Yesterday was a difficult moment for me on council. The culmination of years of journeying with the seniors and trying to understand the politics of the situation. My team and I tried to negotiate a path forward between the city and Bayview Cummer Neighbourhood Association (on behalf of the seniors). My intentions were misconstrued as an attempt to delay the project further - when in fact I was trying to find a way forward that could bring comfort to the seniors while building the housing faster. Unfortunately, I failed on both counts.
30 of the seniors came to watch the meeting. For many, this was the first time they got to witness democracy in action. I admit that I wept after the outcome of my motions as I considered the fate of the seniors and their heartfelt cries to me on the beloved trees and green space they are set to lose. I am still wondering who it serves to not carve out a small piece of outdoor space for present and future residents.
The city lost an opportunity to build bridges towards a faster path to housing while taking care of our vulnerable seniors. Instead, we will wait out the OLT process with an unknown timeline and outcome while spending $77K per month on storage.
Here is my final speech yesterday:
Final Speech on 175 Cummer Ave. - June 15, 2023
Many of you already know how you are going to vote today. I ask that you hold that loosely, and open your hearts to a conversation about what is the best outcome that we can achieve together today? What can we do that accomplishes faster housing AND takes the seniors concerns into consideration? I have great faith in democracy and the goodness of the people in this room. I hope we can work something beautiful out together.
You have heard me say, the journey is just as important as the destination. I’d like to add another idiom to the conversation today. Change happens at the speed of trust. When we are faced with a crisis, it is easy to try to see those who are afraid as obstacles, we simply need to override. But that is a short cut which leads to more opposition and slower timelines. When people feel afraid or silenced, they get angrier or more fearful. Instead, we can listen and build bridges, share a journey that creates the trust that is necessary to bring change. When we do that, we end up sitting in the same boat together, rowing in the same direction.
This is not what happened at 175 Cummer and the seniors, the 59 people who could have been housed as well as taxpayers are paying the price. The seniors never had a chance to have their voices heard before important decisions were made about their living space. We ordered the units in 2020 and consultation began in 2021. Because they are elderly and many of them do not have a strong grasp of English, an anonymous hotline or online meetings was never an effective way for them to feel heard. They needed something in person that was multilingual. That never happened.
An important part of community engagement is meeting people where they are at. During the pandemic, I helped to start a food bank. When we weren’t getting the voices we needed through online and phone engagement, I went door to door. We need to make extra effort to connect with the people whose lives we are tasked with leading - especially when they are vulnerable.
It is our job as politicians and as a city to earn people’s trust. In this regard, we have failed the seniors. Over the past three years, they have heard the city say, we are taking away the green space you have treated as your front lawn and more recently we have threatened to take away their stage and front sitting room. In January a new tenant arrived with mental health challenges that assaulted a senior who has hearing damage and it took 3 months and 2 more assault before the situation was dealt with. The seniors have a right to question - do we care? Do we have their backs?
Today, I bring you a possible pathway that would put the seniors, the neighbourhood association and the city in the same boat - paddling towards a common destination. By carving out some green space outside their front doors, by addressing their request to house additional seniors alongside the 600+ who already live there, we are saying - you matter too! And we have your back. We can house people and care for you at the same time. I am open to friendly amendments to get us there.
My team and I have been doing the heavy lifting to get us to this moment. We have visited with the seniors on multiple occasions to hear their concerns. We organized the first ever listening session where the housing secretariat heard directly from the seniors through translators and Ms. Bond summarized the conversation that she had heard that the seniors valued the green space. I took one of the leaders of the neighbourhood association and a senior who represents the tenants at Willowdale Manor to visit seniors supportive housing at Cedarvale Avenue where the wonderful folks at Woodgreen answered every question that was asked. This is how I have built trust. My community knows I have their backs and I am working towards the best possible outcome for them. Now we have a chance as council - to do the same. To earn their trust and move forward with the change that is necessary.
I’ve amended my motion from reconfigure to just moving it as much as possible towards the north west to preserve more greenspace outside the front doors of Willowdale Manor. I’ve included language that scopes the project for seniors with exceptions to those. I am working hard to find a middle ground for us to move forward. One that will expedite the OLT process and get shovels in the ground faster. If we can do this, everyone wins. The seniors, the unhoused and the community. Let’s see if we can get in the same boat together and row in the same direction.