So Moved, St. John’s: 16 November 2020

Everybody Deserves A Home

We got things started with a proclamation for National Housing Day, taking place on Sunday, November 22nd. Mayor Breen reminds us that “having a safe, secure home is a basic human right and a key pathway out of poverty.”

To mark the occasion, we will see online events (such as a housing-needs assessment workshop), funder pitch-sessions, the launch of a video highlighting partners in the housing sector, a CMHC-hosted “Let’s Talk Housing” meeting (which took place Monday morning), and “a NIMBY campaign,” adds Deputy Mayor O’Leary.. 

For the uninitiated, NIMBY means “not in my backyard.” It’s a thinly-veiled pejorative phrase, carrying the sentiment that Greg (think: property-owner from Hot Fuzz) doesn’t have a problem with multiplexes per se, but he just doesn’t want them next to his three-thousand square-foot house and award-winning azaleas. That’s all. 

Rather than a NIMBY campaign (that truly sounds dreadful), I’m betting what Deputy Mayor O’Leary really means is a NIMBY-busting campaign. Or even better—a YIMBY campaign. Outreach and interfacing with residents and housing proponents to cultivate a resounding “YES! In my backyard! With the azaleas! Take some cuttings for your table, if you like!”

Everyone deserves to belong to a community, and preferably one that isn’t segregated based on income, cognitive or physical ability, age, race, or any other qualifier that has no business determining which neighbourhoods you get to pick from.  

The Canadian Home Builders’ Association – NL published a NIMBY Toolkit back in 2013, which was just recently updated and re-published by the City’s Affordable Housing Working Group in February of this year. (Again, I wish they’d tweak the name; Karens everywhere are going to think they’ve got a handy resource to amp up their gatekeeping.) Anyway, it was designed to equip folks with proactive approaches to addressing the NIMBY syndrome and the resulting barriers it creates to housing options.

Some of the discriminatory practices cited in the NIMBY toolkit include: 

  • Required fences or walls around property to separate it from other neighbourhood homes because of the intended residents;
  • Arbitrary caps on the numbers of residents allowed;
  • Adding visual buffering or removing balconies, so tenants cannot look out on their neighbours; and
  • Requiring residents to sign contracts with neighbours as a condition of occupying the building. 

I remember the debacle over a “small, one-story, four-unit condo-townhouse-hybrid dwelling proposed at 26 Logy Bay Road” in January 2019, reported by Emily Deming when The Overcast was still on the go. It’s just a small sampling of how alive and thriving this kind of BS is in our city. Housing (and socioeconomic) discrimination is a silent pandemic that needs to be actively eradicated. If Covid teaches us anything, I hope it’s how capable we really are of mass, coordinated strategy to confront a problem and gain control over it. Compassion, empathy, and acting for the common good are what truly keep us all going, even when things get really tough. Because things can unexpectedly get really tough for any of us.

Housing is deemed affordable in Canada when it costs less than 30% of a household’s before-tax income. It doesn’t just mean rental housing that is subsidized by the government. And according to the City’s Affordable Housing Strategy, published just last year, “over 8,900 tenant households require improvement to meet one or more of affordability, adequacy, or suitability standards.” Alarmingly, “3,750 tenant households spend 50% or more of their gross monthly income on shelter.”

In his speech, Mayor Dan reaffirmed that affordable housing is “sound public investment that contributes to resident well-being and the economy, and is a foundation for a safe, healthy, and prosperous community.” Listen to the guy with the fancy necklace. And also, have a hard think about why we need R1 (low-density) zoning to exist in our city. (Hint: we don’t.)

It’s a Sign

Cllr Hickman says it’s time to deal with the rogue signs on utility poles with a—*dun-dun-dunnnn*—permitting process. Not on the ones downtown with poster sleeves; they’re safe (thank God). But the rest of them, look out. 

I find this to be a bit sad, to be honest. Is downtown the only place allowed to have any culture? The only place allowed to share plugs for exciting events and street-philosophizing? I am pro-hand-painted-sign, made on “lightweight material such as cloth, paper or flexible fabric and may be enclosed in a rigid frame,” as described by sign-type (c) in the by-law (they’ve listed types A through Y!). Imagine how cool it would be to come across laminated zines or mid-century nan-portraits tacked to utility poles in Cowan Heights, or on Carrick Drive.

I’ll stop. Seems like it’s mainly directed towards the big flashy ones with lights and moving parts. The motion also prohibits signs on city owned property within Heritage Areas, exempts election signs from the by-law in all areas of the city, and amends all three existing signage by-laws into a single big one to make things more streamlined. Motion was approved. Cllr Stapleton is very excited to start taking down “illegal signs,” starting tomorrow, if it weren’t for that pesky gazetting process.

Other Business Du Jour

To give you a sense of all that construction sector activity that’s been going on since the provincial government’s rebate came out, year-to-date comparisons between 2019 and 2020 show (among others) a 60% increase in ‘repairs’ and a 6% increase in ‘residential’ work. This is why I can’t afford to renovate my basement.

52 Stamps Lane needs a text amendment to the development regulations, in order to build a Single Detached Dwelling with a Subsidiary Apartment. They want to have a main unit of 1,174 ft2 and an apartment of 1,117 ft2, resulting in the apartment making up 48.5% of the house.

‘And who cares?’ I hear you say. I said it too. Well, at least one resident does. And they wrote in to raise concerns that this would allow the introduction of (Very Scary) Semi-detached Dwellings (also known as double houses) to the R1 Zone. Here’s the NIMBYism I was talking about earlier—and a perfect example of silly R1 regulations.

Apartments in Single Detached Dwellings in R1 currently cannot exceed 40% of the Gross Floor Area. Why? Because renters should by default have less space to live than mortgage holders? Even if their needs are different? If the province will ever approve the New Regulations, we’ll see that unnecessary stipulation deleted. Council was able to move forward anyway with a 10% variance, and the Dutifully Concerned unknown resident can rest assured that, because it’s on a single lot, it is not a double house. Excuse me while I fetch my eyes from the back of my head.

Praise was given to Choices for Youth on the completion of the house they constructed on Cashin and Penneywell. Cllr Skinner reports that it will provide a home for five single mothers. The house was built by youth employed through CFY’s social enterprise, Impact Construction. 

Cllr Skinner also tells us that the film industry is a “real economic driver. I didn’t realize how much economic driving that does in our city.” Really? Maybe he should spend more time in Ward 2. But he is pro-films and all the spin-off benefits they bring. With that coy smile of his, Mayor Breen admitted to watching Hudson and Rex—“give[s] you a more modern view of the different, newer places in the city. It’s really neat watching it. It’s good stuff.” He loves St. John’s so much.

Cllr Burton gave a shout-out to the newly-opened Urban Market on Lemarchant Road. She compares it to “a St. John’s version of Rose’s Apothecary from Schitt’s Creek,” and both she and I (and you too, I hope) are very here for it. 

Lastly, Cllr Hanlon wants you to know that enforcement for downtown parking started Monday. So use those (cashless) parking pay-stations that have sprouted up. 

The Blessed End of 2020, Praise Be

New Years Eve Fireworks are going ahead this year, lakeside at Quidi Vidi, at 8 pm on December 31st. There will be no other activities leading up to the “firing of the fireworks,” and folks are requested to stay inside their vehicles to promote physical distancing.

Deputy Mayor O’Leary raised concerns around “unwarranted fireworks popping off in neighbourhoods” due to issues around safety, timing, individuals with ASD, and frightened animals. If you wanted to participate in the development of recommendations to council on this front, too bad. Deadline for submissions was Friday, November 13th, and staff are bringing a decision note to council in the next few weeks. A site-wide search on the city’s web page reveals absolutely nothing about this. 

Cllr Hickman is wondering, quite seriously, “…what we’re going to do to mark the coming of the New Year at midnight. Is there anything planned for that? At all?” Staff responded that last year the George Street Association marked the New Year with pyrotechnics. Because of Covid, the substitute is “filmed fireworks” in partnership with local television and radio. I look forward to *listening to fireworks* on the airwaves with flat champagne. Sounds appropriate for this year.

Cllr Hickman is fine with that, but puts in a plug nonetheless for his preference of a more centralized (midnight) fireworks location, so the crowd in the west end can have better access. That’s a different issue though, and “one I lost the battle on years ago.”

Photo by Graham Kennedy.

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