes to make sure that we create a city that is an example of kindness and generosity?

I would and I’m sure you would too.

Tonight the Mayor and these Councilors lost all credibility and we as citizens now need to organize and stand up and say this is not the City we want. We do not want a City that leaves the most vulnerable behind. We do not want a City that is not progressive. We refuse to have a City that is about 0% at all costs. We want a City of opportunity for all not just a few.

If you have agree then you have a responsibility. Your responsibility is to not just be angry or heartbroken or sickened but to do something about it. You must decide that you will no longer sit behind your keyboards idly complaining but that you take action.

Write or call these councilors and the mayor here:

Mayor Fontana – jfontana@london.ca 519-661-2500 Ext. 4920

Polhill – bpolhill@london.ca

Swan (Chairs the Council Housing Leadership Committee) – jswan@london.ca

Orser – sorser@london.ca

D.Brown – dbrown@london.ca

Van MeerBergn – pvanmeer@london.ca

Handerson – dhenders@london.ca

White – sawhite@london.ca

Send a letter to the editor of the London Free Press here: letters@lfpress.com

By doing this you choose to pay your fair share and you choose to make a City of opportunity for everyone but not on the backs of the poor.

And now we need to step up

Just like everyone else in London today I was flattened by the news that Caterpillar shut down the EMD plant with a callous disregard for the lives of the people who have given their blood sweat and tears to making the best locomotives in the world.

So what do we do now? Where do these more than 400 workers turn? What happens to their families, and their mortgages, and their children, and their important impact on the life of London?

We need to stand up and show these workers and their families and the country that this will not defeat us nor will we abandon our neighbors in this time of need and grief. We need to tell the Federal Government and our local Members of Parliament Susan Truppe and Ed Holder that this issue is no longer a provincial dispute. These workers have been let go and this responsibility lands squarely in the laps of the Federal Government.

Susan and Ed have never showed up to support their fellow Londoners but now they can. They can advocate to get the Employment Insurance Benefits, which the workers paid into, fast tracked so that families don’t need to go hungry and so that mortgages can get paid. They need to show that they care about Londoners and do the right thing and not stand on the sidelines wringing their hands over process and the often glacial pace of the Federal Government. This is now an urgent matter and needs to be treated as such. Treated with heart rather than partisanship.

Our City Council and our Mayor showed up today to show they cared. Now I hope they will swing into action and get resources into the hands of these families. Joe Fontana, Joni Baechler, and Nancy Branscombe showed real leadership today and real heart.. I encourage them to keep acting on that impulse.

But there is something you can do friends. You can come to an event on Monday February 6th at 7 p.m. at the North London Optimists Centre, (1345 Cheapside Street, Located near the corner of Cheapside Street and Highbury Avenue) to show these workers that you care, to show your fellow Londoners that you care. To show the World that London cares.