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CEO Sidewalk Labs answers Toronto’s questions

Back in October it was announced that Google’s sister company, Sidewalk Labs, in collaboration with Waterfront Toronto and the Canadian federal government, was chosen as a partner to create an innovative city hub in Toronto, coined Quayside. 

Sidewalk Labs will be helping develop “a new kind of mixed-use, complete community” on 12-acres of unused Waterfront property. The aim is to use new technology and sustainable practices to address urban problems. They claim this new “smart” will help improve economic growth and bring international attention to Toronto.

Dan Doctoroff, Chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, answered questions from the public about the project on Reddit. A lot is still unknown, but here were some of the big, and quirky, questions**:

Question: What is the timeline for this project, when do you hope to break ground, and are there plans to have mix use housing? 

Answer:  Great questions. The only timeline right now is the year-long community planning process that we launched with the Town Hall on November 1. We’ll be releasing the formal engagement plan in early 2018. At the end of this process, Sidewalk Labs, Waterfront Toronto, and the local community will determine whether we should proceed.

As for mixed-income housing — I answered that above but it’s worth repeating. We are strongly committed to making Sidewalk Toronto affordable and accessible to people with a range of incomes, ages, and abilities. We also believe strongly (this is in our RFP response) that mixed-income housing should exist within buildings.

What can you and your company do to ensure that there will be housing available for all kinds of families from various income brackets?

Right from the very beginning of this project, we and Alphabet have committed to making Sidewalk Toronto representative of the socioeconomic characteristics of the greater Toronto area. As a result, we think one of the great opportunities is to figure out ways to make housing more affordable to far more people than is typically done in new developments.

We’re looking at new types of buildings that can reduce construction costs; new approaches to making buildings more adaptable, which can lower cost; and innovative financing programs to make housing more affordable. I was very proud in New York to have led the development of a housing plan that created or preserved 165,000 units of subsidized housing over an 11-year period of time and would hope we can adapt some of those approaches to Sidewalk Toronto.

I was wondering if you can comment on what it is about Toronto that is unique or unprecedented when it comes to urban planning?

We have studied the idea of building a neighbourhood of the future since I formed Sidewalk Labs, in partnership with Larry Page, in 2015. Since then we’ve looked all over the world for the perfect place to bring that vision to life — and we found it in Toronto. Toronto is unique in its incredible diversity and openness, its rich legacy of urbanism, and its rising tech sector. It’s also suffering the problems facing many growing cities around the world, such as affordability and sustainability, which makes it the perfect place to explore new ideas to improve urban life. We did a tremendous amount of research on Toronto while preparing our vision response to Waterfront Toronto’s RFP — and we look forward to getting to know the city even better this year.

With the challenges that Toronto faces to transit and moving people across its sprawling “downtown” – coupled with Quayside’s somewhat remote location – how do you see Quayside attracting people from outside of the bubble to come visit/work/play?

A second core assumption that we made right from the beginning is that this would never be a bubble! It should be fully integrated into the fabric of the metropolitan area. We’ve done a lot of work thinking about the ways that this site — which sits on the water, separated by the Gardiner from the rest of downtown — can be stitched together into Toronto’s existing neighbourhoods. That includes potential expansions of mass transit, new forms of shuttles (over time potentially using self-driving technology), heated bike and pedestrian paths, and other ideas. We also believe some of the approaches we pilot here, including using technology to manage flows of pedestrians, cyclists, transit vehicles, as well as cars, can be applied more broadly in other Toronto areas.

I would love to see some of this area opened up to a low-tech thing – fishing. Are there any plans to include a fishing node or assess areas for fishing the new harbourfront areas? 

Having spent a day last week fishing and having caught nothing, that’s a sore subject right now! I think Fishing as a Service would be a great thing to include in Quayside. (Promise I’m joking.)

Your point is really about waterfront access for the local community, which is a great one. Many Torontonians feel disconnected from the water by the Gardiner Expressway. One of our goals is to support the city’s plans to stitch together the waterfront with downtown neighborhoods, and we’ll be exploring many potential ways to improve access via transit or other means (I mentioned some of them in another answer). We’re also big fans of the recently launched Bentway project (Waterfront Toronto is a project partner) to create a lively public realm beneath the Gardiner and help draw people down toward the waterfront — to fish or otherwise.

What is the first structure you plan on building?

A statue of Jane Jacobs? The real answer is we don’t know yet. What would YOU like to see us build first?

How can I have a job with you?

That is the question I get most often! The truth is, we can’t achieve our goals with Sidewalk Toronto unless we create an organization that combines skills that no single company has ever had. We are looking for people with experience in government, product and engineering, real estate development, business development and investment, communications — and others. The Sidewalk Labs website will give you a sense of what types of jobs are available right now (several are potentially based in Toronto). We also have a way for people to submit their resumes to our “talent network” so that if a job opens up we can see if there are any qualified applicants already in the system. Here is that link — you should apply! https://boards.greenhouse.io/sidewalklabs/jobs/594339#.WlYuYbQ-dE4

Some members of the civic policy community are concerned that giving a private agency greater control over municipal space will result in reduced public ownership and oversight of regions of the city. How will Sidewalk Labs ensure that its activities are transparent, accountable, and that its outcomes serve the people of Toronto – as opposed to financial interests of Alphabet/Google? 

Answer: The short answer is we don’t see this as a private entity controlling this. We see this as a robust partnership with the public sector. Many of the staff members of Sidewalk Labs (including myself!) have spent much of their careers working in local government, and we believe strongly in its power to improve the lives of people in cities.

We also believe strongly in transparency, which is why we’ve been releasing documents at the Sidewalk Toronto site as often as possible, as does our partner, Waterfront Toronto, which will be taking the lead on making records of open meetings publicly accessible. (Waterfront Toronto also has an Open Meetings Processes that applies to board meetings and board committee meetings.)

**Questions shortened for space. Full Reddit Q&A can be found here

Woman of the Week: Meg Davis

Meg Davis loves to witness change in a neighbourhood. It’s her passion — to watch a vibrant community evolve over the years. As Chief Developent Officer of Waterfront Toronto, Davis gets to see this kind of transformation on a daily basis.

Davis has worked for Waterfront Toronto for the last 10 years, and says the change within the neighbourhood is heartwarming.

“When I arrived here we had a couple small parks and wave decks, which were stunning and beautiful and got a lot of attention, but we hadn’t built a building yet,” she said. “In the last 10 years we’ve built an 18-acre park in the West Don lands, Pan Am athletes village, condos in the West Don lands, [and] East Bayfront. People are starting to build down here and one of the things we have started is programming. Cultural events, the sugar shack program, partnering with Luminato — we are really animating the waterfront.”

The waterfront, a 46-kilometre stretch of Harbourfront property along Lake Ontario between Etobicoke and Rouge River, is constantly transforming. Waterfront Toronto is a public advocate and steward of this revitalization process. It was created by all three levels of the Canadian government with the purpose of overseeing and implementing strategies to transform the area.

One of the things Waterfront Toronto stresses is the difference between redevelopment and revitalization. Redevelopment, Davis explains, refers to the selling of land to the highest bidder, regardless of what they plan on doing in the area.

“Revitalization means achieving public policy objectives such as reducing urban sprawl, providing transit, reducing carbon emissions, contributing to economic vibrancy, addressing affordability and providing excellent public realm and architecture by leveraging public land,” she said.

It’s this kind of urban development that Davis is passionate about. Her love of urban planning was encouraged by a geography teacher in high school, whose lesson plans focused on urban affairs. “It really grabbed me. I took as many courses like that as I could,” she said.

Her education is mixed. She has an Honours Bachelor degree from Western University in urban development, a Master’s in business Administration from the University of Toronto, and recently completed an Executive Leadership Program. She started her career as a junior planner with Bramalea Limited, focusing mostly on real estate. From 2005 to 2007, Davis acted as Director of KPMG Canada, focusing on public-private partnership projects, including $1 billion long-term care facilities and the sale of Highway 407.

“I love the physical aspect of it,” she said. “I love to see things come up from the ground and take shape. For me, the use of P3s were a unique opportunity to see how the government and the private sector could come together.”

This is especially true of Toronto’s waterfront, which Davis describes as essentially “one big P3.” Waterfront Toronto is putting a large emphasis on affordable housing within its neighbourhoods, and using that as a foundation for planning.

“You can have affordable housing and expensive condos, [but] if you don’t provide the public spaces, it’s not a place anybody wants to live,” she said. “You can’t squander the opportunities – being by the water is unique in Toronto and you have to make it a complete community.”

As Chief Development Officer, Davis is responsible for leading the development of all lands controlled by Waterfront Toronto. She is particularly proud of the Pan Parapan Am Games Athlete’s Village in the West Don Lands, which was transformed after the games into affordable rental housing, vibrant retail properties, student housing, market condominiums, and public art. Davis says it advanced revitalization of the neighbourhood by over five years.

“We are really animating the waterfront. I think the transformation is huge,” she says.

Davis helps co-chair the Women’s Leadership Initiative ULI Toronto. They are working on a speaking series that will help promote the voices of women in real estate, which she says is still a heavily male-dominated industry.

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Affordable housing for musicians announced in Toronto

Struggling musicians have a tough time surviving in expensive cities like Toronto. Not only is the price of transportation, food, and general expenses quite heavy on those who may not be making a full salary, but they have to live in the urban centre in order to make money. This is increasingly difficult in Toronto’s inflated housing market.

That’s why it’s so great the non-profit Toronto Music is designing a pilot project focusing on affordable housing specifically for musicians. They are using a vacant property at the eastern edge of Regent Park, at the corner of Dundas St. E and Sumach St. The development would include 100 units as well as a performance area, a recording and rehearsal space, and desk space for music professionals. There would also be opportunities for the musicians to host and take part in educational events that would focus on music business management practices.

A report created by the Toronto Music Advisory Council for the City of Toronto in February 2016 includes a focus on affordable housing for musicians in the city’s core. The city wants to help musicians find homes to alleviate the difficulty these artists face regarding gentrification, rising housing costs, and redevelopment of inner-city neighbourhoods. The city is working on partnerships with organizations like Artscape, a local non-profit that creates affordable housing for artists, to promotes local art initiatives. This should help Toronto become a ‘Music City’, something city staff and the mayor, John Tory, sorely want. The city is also considering zoning bylaws that would allow performers to have workspaces at home so that they can rehearse music and promote their careers further.

Toronto is following the footsteps of Nashville and New York. The Ryman Lofts in Nashville successfully launched 60 units dedicated for local musicians while New York recently announced 1500 affordable apartments for musicians with low incomes. Only musicians would qualify for the housing in New York, and it would include 500 work spaces within the affordable housing building. The rising trend of housing for musicians is positive because it encourages more creative and innovative communities, and a culture immersed in the arts.

Affordable housing for musicians is a intrinsic development to the building of a healthy inner-city environment. If there was free performance space for musicians to offer their music to the public, it would promote a beautiful urban culture in Toronto.

What do you think of a musician-only affordable housing unit? Let us know in the comments below!

Laneway suites as sustainable housing solution in Toronto

Laneway housing has been all the buzz in Toronto as a way to create more housing in high-density areas. With an eminent housing crisis and very low availability for housing in the city, stakeholders are desperate to find a solution, and find new places to put homes could be the answer. So what exactly is laneway housing?

Think of it as a basement suite, but on top of your existing property. A laneway house is an additional suite on the same property as an already existing house. It is typically built on top of a garage or at the back of the house near a lane or alley. It would function similarly to a basement suite in the sense that it relies on services on the main house, but would be above ground instead. According to Cofounder & Architect of Lanescape, Craig Race, “There are a lot of cities with framework for laneway housing, with Vancouver as a leader for this. The laneway suite gets all of its servicing and mail delivery from the main house, they are always on the same property and must work in tandem with the main property. Through a pretty intense public consultation process, we are trying to build something suitable for Toronto as well.”

Previous city councillor Adam Giambrone killed laneway housing in 2006 when a report condemned the practice because homes would to be provided with external services such as water and hydro from the laneways rather than the main house on the property, and this was seen as untenable by the city. As a result, the city over-regulated laneway housing and made it extremely difficult to build at all. The process to build a laneway suite is covered in red tape and can take months to approve. “It is a difficult process and very expensive. It is necessary to go through the Committee of Adjustment or the Ontario Municipal Board, which is a long process and takes a lot of expertise,” Race says. “It is very prohibitive for homeowners today.”

Since then, laneway suites (as opposed to independent houses) have grown in popularity in urban centres across North America, and would rely on the main house for water and electricity. “When the city looked at this before, it was assumed that the laneway would need to provide services, but the services could be provided at the front of the home. It is just a matter of taking it underground.” Race explains. “You would take it from your basement and dig a rear trench to the laneway house.” Once the trench is constructed, the laneway suite would use the same water and electricity as the main home.

In conjunction with Evergreen, Lanescape has been involved in public consultations across the city educating people on the importance of laneway housing. The involved parties have been actively engaging with city councillors, meeting with technical staff who will be affected by the changes and hosting presentations for the public to be involved. The public consultation process ramped up after Ontario Minister of Housing Chris Ballard announced last fall that every municipality should begin developing legislation for laneway housing across the province.

Allowing laneway suites would ultimately be a positive development for Toronto because it responds to the need for housing in high-density neighbourhoods and is also a sustainable approach to housing. “Laneway suites and sustainable living go hand in hand. They allow for visible density because people can co-habitat on existing structures and makes better use of what we have,” Race says. “These structures are designed to be environmentally conscious. There is also a point to be made about the health component of living above ground, and not in a basement.”

In order to develop a cohesive report to present to council in the spring, Lanescape is accepting responses to a public survey as a part of their consultation process. From there, the report will be delivered to city council and they will begin debating to see if laneway suites can become a part of the housing development landscape in the city.

If you are interested in supporting laneway housing, take the survey and help push forward the agenda for more affordable housing initiatives in Toronto.

Canada budget 2017 highlights transit and housing

At 4 p.m. on March 22, the Government of Canada released their 2017 budget. As Canada celebrates it’s 150th anniversary, this budget, entitled “Building A Strong Middle Class”, is being described by many as uneventful and uninspiring. There was a lot of emphasis on innovation and skill training; but at the same time, little money was dedicated to facing new problems such as immigration, refugees, and post-secondary education.

The budget creates a deficit of about $29 billion for 2016/2017. The Liberals plan on reducing that deficit to about $14 billion by the end of their term.

The Liberal government says this budget was created under a gender-based analysis, meaning that all aspects within the budget, even those that don’t pertain to gender, were assessed based on the impact it would have on women. A gender statement within the budget makes reference to the still-high gender gap in Canada and the additional violence women experience on a regular basis.

“When making decisions that significantly affect peoples’ lives, governments must understand to what extent their policy choices will produce different outcomes for all people,” the gender-statement in the 2017 budget reads.

“A meaningful and transparent discussion around gender and other intersecting identities allows for a greater understanding of the challenges this country faces, and helps the Government make informed decisions to address those challenges—with better results for all Canadians.”

Here are some of the other highlights within the budget:

Transit: The government has dedicated $20.6 billion, spread out over the next 11 years, to public transportation projects. This funding will be used to cover up to 40 per cent of new subways and rail light lines — which is big for cities like Ottawa and Toronto that are in the middle of creating large integrated transit systems.

At the same time, the government is eliminating the public transit tax credit, which allows transit users to claim 15 per cent of what they pay.

Infrastructure: With the growth of the affordable housing crisis, the federal government has decided to invest $11.2 billion over 11 years for affordable housing. This money will be divided into a few different programs, including $225 million will go towards improving housing conditions for Indigenous Peoples not living on reserves.

Child Care: The Liberal government is going to spend $7 billion on childcare, creating about 400,000 new subsidized childcare spaces in the next three years. Parental leave has also been increased to 18 months, and expecting mothers can claim Employment Insurance benefits up to 12 weeks prior to giving birth — it used to be eight weeks.

Skills/Training: Innovation Canada will be receiving $950 million over five years to support innovators and to build “super-clusters”. The budget also agrees to allow those on Employment Insurance benefits to apply to go back to school or undertake training, something which was not possible in previous years.

 

Do you have an opinion on the 2017 budget? Let us know in the comments below!

Are shipping containers the future of affordable housing?

Building a home takes time and effort, a considerable issue considering North America is experiencing an affordable housing crisis. But, a non-profit in Columbus, Ohio might’ve discovered a possible solution— shipping containers.

Cargominium, as the project has been dubbed, is a three storey-building made out of shipping containers that is being constructed by non-profit Nothing into Something Real Estate. The housing development is being built as affordable housing and will include 25 apartments.

The building consists of fifty-four shipping containers that are stacked together. Each apartment has two bedrooms and will be accessible from an exterior stairways. Before the containers were shipped to Columbus, windows and doors were cut into the steel and then, upon arrival, the containers are placed on top of each other on site. The containers will have stucco siding to make it look like a regular apartment complex and the steel container will be well hidden once complete.

Shipping containers as homes are growing in popularity because they are cheaper to use than lumber or other building materials. They are durable, versatile and are upcycled, a process that takes used products and creates products of better quality for environmental use. Deforestation from housing development is a crucial environmental problem and using shipping containers saves wood, and other building materials used in framing houses. Building with shipping containers comes with its own set of issues, including the difficulty of getting the container up to building code in regards to insulation and air circulation. But, the perks tend to outweigh those complications. For example, the flat roofs can easily be used for a green roof garden and solar panels. This gives an added environmental bonus and possible energy reproduction to the shipping container homes.

Oneesan Container Housing Project. Photo from the Atira Women’s Resource Society.

Canadian companies are jumping on board as well, providing shipping container options for affordable housing in Vancouver and other clients in Western Canada. Edmonton-based company, Honomobo, builds prefabricated affordable housing shipping container homes and has received more than 12,000 inquiries from 74 countries for more homes. The Atira Women’s Resource Society in Vancouver also built a successful affordable multi-dwelling affordable housing development known as Oneesan, for vulnerable women aged 55 and over in 2013.

Private homeowners are also hopping on the trend, with local restaurant owner, Carl Cassell, recently using a shipping container to extend his Queen St. home. Development Company, Wonder Inc, is another Hamilton-based company designing and building a house completely made of shipping containers for writer and broadcaster, Geoffrey Young who has worked on international developments and has a passion for urban design and sustainability.

Shipping containers are not a permanent solution to affordable housing, but they are a good temporary one. They can be built quickly and provide immediate shelter for people who are desperate to find a home. However, municipalities that use shipping containers as a form of affordable housing must not rely on them as long-lasting, but using this building material will give city officials more time to find a better solution. Creative resolutions are the best way to solve the affordable housing crisis, and shipping containers are an inspiring start.

Toronto 2017 budget continues to rely heavily on property owners

The executive committee pushed forward the proposed 2017 $10.5 billion budget on Tuesday, and leaves many in Toronto divided on how satisfied they are with the results.

Here are the highlights:

The budget includes a two per cent increase in residential property taxes, will allocate $80 million more to TTC, and $37 million to  Toronto Community Housing. The city will also be providing 200 more shelter beds this year and Mayor John Tory has thrown his support behind supporting more daycare subsidy spots — there are currently 18,000 children on the daycare subsidy waitlist— though provincial aid is needed to help foot the bill.  Unfortunately, recreation fees will still be increasing.

Other revenue tools that have been approved include a hotel tax of four per cent (10 per cent for short-term rentals) that is expected to bring in an extra $5.5 million in revenue. There is also a plan to harmonize the Ontario Land Transfer Tax with the Municipal Land Transfer Tax, which is estimated to raise $77 million.

The city will have to use $87.8 million from reserves to make up the rest of the budget.

The property tax hike, hotel, and municipal land-transfer tax were met with criticism by many Toronto citizens because these revenue tools put even more pressure on locals to meet the budget needs of the city. Relying so heavily on the inflated housing market is also an unstable revenue measure because if the housing bubble pops, the municipal land transfer tax and property tax rates could financially destroy homeowners.

Instead of consistently relying on property owners to pay for Toronto’s services year after year, more creative revenue tools need to be adopted in future city budgets. Road tolls, recently shot down by Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Ontario Liberals, is a solution that would directly fund transit by charging not only the 905 commuters coming into the city for work every day, but all Torontonian downtown drivers a small fee. Using road tolls as a revenue tool would relieve pressure on property tax hikes and raise much needed funds for transit and community housing that desperately need to be built.

The budget fills gaps on some city services, but falls short of adequately shortening the affordable housing waitlist, not to mention many other items on the agenda that desperately need funding.

Outlook for 2017 Toronto housing market is red hot

The Toronto housing market is one of the most unaffordable housing markets in the country, and it appears as if prices will continue to rise in 2017. This housing bubble in Canada is putting substantial pressure on people who are desperate to find housing — and little is being done to change it.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) keeps track of all the Canadian housing markets and releases alerts when the cost of housing in a given city is increasing at a faster rate than the rate of average income. In October 2016, CHMC put the entire country on its first ever red alert, mostly due to the spill-over effects of Toronto and Vancouver’s housing markets. Vancouver has taken steps to cool their market by implementing a foreign buyer tax, but Toronto has yet to implement any great changes. Frankly, Toronto is in hot water and without government intervention soon, housing will rise an extra 10 to 16 per cent this year.

In December 2016, an average house in Toronto was $730,432 and if the averages were to rise to the anticipated 2017 levels, a home could become a whopping $825,000. This prices most people out of the market, and leaves many without an option of a permanent residence. The Royal Bank of Canada completed a Canadian Housing Health Check for 2017, and highly recommended the government step in to cool off Toronto’s housing market. Nothing has been done as of yet.

Recently, the City of Toronto road toll proposal was abolished by the Ontario Liberals, under the leadership of Premier Kathleen Wynne, which leaves the municipal housing market as one of the only ways for Toronto to make money for city needs. This puts the already-pressured housing market in a frightening position, as higher taxes in the form of a proposed harmonized land transfer tax or increased property taxes would raise costs even further within the Toronto boundary. Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) released research on Tuesday emphasizing that any added tax pressure to the city’s market would push up prices in the GHTA further because the tax wouldn’t be in these boundaries. It could also impact the rental market negatively.

In order to afford a house, co-buying is growing in popularity, as people come together to buy a home. Though mortgage companies are stricter when it comes to co-buying with non-family members, putting funds into one large pot is a creative solution to being able to purchase a home. It also fosters a shared sense of community and lowers the burden of financing a home with an over-inflated price.

The housing bubble will eventually pop and it will have devastating consequences on homeowners if interest rates sky-rocket. There is a lot of danger in having high home prices and low interest rates, including selling to people who can’t realistically afford what they are purchasing. Instead of continuing the upward housing cost trend, the government needs to intervene and cool the market. People deserve a home and places like Toronto and Vancouver should be accessible to all, not just the select few. The city may benefit off housing in the short-term, but an inflated market will have nasty side-effects and affordable housing needs to become a central priority on a municipal, provincial and federal level.

Celebrating Women: Chynna Howard

Chynna Howard is a defining example of what is possible when courage and selflessness are the primary qualities of a person’s make-up. This millennial woman is going to change lives with her accomplishments, and has already made an integral space for herself in Edmonton’s affordable housing community.

Howard, 27, is tackling the housing crisis head on through the founding of ‘Jill’s Place’, a rooming house located in Edmonton that she named after her mom. The rooming house will help homeless women that are in desperate need of housing in the city’s core, and is set to open in January 2017. While most people feel powerless to change the homeless crisis in Canada, Howard’s absolute selflessness is nothing short of mouth-dropping.

Howard started working in housing as a social worker at the Bissell Centre, a non-profit that provides a variety of services for the homeless, working for the outreach housing team in Edmonton. She began to notice a gap for women looking for housing in inner-city Edmonton and decided to tackle the issue herself. “The waitlists for housing are ridiculous. I was finding that these women didn’t have enough money and couldn’t find housing just for women,” Howard says. “They didn’t fit under the ‘domestic’ umbrella and didn’t want to be in a shelter. There was a lot of discrimination finding a roommate due to being aboriginal and homeless.”

Jill’s Place will provide a clean and safe home to women who are homeless in downtown Edmonton, and will help marginalized women with a place to live. Howard plans on using her skills as a social worker to help women in the home meet basic needs such as meal planning and groceries. She is also considering starting a crowdfunding campaign to help fund a welcome package for each woman that would include a towel, and other products. “I’m trying to benefit inner city women by providing safe and clean rooms. I know it is a really tough work, we need to provide clean and safe rooming homes,” Howard says. “I can fill out a rent report for them [the women who need help with rent living in the house] and take it to Alberta Works. For the most part, it will be a home. There will be a resource room with internet and a phone.”

Howard also decided to purchase the rooming house as a way to honour her dad’s memory, a high school teacher from Kelowna who passed away from cancer in 2014. “When he passed away, I was left money from his pension. I thought this would be the perfect way to use and honour that. It never felt like my money so I’m glad I found a way to honour it. I use everything he taught me to make this community better,” Howard says. “I wanted to make sure my dad’s legacy is carried on. People wonder how I’m able to financially do this. I’d give it back if I had him, but it isn’t that way so I will do this.”

In honour of her dad’s memory, Howard began the annual Clyde Howard Memorial Bursary intended for a female student in the Okanagan area entering post-secondary education.

Howard’s portrait of her father, Clyde.

Howard also happens to be a great artist and hopes to integrate an art studio into the rooming house for the women to use. “ I really like making art that has a message and makes you think,” Howard says. “I want to start making art that reflects this community. They also have an art walk in Edmonton and the women could show their work.”

Shadow Puppets and a Rogue Imagination. Artwork by Chynna Howard.

Howard is also an avid reader. She is currently reading “Starlight Tour” by Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud, the story of Neil Stonechild and the ‘Starlight Tours’ in Saskatoon. Howard claims it is a must-read for all Canadians. She enjoys listening to Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in the midst of a busy life.

When I met Howard, I had this feeling that she was one of those beautiful people that seem to be put on the planet to make it a better place. I had once heard the term ‘indigo child’ used to explain people who have an almost ethereal power to rid our society temporarily of its ugliness, and leave it with just a little more beauty. That is most definitely Chynna Howard and the future success of ‘Jill’s Place’ will surely help many women in need.

Is Toronto stuck as the child poverty capital or can it raise a village?

Toronto is one of the most liveable cities in the world, but if you live in poverty with your children, it’s quite a different story. Ranging from long daycare subsidy waitlists, high rent, extraordinary transit costs, and expensive food, raising a family can seem nearly impossible.

Child poverty is a difficult pill to swallow and Toronto has been dubbed the Canadian capital in a report called ‘Divided City’ that was released in early November 2016. The report said that Toronto has the highest rate of low-income children in an urban area at 26.8 per cent.

Two years ago in November 2015, Toronto approved its first-ever poverty reduction plan after a report was released entitled ‘The Hidden Epidemic’, which outlined the impacts of child poverty in the city. Though child poverty has decreased from 29 per cent in 2009 to 26.8 per cent, it still impacts specific neighbourhoods in Toronto. The 2016 report is the first update since ‘The Hidden Epidemic’ and shows that child poverty has decreased overall, but is now concentrated to particular areas such as Regent Park, where 58 per cent of children live in low-income households. Families struggle to pay rents, using over 30 per cent of their income on rent (the threshold to be considered low-income) and children end up missing out on important recreation activities and parents struggle to feed their kids.

Unfortunately, with budget cuts the poverty strategy has been put on the back burner and important investments for children such as affordable housing and funding for recreation and daycare subsidies is facing debilitating cuts. The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, Family Service Toronto with Ontario Campaign 2000, Colour of Poverty and Social Planning Toronto came together to create the updated report to emphasize the need for City Council to stick to their poverty reduction goals and avoid cuts as much as possible.

One of these goals needs to be affordable housing. Currently there are nearly 100,000 people on the affordable housing waitlist and helping families to obtain housing needs to be a first priority to help reduce poverty for families. If most of your money goes towards paying rent, it is nearly impossible to escape the spiral of poverty. One third of families with children under the age of 18 live in unaffordable housing. The report also highlights that a lone parent living on Ontario Works would have to pay 107 per cent of their income in order to live in inner-city Toronto. This pushes families out to areas with less transit and away from many of the jobs in the city. Affordable housing in inner-city Toronto needs to become a priority immediately.

One solution that City Council discussed in the Executive Committee is the poverty reduction goal of providing low-income TTC fare cuts. This will help transit users to better afford their commute to more available jobs and help alleviate the pressures of living a low-income lifestyle. Executive Committee passed the ‘Fair Pass Program’ that would lower the adult single fare by 33 per cent and the adult monthly pass by 21 per cent unanimously. The program, if approved by council, will be implemented in March 2018.

Though the city is working towards implementing small measures as a part of their poverty reduction program, all cuts that involve children-led programs including housing, recreation and daycare subsidy, need to be avoided. Oftentimes, it seems that children get left behind in the wake of transit-focused initiatives when it comes to the city council budget. Most importantly, affordable housing solutions need to be offered immediately, including portable housing, recognizing the need for affordable housing based on using more than 30 per cent of a parent’s income on rent and changing rent control guidelines.

Children are the city’s most important priority and putting them first is the only way to make Toronto Canada’s best city. Every child deserves to play in a safe home without pests, and learn how to swim or play tae kwon do. Families also need access to healthy food and equitable employment opportunities where their children are in safe daycares so that parents can obtain employment or go to school. Only when Toronto loses its reputation as the child poverty capital will it be a safe place for families to live. Only at that point will the city of Toronto truly be a considered a village that raises a child.