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Anglican advocacy for affordable housing gets positive results

Volunteers from St. George’s South Alice who organized an “Election Cafe” are, from left, Bernard Raglin, Wanda Hilts, Kim Silkie, Bill Kennedy and Harris Schroeder with the Rev. Matthew Brown.
By on December 1, 2022
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Many parishes encouraged members to advocate for affordable housing during the Ontario municipal election campaigns by circulating questions for candidates or using prepared bulletin inserts. Some were able to take extra initiatives that paid off with tangible results.

In Perth, the St James the Apostle outreach team got a commitment from the winning candidate for mayor to sell a parcel of land for one dollar to build affordable housing.

At Christ Church Bells Corners, where the Hollyer House project is in the final stages of construction, a working relationship was established with a winning candidate for city council, auguring well for community relations in the future.

St George’s church South Alice in the Parish of the Valley was able to bring 50 residents of the rural community together with its “Election Café” that provided one-on-one opportunities for voters to discuss issues with candidates for mayor and reeve of Laurentian Valley municipality.

In Perth, the availability of town land has been a stumbling block in Caring Community Housing Initiative Perth’s (CCHIP) drive to develop affordable housing. St James had previously established a steering committee to guide the project.

St James circulated the Diocese’s call to action throughout the parish and encouraged attendance at an all-candidates meeting. 

St James rector, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Davis, met with mayoralty candidate Judy Brown who identified a piece of serviced town land, zoned for multi-unit housing that had a hold on it. She undertook to introduce a motion to council to lift the restriction and make the land available to the CCHIP project without development charges for a dollar.

As a result, the project is moving ahead with the launch of a website to support a fundraising campaign. The St James team is working with the new mayor and council, confident of success.

Besides distributing questions for candidates in a weekly e-mailout the parishioners Christ Church Bells Corners reached out to candidates for election in College Ward, including winner Laine Johnson who has a strong background in affordable housing. Having an informed and supportive city councillor can only be advantageous as the project moves through final stages of construction. 

Supply and labour issues have delayed opening of the building that will have 35 housing units and community services from December until next spring. The diocesan fundraising is closing in on $1million towards its goal of $1.6 million.

The mission statement of St George’s South Alice, a small but active part of the Parish of the Valley, is “Building Community through Food, Friendship and Faith.” 

Volunteer Wanda Hilts says the parish saw an opportunity during the election campaign to give meaning to its mission statement with the all-candidates election café at the Alice and Fraser Recreation Centre.

The biggest issue appeared to be municipal regulations that prevent severing land for sale that is zoned residential. Older landowners may look to sell a portion of land to help support them in retirement. When land is sold it is usually used for housing purposes. In this rural context, Official Plan regulations prevent additional housing from being built.

Feedback from both candidates and voters was positive. Candidates said it was a good opportunity to explore real concerns of voters. Voters similarly found the café provided a means to get to know the candidates.  By all accounts, it was better attended than a Chamber of Commerce all-candidates meeting.  Perhaps this is a format that could be applied more broadly.

While these examples of Anglican outreach differ in scope they have in common that they all made an impact and a difference in their communities. And they illustrate the value of the maxim that it is always better to get to know your elected representatives before they are elected and before you may need their attention and their help.

David Humphreys is a member of the diocesan Homelessness and Affordable Housing Working Group

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  • David Humphreys

    David Humphreys is a member of the diocesan Homelessness and Affordable Housing Working Group. A retired journalist and former Globe and Mail bureau chief, he is a regular contributor to Crosstalk.

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