Monday night, January 23rd, saw City Council take a marathon 5 hour session which was dominated by housing issues and involved a huge community turn out. For other views see the Leader Post here and here and Prairie Dog here.
The Accessibility Advisory Committee were the second delegation with DE 12-2. They presented the results of the first accessibility forum, which will now be an annual event. The six key themes of the accessibility forum were:
1. Education, awareness and communication
2. Improve current practices with greater proactivity
3. Link and partner with other departments
4. Develop and apply a policy lens
5. Increasing resources
6. Researching other modes and practices
The delegation stressed that all departments need to meet the City’s vision, which includes Accessibility, in their day-to-day practice.
Accessibility is an issue that affects us all. Case in point, one night while out for supper, I watched a business man struggling to pull his carry-roll bag through the mucky Scarth Street sidewalk downtown. It was a great reminder that on a wet prairie day (normally in spring but this year January) there would be a massive amount of mud. Infrastructure, like paved roads and sidewalks allows accessibility for all and those very means of movement are hollow unless they work for everyone.
CR 12-4 was the proposal to change elements of the Condo Conversion policy. This proposal saw many earnest anti-poverty advocates came forward as delegations to ask that no change occur. Again and again these advocates were well received by councilors, who stressed that they too want to find solutions.
Appreciative as they were of the delegations, council members continued to be firm in passing responsibility for social housing on to the provincial and federal levels. Many delegations were asked if they have contacted higher orders of government, most had not done so yet.
There was an interesting discussion about the 2% rate and how common it was to be above 3%. Some data was provided suggesting there is very rarely a greater than 3% vacancy rate in Regina and 2% for a full year is also not very common. The rate has been above 3% only twice in last 20 years, so even with lower rate the potential for condo conversions, council felt, was low.
Councilor Browne moved an amendment to include zone vacancy rates, in order to protect the rental availability in specific parts of the city. The University area was the prime example he used.
CM 12-1 was the destruction of Apartment units and stores at 1755 Hamilton Street. Again many delegations came forward, often with very personal stories of hardship. At times, delegations’ displeasure brought some, uncommonly, strong words and accusations. On a few occasions councilors were very much insulted but nothing was made of the comments.
There were alternatives to destruction since, most effectively by Garson Hunter (DE 12-10), the repairs required could have been paid for using funds from the provincial Rental Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Programs (RRAP).
Administration, in their comments, mentioned they informed the applicant of the program as well, but the applicant did not take up the funding opportunity.
When asked by council what would replace the building, administration indicated there were no plans for the site, which was met with audible groans from the gallery. In the end, mournful looking councilors felt they had no choice with the applicant meeting all requirements, both of administration and of the Province, they voted for the destruction.
CR 12-7 was regarding the 2012 Municipal Election. There will be new ward boundaries for the election this fall.
The discussion, however, was dominated by the new provision for criminal record checks. Basically, the check that the city would obtain from the Regina Police Service would state that the potential candidate has a criminal record, does not have a criminal record or may or may not have a criminal record. In the case of uncertainty, the candidate would have to go through a finger print check that is sent to Ottawa and can add 90 days to the process.
In the end, after much debate and commentary, which seemed to leave councilors more confused than at the start, they tabled criminal record checks until the process was made more clear.
CR 12-8 Executive committee decided to give $50 000 to the Globe Theatre out of general funds for participation in the Regina Cultural Centre (New Library). The Friends of the Library are now putting pressure on the Library Board for more transparency in the planning of the New Library. The idea that one can get a private audience with executive committee and come out $50 000 better for it is unsettling for some in the Arts community. Why are some groups seemingly favoured over others?
Finally MN 12-1 is a motion put forward by Councilors Browne and Fougere to incentivize sustainable construction methods in industrial and commercial building development. The city will now go and research how best to create incentives by looking at best practices from around the world.