Report on Alliance Against Poverty's Community Forum on Free Transit

     Report on the AAP Transit Forum of June 3, 2017 (by Richard Walsh, AAP member) 
               The AAP Free-Transit Forum was held on June 3
rd in the accessible church hall of Historic St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Queen St. So., Kitchener. The purpose was to launch a political strategy to establish free public transit for low-income individuals in Waterloo Region. Approximately 50 people participated in the event beyond AAP members and volunteers.

 After some brief introductory remarks from AAP member Richard Walsh as the event moderator, two speakers set the moral tone for the Forum: AAP member Regan Brussé shared her personal experience as a mother of three in trying to manage transportation for necessities. By way of precedents, she noted at least two Canadian cities have introduced drastically reduced (Calgary) or free public transit (Kingston). Then Joe Mancini of the Working Centre in Kitchener underscored the importance of affordable public transit for all in the Region.

Next, in five groups participants first discussed what they thought of the AAP proposal to make public transit free for low-income people. Each group then elected a member to report to the whole group what their group had discussed before moving to the second issue, namely, their views on what political action should be taken to achieve this goal.

Views on the Proposal for Free Transit

Some participants reported that given the escalating cost of living and the low rates of public assistance, transit costs make it difficult to get out into the community and to “access social amenities.” Many agreed that this is a common experience that worsens individuals’ mental health. Some said the reverse is also true: Affordable transit enhances social inclusion, which makes people feel part of the community.

Others noted that, with many of the social agencies in the region being located outside of core areas, affordable transit is a necessity. In fact, two groups stressed that affordable transit is a human right. As a matter of social justice, other participants added, the Region has already invested billions in the LRT, so it’s only right that everyone, regardless of income, can use it and the buses. In addition, some people noted the environmental benefits of free transit: Increased reliance on public transit that is made much more affordable by reducing or eliminating fares also reduces per capita pollutants and carbon emissions.

Many participants noted the practical benefits to the Region of introducing free public transit. Some said that ultimately the cost of providing the service will decrease for several reasons: [1] Free transit will fill up half empty buses, which are running anyway. [2] It will enable people to access downtown businesses more easily and will reduce traffic congestion by taking cars off the streets. [3] Increased ridership could increase the frequency of transit service.

Some suggested instituting free transit in two steps: free for people living below the poverty line, then free for everyone. Others said a nominal fee for each trip should be charged, because a social stigma would be associated with “free” transit for just one group. Practically, one participant recommended GRT should use fare boxes that receive reloadable transit cards.

Views on What Political Action to Take

In the second discussion, participants addressed what a Political Action Group should do to press for free public transit politically so that everyone trying to survive on low income can access the community. Again, each group elected a member to report to the whole group what their group discussed regarding this second question. Although participants were also asked to consider how willing they were to join such a campaign for free transit, no group addressed this matter. Rather, at the end of the Forum roughly a dozen people, including two AAP members, gathered informally to exchange contact points so they could arrange an initial meeting.

            The groups urged making the struggle for free transit a social movement in cooperation with the bus drivers’ union, anti-poverty groups, faith communities, environmental groups, health and mental health providers and agencies, social service agencies, local businesses, and the general public. Some suggested researching and publicizing what the cost of introducing free transit is against not doing it, identifying the “plusses” and “minuses.” Other participants recommended working on shifting the language used to support the idea of free transit from costs vs. benefits to a moral issue: accessible public transit is a human right, therefore an essential social service. In addition, groups stressed that a campaign for free transit should secure as much support as possible from city and Regional councilors, mayors, and MPPs as well as GRT staff, inasmuch as the Region looks to them for guidance.

            Practically, participants suggested the following actions (organized in progression):

[1] Research and publicize what the cost of introducing free transit is against not doing it, identifying the “plusses” and “minuses.”

[2] Obtain specific information on what other jurisdictions (e.g., Calgary and Kingston) are doing to make transit affordable or free.

 [3] Tell the personal stories of riders directly affected by costly transit in letters-to-editors to socially engage the community and the public in supporting a local campaign for free transit.

[4] Employ social media to also build public support.

[5] Form an alliance with the bus drivers’ union, anti-poverty groups, faith communities, environmental groups, health and mental health providers and agencies, social service agencies, and local businesses to support the campaign.

[6] High school students seeking volunteer placements could serve as campaign advocates.

[7] Target individual Regional councillors with a calling campaign.

Conclusion

             As of this writing [July 7th], the Political Action Group has held one meeting and will launch its campaign in the coming weeks. If you wish to join this group, please notify us and we’ll notify the contact persons to get you involved.

visit us on FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/AllianceAgainstPoverty/

Presentation to Regional Council on Transit Access for All (February 11, 2015)

Nadine Quehl, member of the Alliance Against Poverty (AAP)
February 11, 2015

Transit accessibility and affordability are essential for a healthy community, and the Region's commitment to healthier transit options for our present and future population is very important. However, while we realize that sensible transit costs a lot of money, GRT's business-plan of recovering ever more of its operating costs from the fare box is unaffordable for the poorest who simply can't afford any increases, much less the 10% increases that we have seen in the past. People living on social assistance receive extremely low payments that increase only 1% annually, and the minimum wage continues to be far short of a living wage.  

Moreover, transit access is a human right; we have spoken to Council previously about the necessity of sustainable transport as a way to eradicate poverty, and the urgent need to address the mobility needs of people living in poverty, who are the primary users of public transport. We believe that Waterloo Region can be a leader in Transit Fare Equity. Aparticularly important issue of social justice – equal access to urban mobility –must be addressed, rather than maintaining the inequalities built into the public transit system. Research has shown that there are intimate links between the mobility of the poor and their range of housing and employment options. Small changes in public transit prices and service levels can make big differences to the mobility of those living in poverty. The relative immobility of the urban poor, especially women, is a central concern in their lives and severely limits their employment options; they must trade-off the time and cost required to access livelihood opportunities against security and quality of housing.[i][iii] 

Waterloo Region, like all communities, has an obligation to lower fares for people on low incomes. Other cities are finally recognizing this, and we can be a leader and offer a model of Transit Access for All for other communities to follow. If indeed we are a community of barn-raisers, this should be a challenge we are well-equipped to accept.

We propose that Council instruct Grand River Transit to make available free bus-passes for all individuals receiving Ontario Works. People living on Ontario Works are required to go to meetings and search for work, and supportive and low cost housing is often located outside of the city centre; however, their access to transit, because of the cost prohibits job searching. While TAPP exists - Ontario Works Transit Affordability Pass Program, it is available to Ontario Works Adult participants who attend St. Louis School on a full time basis only. This eliminates the majority of OW recipients.  

We also propose subsidized passes costing $21 for all individuals receiving ODSP, as well as those whose income falls below the low-income cutoff. The cost of the TRIPP (Transit for Reduced Income Program) is currently twice as high as it should be (at $42), and these subsidized bus-passes are in very short supply, with a lengthy waitlist. Those on ODSP, and others with low incomes, require subsidized passes to ensure their inclusion in the community.

We also call for an immediate freeze on all fare increases for the next five years.

In addition, the current GRT strategy is to cut routes and schedules and focus on cost recovery, when we need to focus on extending transit to the poor and increasing ridership. Specifically, the cancellation of  Route 18 — which took in part of Guelph Street, where the House of Friendship Emergency food hamper program is located, has caused undue hardship to our Region’s most vulnerable residents. The nearest bus to the warehouse is Route 6, which stops a few hundred metres away at Guelph and Lancaster streets. That's a very long walk with a heavy food hamper. Thousands of low-income KW residents including the unemployed, the working poor, new immigrants, refugees and those relying on Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, rely on the emergency food hamper to feed themselves and their families; the majority do not own cars and rely solely on bus service to get to and from the Guelph Street location. In April of last year, over 300 KW residents signed a petition asking for the cancellation of Route 18 to be reconsidered. Unfortunately GRT plans went ahead, and as expected, during this winter, the cancellation of the Route 18 bus has meant that some residents have been unable to use the food hamper, because the snow has prevented them from pushing a cart with the food hamper up to the bus stop. This is even more of a concern for people with mobility issues. GRT should make a small route-change in the bus line to the Food-Bank pick-up so that people can access it much more easily and safely.

 AAP also urges Council to use development charges to stimulate the creation of affordable housing units, especially along the LRT route. That's where people who are dependent on transit need to live. Improved transit won't help lower-income people the way it should, if they can't afford to live near it. Both affordable housing and affordable public transit are essential to eliminate poverty. Once built, those living in poverty must also have access to the LRT, in a way that is affordable for them.

 Finally, political pressure should be kept up on the province by Waterloo Region Council, for a better deal on day-to-day transit costs. Transit Fare prices need to be fair prices … I am confident that Waterloo Region can be a leader in Transit Fare Equity and poverty elimination. In conclusion, I would like to officially request Council to prepare a budget proposal item investigating the costs of making transit fare free for those on OW, half of the current fare for those on low-incomes, ($21 instead of $42), to freeze fare increases for the next five years, and to make a small change to GRT Route #6, so that those living in poverty can easily and safely access the Emergency Food hamper. With these improvements to our transit system, fairness is achieved by ensuring access for everyone, and in particular, it addresses the immediate and vital step needed  toward ending poverty.  It also moves us toward producing a more egalitarian society and toward building an environmentally friendly community. 

Let’s make GRT – Grand River Transit … rather than what it is becoming known as: GRT – Growingly Regressive Transit.

 

 

 

 



[i][iii]http://www.fukuoka.unhabitat.org/docs/occasional_papers/project_a/06/transport-barter-e.html (Gannon and Liu, 1997).

Presentation to Regional Council on Living Wage (February 11, 2015)

Brayden McNeill, member of the Alliance Against Poverty

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(226)792-5906

www.allianceagainstpoverty.com

 

 

Good evening and thank you for having me here to speak to you about the Region of Waterloo’s growing living wage movement.

I’m confident that many of you are familiar with the concept, but for those who aren’t a living wage is the basic hourly wage required for someone to live a life of dignity. The wage is based on the needs of a family of four with two full-time working parents and taking local factors into consideration. The calculation takes into account nine categories for expenses; food, cloth­ing and footwear, shelter, transportation, other family expenditures, child care, medical costs not covered by the government health care plan, adult education/ training and contingencies. With the help of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) communities across Ontario and Canada have begun calculating their living wages and implementing plans to lift people out of poverty.

Last year several companies and individuals from the area formed Living Wage Waterloo Region (LWWR). It’s a local organization whose mission is to encourage and help employers in our region adjust their pay scales and offer a living wage. LWWR and CCPA Ontario will also calculate a living wage every year in order to continuously adjust for the needs of community members. In the Waterloo Region the living wage is $16 per hour.

LWWR recognizes five levels of commitment to the living wage creedo. “Friends” of the living wage program commit to examining their pay scales within a year; “supporters” pay all their full time employees a living wage; “partners” pay their part time employees that living wage as well; “leaders” add contractors or students to the list; while living wage “champions” provide all direct and indirect employees a living wage. So the Region can easily begin to look at this initiative without “breaking the bank”, it’s just a matter of deciding when and how fast the Region would like to increase its living wage employee base. In fact, I know for a fact most of the people I’m addressing are being paid a living wage and many of you only work in these positions part-time.

In Ontario the minimum wage is $11 per hour. If you work full-time hours at that wage your annual salary puts you over 10% below the poverty line. That is completely unacceptable! Can anyone justly argue that a full-time worker, of any position, deserves to live in poverty? What kind of society surrenders the largest social class to poverty as a matter of policy? Most of them unfortunately, the wrong kind, but that’s beside the point. Unfortunately this council hasn’t got the mandate to raise the minimum wage, but you can do right by your own employees.

Since we’ve identified the $16 living wage, it becomes the responsibility of the employer to address the needs of the employee for a reasonable quality of life.  As the official arbitrators of social and economic life in our area, I believe that the Region of Waterloo has a special obligation to set a positive example in our wage scale.

There are many benefits to a living wage policy besides the obvious benefit for employees. Wages paid to employees are usually spent locally making a living wage good for the community at large. A living wage campaign also sets a tone for other discussions. Living wage and minimum wage discussions are complementary. A living wage policy can be good for employers as well, by reducing turnover rates, training and recruitment costs. As one of the largest employers in our area it would be a great benefit for the living wage movement if the Region were to adopt a living wage for its employees.

Paying a living wage would also help align the Region and its employees with the council’s own anti-poverty agenda. To quote the Region of Waterloo Comprehensive Approach to Poverty Reduction report: "The financial costs of poverty, both direct and indirect, can impact areas such as health care, policing and corrections, and lost potential. The bottom line - we can’t afford poverty."

If this is true the Region certainly can’t afford to pay any employees minimum – or poverty wages.

I would like to officially request the council to prepare a budget proposal item investigating the costs of implementing a living wage policy for all full-time, part-time, student and contract employees.

I would also like to invite the council to contact the chair of the LWWR steering committee, Greg deGroot-Maggetti to ask about the process of becoming a living wage employer.

Thank you for having me here, let me leave you with a few words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.;

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar.

 It comes to see that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring.”

 

Living Wage Waterloo Region contact information:

Greg deGroot-Maggetti

519-745-8458 ext. 250

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Presentation to Regional Council on Housing and Homelessness (February 11, 2015)

Presentation to Region of Waterloo Budget Hearing [11/2/15]

by Richard Walsh, Alliance Against Poverty [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]

 I’m sure, councillors, you would all agree that with the collapse of Out of the Cold programs the need for more social supports for the homeless remains urgent and dire, especially with this endless winter. But, as I emphasized in my presentation last month on behalf of the Alliance Against Poverty, what’s crucial for the residents of Waterloo Region is strengthening the range of housing options for low-income individuals and families as well as for the homeless. But we in the Alliance Against Poverty are struck by the budget line in your Preliminary Budget Book of a 2.4% decrease in the category of "Assisted and Affordable Housing." If you pass your budget with that decrease, you will be doing a great disservice to the literally several thousand people in this region on the waiting list for assisted and affordable housing. Assisted and affordable housing for all the Region’s residents, after all, is a basic human right.

As you know, there are very significant health, mental health, and social consequences of unmet housing needs that drive up other costs. As your “Region of Waterloo Comprehensive Approach to Poverty Reduction” stated: "The financial costs of poverty, both direct and indirect, can impact areas such as health care, policing and corrections, and lost potential. The bottom line - we can’t afford poverty." I can tell you as a published university researcher on the issue of housing for individuals with severe and long-term mental health problems, on a team led by my colleague, Dr. Geoff Nelson, that safe, secure, and affordable housing is strongly correlated with stable and even improved mental health, which, of course, lowers collateral costs.

However, there are major deficiencies in your new plan for affordable housing. For example, the plan simply sets what you term a “realistic” goal based on uncertain funding from senior levels of government. But, as your document states, the reality is there is an “ongoing persistent need for affordable housing with limited funding opportunities.” Yet, the inadequate housing options in this Region are remediable, because there are viable Canadian precedents. Two municipalities – the City of Vancouver (pop. c. 600,000) and Medicine Hat, Alberta (pop. c. 61,000) – ensure that their most vulnerable residents, the homeless, have safe and secure housing. Furthermore, in Halifax, Mayor Mike Savage and his Council formed a partnership with the United Way, the Affordable Housing Coalition of Nova Scotia, and housing developers from the private sector to initiate improvements in housing and homelessness. If these municipalities can do it, so can you on behalf of our most needy residents.

As I noted last month, you have made some progress in dealing with the need for affordable housing across the range of housing options. We recognize that you added 2000 units over 13 years. That’s to your credit. However, while important, this achievement still falls very short of meeting the growing need for safe, secure, and affordable housing. As your Budget document states, “The demand for affordable and supportive housing is greater than supply.” Actually, the demand is far greater than the supply. Accordingly, speaking on behalf of the thousands of the “underhoused” and homeless residents in Waterloo Region, we see three major problems and one minor one in your plan, for which we recommend solutions. 

#1. According to Deb Schlichter, the Region’s Director of Housing, the waiting list for affordable housing consists of 3,000 people, which includes seniors, families, and single non-seniors; the greatest need is for one-bedroom accommodation. If you pass your Budget as proposed with any decrease to housing, you decrease the rate of new units reaching the market. Meanwhile, however, the growing demand for affordable housing will continue to expand as the population of the Region increases. Thus, you will fall even farther behind in meeting housing needs, all during a precarious time of austerity budgets and weak employment. Your operating principle should be the documented housing needs for the Region’s residents across the range of housing types required (emergency shelters, supportive housing, and affordable housing mixed with market-rent units) should determine the funding required, rather than the previous funding levels, which as the need escalates, are increasingly insufficient.

Therefore, we urge you to follow the lead of Vancouver, Medicine Hat, and Halifax and invest in the well-being of your least fortunate citizens by developing a robust housing strategy that does not rely chiefly on the dubious financial support of provincial and federal governments and eliminates the waiting list by the year 2019. Besides, building new housing stock of this sort will have the positive economic side-effect of increased employment and will reduce collateral costs. For example, according to CBC/KW, a recent Region survey showed that in the last half of 2014 over $300,000 were spent on hospital emergency room visits and ambulances for homeless people requiring care. At this rate we’re talking over $600,000 annually spent on emergency trips for homeless people, but most of that cost would be eliminated by building sufficient shelters, because for those people who are housed, as your housing staff know, the number of emergency trips is significantly reduced. So, it’s clear that building permanent housing for everyone requiring affordable housing makes both financial and economic sense.

#2. A major barrier to building affordable housing, again according to a CBC/KW story, is too much government red-tape. The owner of a local development company, who has built 175 affordable housing units in the Region, stated, "When we first started we were building within six months of finding a piece of property. Now it's taking two and three years to get through the planning... it's a long and drawn out process." Some of the obstacles he encountered are the difficulty of finding quality land within the right building zones, being taxed on government grants, and shouldering the costs of re-developing existing properties.

If the Region is not planning to construct the necessary housing but to contract with private developers, which like all public-private partnerships, as the provincial auditor reported several months ago, will cost the public significantly  more than public development would, doesn’t it make sense to lessen or remove these obstacles to smooth the way for investment in affordable housing?

 #3 Instead of simply noting insufficient federal and provincial support, advocate for it by passing a resolution on the need for national and provincial housing strategies for assisted and affordable housing and convey the resolution to the four MPs who represent us in Ottawa. There are federal and provincial budgets coming, sooner or later. Tell the federal and provincial governments to reorganize their budgets to ensure that a national, publicly supported, housing strategy materializes so that everyone can experience safe, secure, and affordable housing. This step is crucial, because local and regional planning is weakened when funding is uncertain.

Now the minor and, hopefully, temporary problem: Besides housing, many people living in poverty, such as but not only homeless people, do not have any safe and secure place to store their possessions. A member of our group, the Alliance Against Poverty, who fits this description, makes the suggestion that the Region provide a bank of lockers for this purpose in central locations, say the bus terminals. Having this service available would be a huge relief for many people living in poverty.

To sum up, affordable, safe, and secure housing across the range of housing types (i.e., emergency shelters, supportive housing, and affordable housing mixed with market-rent units) is a basic human right. However, more and more residents of the Region will be denied this right, because your current plan not only cannot meet the demand but will fall much farther behind relative to the increasing demand. The moral thing to do is increase the funding each year to ensure that all residents can be safely and affordably housed.

Given all the considerations I have noted and the three major and one minor problem tht I identified, I formally request that Council prepare a budge- proposal item investigating the costs of developing affordable, safe, and secure housing, including storage space, across the range of housing types required for all 3,000 people currently on the waiting list and for the projected number of additional people who will require affordable housing to the year 2019.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Presentation to the Community Services Committee (January 13, 2015)

delivered by Richard Walsh, Alliance Against Poverty

Listen to the audio file: https://clyp.it/aq2mtjcr

         Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the Region’s Affordable Housing Strategy. I’m Richard Walsh, Professor of Psychology at a local university and a member of the local group, the Alliance Against Poverty, known as AAP, which has made previous presentations to Council.

         Since the summer, most Out of the Cold programs collapsed, which showed how dire the need is for more social supports for the homeless. But today I want to call your attention to bolstering the range of housing options in Waterloo Region for low-income individuals and families and for the homeless. The frigid weather makes this urgent, when we recall that two individuals in Toronto recently froze to death, because they had no shelter. But we in AAP are aware that the inadequate housing options in this Region are remediable, because we know that at least two Canadian municipalities – the City of Vancouver (pop. c. 600,000) and Medicine Hat, Alberta (pop. c. 61,000) – ensure that their most vulnerable residents, the homeless, have safe and secure housing. If these municipalities can do it, so can we, despite the facts that Canada has no national housing strategy and the Chretien-Martin governments chopped the social transfers to the provinces, which crippled social housing.     

         Now, maybe from your perspective the last decade has been a success story for affordable housing. In 2001 the Regional government committed to build 1000 new units of affordable housing by the end of 2005. Then in 2005 and again in 2008, 500 units were added to the original goal. By the time you released your “Renewing Our Commitment” report this past May, over 2000 units had been added over 13 years. But from our perspective, your renewed commitment is good, but inadequate [I’d give it a C+], because it falls far short of meeting the basic need, namely, affordable housing for all the Region’s residents, which is a human right. And the lack of safe, secure, and affordable housing has very significant social side-effects, as you point out in your “Region of Waterloo Comprehensive Approach to Poverty Reduction.” I quote: "The financial costs of poverty, both direct and indirect, can impact areas such as health care, policing and corrections, and lost potential. The bottom line - we can’t afford poverty." We strongly agree.

         Now I turn to the problems that we see in your housing plan.  

         First, consider your goal of building 350 new units and retaining 350 old units through 2019: Despite the over 2000 new, affordable housing units added, the waiting list for affordable housing has remained relatively stable at approximately 1200 families. Obviously, there is a growing demand for affordable housing, which will continue to expand as the population increases. Decreasing the rate of new units reaching the market during this time of austerity budgets and precarious employment surely means that the Region will fall farther behind in meeting housing needs and that the waiting list for affordable housing will escalate.

         Secondly, your May 2014 “New Affordable Housing Strategy” doesn’t make any clear spending commitments for affordable housing. You highlight that for every $1 spent by the Regional government, $12 were leveraged from other sources, for a total of only $14.8 million in capital expenditures since 2001. Spending $14.8 million on affordable housing, not annually, but in total over 13 years, is pathetic, given the escalating needs, especially when compared to the  police budget that is now greater than $140 million annually. Webelieve you should rearrange your priorities and “put your money where your mouth is,” that is, make a concrete monetary commitment that reflects a robust, affordable housing strategy that does not rely chiefly on the dubious financial support of provincial and federal governments.

         Of course, we also recognize how important ample federal and provincial financial support is in developing a strong housing strategy for our Region. However, to repeat, your proposed AHS does not fully address [1] our Region’s affordable housing needs, [2] the range of housing types required (emergency shelters, supportive housing, and affordable housing mixed with market-rent units), or [3] the location of affordable housing. As I stated to you last year, along the LRT route is “where people who are dependent on transit need to live. Improved transit won't help lower-income people the way it should, if they can't afford to live near it. Both affordable housing and affordable public transit are essential to eliminate poverty.” Instead, your AHS proposal simply sets a “realistic” goal based on uncertain funding. Clearly, the proposal needs serious re-thinking. Here’s our advice:

         [1] Re-evaluate the goal set forth in the new AHS, i.e., 350 new units. The goal should be to reduce the size of the waiting list and should not be constrained by the availability of funding. The housing needs should determine the funding required, not vice-versa.

         [2] Make a monetary commitment to support the goals of the new AHS. While the commitment might be relatively small, say $2 million, it will be symbolic. Housing should be your priority and should be reflected in the budget. Practically, committing housing funds now might help during years if there’s a shortfall in federal or provincial funding.

         [3] Instead of simply noting insufficient federal and provincial support, you and your colleagues on Regional Council should advocate for housing. Pass a resolution on the need for a national housing strategy. Then the Regional Chair and this Committee should convey the resolution to the four MPs who represent us in Ottawa. Tell the federal government to reorganize their budget to ensure that a national, publicly supported, housing strategy materializes so that everyone can experience safe, secure, and affordable housing. This step is crucial, because local and regional planning is weakened when funding is uncertain.

         Now, there are three other, practical housing matters:

         [1] Wherever new affordable housing is built, mix affordable units with market-rent units, and build mixed-rental housing in locations accessible to food shopping and health care.

         [2] A small-scale landlord who has intimate acquaintance with the stresses on low-income tenants reported to us the following easily solved problem. As I said last year, “individuals are eligible to receive last month's rent in advance only if they are discharged from a shelter, psychiatric ward, or jail. In effect, individuals must be institutionalized before receiving last month's rent to move into an apartment. In our view, this policy obstructs finding affordable and safe housing.” So, please correct this unjust practice by expanding the criteria for obtaining last month’s rent.  

          [3] The last practical matter concerns GRT. As I noted last year, GRT's business-plan of recovering ever more of its operating costs from the fare box is unaffordable for the poorest who simply can't afford any increases in the cost of bus tickets and passes, because subsidized bus-passes are in very short supply, people living on social assistance receive extremely low payments that increase only 1% annually, and the minimum wage has been frozen for years.

          GRT should provide free bus-passes for individuals receiving Ontario Works and subsidized passes for individuals receiving ODSP. In addition, GRT should greatly broaden subsidized passes, because some individuals who are not on ODSP also need subsidies for bus fare. These subsidies should come out of the GRT budget and not out of the funds for Discretionary Benefits, which the poor sorely need for food and housing. Lastly, GRT should make a small route-change in the bus line to the Food-Bank pick-up so that people can access it much more easily and safely. If you have ever tried carrying a box of canned goods up and down the street on the way to a bus stop, you’d realize what a hardship the current bus route is for people who depend on the Food Bank.

          To sum up, affordable transit and affordable, safe, and secure housing across the range of housing types (i.e., emergency shelters, supportive housing, and affordable housing mixed with market-rent units) are essential. Councillors, do the right thing for the less fortunate in Waterloo Region!

          Thank you.