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Barrie mayoral candidates talk affordable housing at forum

Four participating candidates offer ideas to address housing crisis, homelessness

The last scheduled in-person mayoral forum took place Saturday afternoon in front of an audience of almost 60 people.

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) Chapter 36 and Engage Barrie co-hosted a Barrie mayoral candidate forum at the Salvation Army Barrie Citadel on Lillian Crescent. 

The four candidates who participated were Alex Nuttall, Barry Ward, Gerry Marshall and Weldon Hachey. A name card for Mike McCann was on the candidates' table and CARP Barrie chair Gwen Kavanagh told BarrieToday at the start of the event the current Ward 10 councillor had confirmed his attendance. 

About 45 minutes into the event, the audience was informed McCann was sick and couldn’t attend. Also running for mayor are Andrew Gordon and Rob Haverson. 

The candidates were asked predetermined questions on topics such as housing, youth, and city growth, for which they were given 90 seconds each to answer.

After the initial question period, the moderator read questions submitted in writing by audience members.

With the City of Barrie set to grow extensively in population over the next decade, and with homelessness at a record high, the hot topic of housing was addressed.

Marshall said he believed the best course of action was to leverage existing facilities.

“You look around the city and you see the provincial, municipal and federal buildings and they’re all one or two storeys tall. Why not have a third, fourth and fifth floor in those facilities to accommodate residential apartments and create more housing spots?” he asked. “We need to look at opportunities like that.”

Nuttall spoke of his own experience in affordable housing when he was younger, saying being one stop away from either a shelter or homelessness gave him a unique perspective on the topic.

“I would waive development charges and permit fees on all affordable units in Barrie, commence with a 90-day turnaround time and prioritize developments that bring affordable housing stock to the market, right here in Barrie,” he said.

Ward said while more studies on the housing issue are not needed, he was open to more ideas.

“We had started, as a council, to implement recommendations from our housing affordability task force. We’ve allowed housing ... along institutionally zoned lands and created a fund for (planners) to create feasibility studies on housing projects,” he said.

Hachey spoke next and suggested the city “could build small, tiny homes at a very quick pace just to alleviate these people from being out in the harsh elements and give them some safe haven for them to crawl into at night to get out of the weather — “portable ones, even, just getting them somewhere safe.”

The next mayoral debate will be hosted by Living Green Barrie via Zoom on Thursday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. and will be moderated by former Ontario environmental commissioner Gord Miller. The focus of the debate will be the environment.