Barrie’s mayoral candidates both say they have solutions to solve the city’s affordable housing crunch as well as energize downtown.
Ram Faerber says the city’s homelessness and drug-addiction problems have been left unattended by previous terms of council.
“Today, it is worse than ever before,” he said during a candidates meeting Tuesday night. “Now it is so much harder to fix. The most important step to fixing the problem is understanding the problem.”
Faerber said it’s difficult to get to the root cause of homelessness and poverty, though.
“No one understands why people suffer … or why they choose to be homeless,” he said. “If we know exactly why that is, we wouldn’t have had the problem. It’s a problem that exists everywhere.”
Incumbent mayor Jeff Lehman said revitalizing downtown will go a long way toward the end goal of making Barrie an affordable place to live while also creating more units.
Lehman said the key to revitalization in an area such as downtown Barrie is making it a complete neighbourhood.
“There are more people living downtown,” he said. “By the way, the most expensive building in the entire city is right between the Salvation Army Bayside Mission and the bus terminal. We have the richest residents and the poorest residents literally side by each.
“That mix can work,” he added. “The more people that live in the downtown, the safer it will become and the stronger it will become.”
Lehman says he supports more residential development downtown, but of all varieties.
“To be clear, I don’t believe in a ring of highrises around the waterfront or the downtown sites,” he said, “but I strongly believe that more residents in our downtown core is better for the entire city and particularly for the core.”
“We have a problem with downtown,” Faerber said. “There are two groups that are experiencing that problem. One is the homeless group and one of the businesses in downtown. They’re both struggling for survival.”
Faerber said he wants to do reduce the “magnets” that attract homeless people, as well as those with drug addictions or mental-health concerns, to the downtown.
Lehman said society has put a system in place to deal with emergencies and roads, for example, but affordable housing has been much tougher. “With people, it’s much more difficult and complex,” he said.
Lehman, who is chairman of Barrie Housing, said they changed that organization’s vision to ‘tenant success’.
“We want to wrap services around our residents using the housing-first approach,” he said. “It’s not just enough to have a roof.”
Barrie Municipal Non-Profit Housing Corporation, also known simply as Barrie Housing, has 953 apartments and townhouses in 14 locations across the city.
“The biggest issue, which I think we realize, is there’s not enough housing being created at the lower, lower, lower end of the rent scale,” Lehman said.
Faerber says he has a plan for affordable housing, adding part of his platform includes creating between 300 and 350 new units in his first year in office, if elected, through his so-called “foster-care project.” That could be through basement apartments, duplexes and triplexes, Faerber said, adding he could also grow that to 450 to 500 in the ensuing years for the next 20 years.
Faerber alluded to the city’s 10-year plan to create 840 affordable-housing units by 2024. He said the city could grow to 210,000 people by 2031.
“That’s about 60,000 more people that are going to be living in Barrie,” he said. “We will need 15,000 units to house those people. Where are they going to come from? We have to start now.
“The city is in debt and they can’t afford to build affordable housing,” said Faerber, adding he will find ways to fund such projects as secondary suites.
Tuesday night’s two-hour event, referred to by organizers as an all-candidates accountability assembly, was hosted by the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, Simcoe County Poverty Reduction Task Group, KAIROS and Grace United Church at the Grove Street East church.
There were 21 candidates in attendance. Candidates endorsed the ‘housing first’ concept, which is an approach that offers permanent, affordable housing as quickly as possible for homeless people, followed by supports and services people need to keep their homes and avoid falling back into homelessness.
The Barrie Chamber of Commerce has organized a debate for Monday, Oct. 15 from 6-8 p.m. at Lions Gate Banquet Hall, located at 386 Blake St., beginning at 6 p.m.
A Ward 2 all-candidates forum will also be held Tuesday, Oct. 16 from 7-9 p.m. at the Five Point Theatre, located at 1 Dunlop St. W.