City mayors address housing and infrastructure issues

Graphic by Lena Yang
Graphic by Lena Yang

Kitchener Mayor, Carl Zehr, joined with other municipal representatives from across Canada to discuss ways to fix the affordable housing shortage—a substantial barrier to national growth — at a meeting in Ottawa last week.

Issues with transportation infrastructure were also addressed.

Zehr and other members of the Big City Mayors’ Caucus (BCMC) are asking the federal government to invest in long-term planning to address affordable housing shortages and outdated infrastructure.

He wants to ensure this is a priority in the Region of Waterloo.

Mayor Zehr spoke with The Cord and addressed several of the BCMC’s concerns in regard to the 2014 federal budget. “For affordable housing there was essentially one paragraph that spoke to the matter,” Zehr said.

“The budget did not address the crying need for additional housing and the improvement of the current housing across the country.”

Zehr said that $1.7 billion worth of agreements with the federal government for affordable housing in Canada will be discontinued in coming years.
He believes that the federal government, at minimum, should be maintaining the current level of funding towards affordable housing.

“The federal government is basically stating that the mortgages they had guaranteed are maturing and that’s roughly 30 years later and therefore that money isn’t required anymore,” he added.

Zehr continued to say that in terms of mortgages, “these are buildings that have now aged and are in desperate need of additional money to keep them in good condition.”

Gregor Robertson, chair of the BCMC and mayor of Vancouver, contends that the national housing dilemma and aging traffic infrastructure are holding Canadian cities back.

“Canada’s cities are engines of economic growth and our meeting focused on securing federal commitments to protect affordable housing funding and to reduce traffic gridlock with new federal investment in transit,” Robertson added.

Claude Dauphin is president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), the organization that houses the BCMC.

He is also greatly concerned with the growing number of Canadians who have been waitlisted for subsidized housing.

“The high costs of housing puts home ownership out of reach for an increasing number of moderate and low-income earners,” Dauphin shared.

“At the same time, affordable housing waitlists continue to grow long and there is an increasing need for subsidized housing and emergency shelters.”

Dauphin urged the federal government to work with all levels of government to develop a long-term plan to ensure the availability and sustainability of affordable housing for those most in need.

Mayor Zehr noted that there are many residents within the Waterloo Region who depend on access to subsidized housing.

“The federal government cannot, in our opinion, arbitrarily opt out of the housing responsibility,” Zehr shared.

According to Zher, while Waterloo Region exhibits a healthy and growing economy, concerns around housing and aging infrastructure must be addressed ­—and soon — to avoid future impediments to growth.

“We have continued in this Region to find ways around the problem,” Zehr explained. “It is not something that is going to cause an immediate halt to the economy, because we have a robust economy.”

“We’re grateful, of course,” he added, “but the need is much greater and there has to be some reference to the sustainability of these funds and not just on a project-by-project basis.”

“This is an economic issue and the federal government has a stake in it,” said Zehr.

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