Category: Social Planning and Equity

Addressing Housing Inequities by Leading with Courage

Several weeks ago while running north on Bathurst Street, I noticed a homeless encampment at Alexandra Park which is located south of Dundas Street and within proximity of Toronto Western Hospital.  While I am familiar several of these camps already existent including under the Gardiner Expressway, in the Rosedale Valley and at Moss Park, this one was new and is symptomatic of a larger problem in housing in the region.

The evidence is quite clear. The lack of equitable and affordable housing options has been exacerbated by the COVID. With job losses, tenants have been falling behind in paying rents and where some evictions have occurred.

Then there is the continued narrative of leaving large metropolises for the suburbs.  This narrative first played out in a New York Times article from May 17th Where New Yorkers Moved to Escape Coronavirus.  Highlights from this article included:

  • Wealthiest areas witnessed the most movement to Long Island, New Jersey and upstate New York.
  • Black and LatinX neighbourhoods, where most essential workers reside, had far fewer mail forwarding requests.

Roman Suarez said it best: “Whenever New Yorkers go through stuff, the best thing to do is just be there”.

So when listened a recent podcast episode of Hello Monday where Jessi Hempel interviewed three people from diverse backgrounds who left their cities for the suburbs, it gave me pause from an equity perspective.

There has been an exodus to the suburbs from Canadian cities, but not widely reported as much as it has been in the US. COVID was the “push” it some families needed, supposedly.

Northwest Toronto being hit hard the most by COVID with Blacks, who are predominantly employed in low paying service sector and health care jobs, and who live in social housing. These health, income and housing disparities have only been exacerbated greater.

While current issues of homelessness and racial and social disparities are occurring, action has been taken in the meantime.

While the National Housing Strategy is two years in, building affordable purpose built rental is playing catch up.  Housing TO Action Plan is playing catch up with its 10 year strategy, but it takes funding from all levels of government and support from the private and non-profit sectors.  While there has been recent initiatives in building affordable housing such ones in London and Hamilton by Indwell, a workforce housing in Toronto , and the recent announcement by the Federal Government with the National Co-Housing Investment Fund, there is a still a long way to go.

The Ontario Government recently passed two legislations that affect housing in the province but not without some backlash.

First is Bill 184 – Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act which took into effect on August 1. 

  • claims it will better protect people facing eviction during the pandemic by increasing fines for unlawful eviction and will push landlords to establish repayment agreements with tenants before considering evictions. 
  • During my time in the co-op sector, several times I negotiated repayment agreements if tenants fell into arrears, so this is not something new, but could be for private landlords.   Of course I was blind to the equity implications of these types of agreements.
  • Those affected by these agreements could be tenants where English isn’t their first language, those with cognitive, learning and physical disabilities, etc.
  • Signing a repayment agreement and if breached without going to Landlord and Tenant Board tribunal, could fast track evictions.

The Province also passed Bill 108 More Homes, More Choice Act which made sweeping planning and environmental changes to address the housing crisis, but without deserved opprobrium from municipalities.

Cities with affordable housing have economic benefits. They are resilient and will evolve, as this Kinder report stated from earlier this year. Not without becoming cognizant that racial equity, health and housing are interconnected.  Municipal leaders across the country must lead with courage to address these issues.  They must spearhead initiatives to avert and eradicate homelessness such as building modular supportive housing units,  and using hotels as shelters, regulate short term rentals further during this housing crisis  (AirBNB’s founder even admitted they made mistakes and they need to rethink their impact on cities).

There must be continued dialogue by building partnerships with other sectors and delivering policies that are resilient, environmentally friendly, economically strong while ensuring housing aligns with human rights by way of addressing health, racial and social equity. 

Disrupting the Status Quo: Breaking Nervousness in the Public Sector

As an ambitious and high-performing professional, “wait your turn”, “keep your head down and do your work” were the normative phrases. I sometimes had to “code switch” just to fit in.

My vociferous nature and ambitions, I believe, have prevented me from progressing and succeeding in my career. Seeing how my black peers have had difficult experiences navigating the “system”, I have set out on my own journey to figure out why. I just may have the answer.

This coronavirus pandemic and increased racial tensions have brought to the light the racial, social and economic gaps that have been discussed, but never taken seriously. The longstanding inequities include health disparities, lack of high quality education and violence. The highest amount of COVID deaths are from people of colour in cities. As Helene Gayle, the CEO of Chicago Community Trust stated in a recent webinar, “if the general population catches a cold, communities of colour catch pneumonia”.

Navigating the public sector for the majority of my career has been challenging. From academic interests in regional governance and affordable housing to spatial mismatch and reverse commuting in transit, my career has spanned years in multiple jurisdictions in planning and policy but never really focused on my true love of applying social equity to those areas. There has been a nervousness that has led to policy inaction and/or status quo decision making that must end. I set out to make the case for a disruption.

Disrupt or Interrupt?

In the public sector space, where change is rather slow and methodical, I am in agreement with Dr. Amante-Jackson in that there needs to be a disruption. The housing and transit industries have already seen it with AirBnb (although pretty much dead in the water now), and with micromobility. With health and social inequities being exacerbated due to the Coronavirus pandemic, a disruption is literally inevitable.

Should policy makers and public sector managers disrupt inequity or should they want to interrupt it? That was the question Dr. Damisa Amante-Jackson posed in a recent Hello Monday podcast.

Interrupting, as Dr. Amante-Jackson states, is about advocacy to consider policies and practices, naming things, but not necessarily going to shift the policies to create and industry standard and to hold people accountable. For disruption to be successful, the required mindset change is for people to be successful in giving feedback and being able to have those difficult conversations. It is naming the elephants in the room. Disruption is an end to inequity.

Nervousness in Government

In order to disrupt the public sector, the elephant in the room is nervousness that Susan T. Gooden spoke of in her book Race and Social Equity, A Nervous Area of Government. From those aforementioned policies and procedures to delivering on diversity and inclusion by not just “checking the boxes”, public servants and managers, need to have those deep uncomfortable conversations. This does not mean being reactionary but by doing the deep work, asking the questions and acting on it.

Gooden explained this nervousness in government as it pertains to the conceptualization of racial and social equity is grounded in the application of organizational justice. The issues involving organizational justice involve some person or group benefitting or harmed in a manner that is unfair.

My experiences from a human resources context have concentrated on equality, not equity. Such as recruitment, onboarding, compensation, and attrition. Gooden suggests that understanding the nervousness of government involves an approach that is more systemic instead of that of organizational justice. It prioritizes lived experiences of the public it serves, which is a theme I’ve mentioned in my previous blog posts time and again. She referred to this as public justice and is defined as the larger organizational value where social equity resides. Where public justice is value oriented, social equity is more concerned with the delivery of public services.

Throughout Gooden’s book, she provides examples related to the American experience of structural and institutional racism to the nervousness in government, our Canadian experiences, although more muted, are just as relatable.

Conquering Nervousness in Government

Gooden sets out by listing ten principles in conquering nervousness in government. They are:

  1. Public Administrators have a responsibility to operate in the nervousness of government.
    Examining issues of racial equity, which is one such area in the nervousness of government, public service delivery is fundamental in understanding how public sector institutions systematically provides services in structural ways that influence important outcomes.
  2. The legal history of racial discrimination is an important context that cannot be minimized, but rather offers instructive guidance.
    Zoning regulations and planning policies that are general in nature are perfect examples where practices that may appear race neutral would have important implications.
  3. Initial motivators to begin navigation of nervousness typically include some combination of political, moral, legal, and/or economic triggers.
    Gordon referred to the Seattle Race and Social Justice Network which was politically motivated. I touched upon the need to include social equity within transit service standards which included a mention of King County Metro in a earlier blog post. Legal areas include laws, regulation and court decisions. Economic triggers that would advance racial equity could include cost-benefit analyses or improved organizational dimensions that Dr. Amante-Jackson referred to in disrupting the status quo or. With recent societal shifts triggered by both the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter, they will definitely wield pressure on organizational structures.
  4. Senior leadership is a critical important factor in realized sustained progress.
    This reminded me of the book Leaders in the Shadows, a book by David Siegel about the diverse leadership styles of several Canadian city managers and Chief Administrative Officers. While the leaders in the book deserve credit, they weren’t innovative. They were emblematic of the systems they led, each had opportunities to promote racial and social equity within their municipal organizations. The model of a new leader should be at the forefront of significant organizational change, define its culture, and “establishes clear norms and expectations of racial equity performance and accountability”.
  5. At the individual level, public servants  must recognize and eliminate behaviours that impede racial equity progress.
    As Gordon notes, the individual baseline level of nervousness should provide an indicator of how likely or unlikely a public administrator is to independently promote racial equity in the provision of government services at work. Currently the Institute of Public Administration of Canada’s Principal of Values nor the Canadian Institute of Planners Code of Professional Conduct do not mention anything to the lines of racial and social equity, which cover public and private sector services. The American Society of Public Administration includes a statement in their Code of Ethics on social equity.
    4. Strengthen social equity. Treat all persons with fairness, justice, and equality and respect individual differences, rights, and freedoms. Promote affirmative action and other initiatives to reduce unfairness, injustice, and inequality in society.
    Racial equity progress should not only be from overarching professional bodies, but also the municipalities they represent. Also, there should be strategies in place to place increased emphasis on the role that social identities play in the delivering and administration of public services.
  6. At the organizational level, government agencies should evaluate their socialization boundaries and extend them to accommodate a wider range of racial equity work.
    Employees should have the freedom to venture into the “nervous” area whereby there are cultural redefinition of acceptable boundaries that can easily accommodate racial equity work through a reduction of fear.
  7. There are no perfect solutions; however, solutions that embody a race-conscious approach most directly facilitate structural equity solutions.
    The engagement of solutions designed to facilitate racial equity must directly confront the issue of race. As John Powell mentioned in his 2012 book, and quoted in Gordon’s book, “In our effort to get beyond race, we have paid too little attention to how it is constructed and to the work of the structures of the unconscious do in creating racial conditions and meaning. Race is not just an idea that we can choose to engage or not”. In essence, policy inaction that does not include racial equity is unacceptable.
  8. Racial equity needs to operate in a context of accountability. Performance goals should be linked to the organization’s mission statement, values, organizational structure, and its strategic planning. Government agencies should be invested in analyzing racial-equity dimension, which should include procedural fairness, access, quality and outcomes.
  9. If legal barriers to racial discrimination have been largely eliminated, agency leadership, policies, practices, and innovations form the foundation of essential front line racial equity work.
    There must be an examination of the structural inequities with municipal agencies and concerted efforts to achieve racial equity.
  10. Significant racial equity progress in government can be achieved.
    Through the important work of administrators, it can be a less nervous and more equitable one.

One such example was a post on “Budgeting for Equitable Outcomes” from earlier this week Adam Slade from Chicago’s Metropolitan Planning Council.

Adam Slade, Metropolitan Planning Council

Slade mentions that significant outcomes must occur to ensure equity is addressed within the budget.

  • Inclusive community engagement
  • Forecasting expected revenues from all levels of government that ensures intergenerational equity
  • Allocated revenues to priorities
  • Development of performance measures.

I would like to thank Carlton Eley who suggested that I read this book. It will be the backbone for my ongoing research during the remainder of the MPA Local Government program. It will focus on race and social equity as it relates to housing, community development and governance.

Enough is Enough

I’VE HAD ENOUGH!!!

Enough with the systemic racism. Enough for the violence against blacks and other people of colour, regardless of gender and ability. Enough with the constructs that tell us to “wait our turn”. Enough with the fact that we have to “code switch” to conform to others’ insecurities just to get ahead. Enough with the “angry black woman” prejudices when they have to speak their mind. It is enough it took a pandemic for socio-demographic data to be collected, albeit in select jurisdictions, to determine how people of colour will have been disproportionately affected. I’m tired of it all!

My post has been nearly a week in the making. The events of recent days from Amy Cooper’s antics in Central Park in Manhattan, to the MURDER of George Floyd in Minneapolis to the continuing protests prompted me to write this blog post. Ottawa resident Kevin Bourne and Toronto Star reporter Shree Paradkar provided me with the push to write this post today.

While my post will be flanked by those with greater penmanship than myself who have written in the New York Times, The Atlantic, The Globe and Mail, and the Los Angeles Times, to name a few, I could not stay silent on this issue any longer.

Originally, I hastily wrote a Facebook post with random observations – although biased with my own confirmations – on the Jane 35 bus after from my run along a closed Lakeshore Boulevard in Toronto.

Passengers on the Jane bus, who were predominantly people of colour like me, were insecurely negotiating their right to space and comfort. Many came from or going to work or grocery shopping. Some had their faces covered while others did not. Even with my earbuds on, it was difficult not to overhear tensions rising. There was constant paranoia between passenger who thought they were too close. There was some choice words even directed at the bus driver. At times, I thought a fight would break out. 

To put this in context, the Jane Street corridor between Bloor and Dundas Streets going northbound starts with the tony Baby Point neighbourhood. North of the railroad tracks lies several kilometres of low to middle income neighbourhoods – Woolner, Mount Dennis, Tretheway, Chalkfarm and Jane and Finch. These neighbourhoods are lined with strip plazas full of local businesses that are struggling to survive, cheque-cashing stores and liquor stores. These, along with public housing and aging infrastructure, are the forgotten densities that Jay Pitter speaks of when she discussed confronting distance between desire and disparity.

Democratization of public space is only part of the issue. I spoke about this in last summer’s Spacing post on perceived accessibility based on my lived experiences. Other occurrences over the years included:

  • Being called a “Paki” because of my brown skin.
  • Having personally experienced theft from another black male.
  • Being treated differently by a De La Salle High School vice-principal when I and a white student both skipped school.
  • Hiding my Trinidadian culture from women I dated because their families couldn’t accept me for who I am.

It is the institutions and their constructs that have brought us to this point. I raised the issue of a lack of racial equity in planning circles well over a year and a half ago. For this reason, it partially prompted me not to renew my Canadian planning designation.

Reading the vitriolic responses from insecure whites to Shree Pardkar’s Toronto Star article in response to the social distancing shitshow at Trinity Bellwoods Park from last weekend was shameful and disgusting.

Anti-black racism still exists. Housing discrimination exists. Spatial mismatch and lack of coordination by Greater Toronto Area transit agencies, which is a topic I raised 16 years ago, continues to exist. The lack of attention towards addressing racial and social inequities in transit service continues to exist. Pay gaps, lack of promotions in the civil service, and lack of diversity on non-profit boards continue to exist. It is the brutal unchecked police violence against black men and women that continues to exist. With all of these situations, there becomes the instilled fear, paranoia, impatience and unrest on both sides of the border. We cannot stand by and watch moment like these pass us by with inaction.

Audrey Smith. Andrew Loku. George Floyd. Tamir Rice. Rodney King. Amadou Diallo. Say their names!

I will end with the final paragraph in Kevin Bourne’s post:

For those who consider themselves allies, allyship means not only saying something on social media; it means saying something at the office, at church or in the community. Real change won’t come until allyship goes beyond social media and permeates our neighbourhoods, workplaces, and businesses. Until then it’s business as usual.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!!

The State of Transit Leadership: The Need to Address Social Equity

In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.

Albert Einstein

Shout out to an old colleague Mikel Oglesby who previous was Sunline Transit’s CEO and where I attended my one and only State of Transit address several years ago.

As a kid who resided in Lawrence Heights in social housing and in a co-op , transit was a8 way of life. My parents never owned a car. Nevertheless, I was enamoured by the whole experience. The bus drivers on the Ranee 109 or Lawrence 52 were my friends, even though I never knew their names.

I looked forward to every TTC map release and would ask the collector manning the booth for a copy. Sometimes multiple times if there weren’t any copies. I always viewed the TTC as an organization I wanted to work for.

I never viewed public transit as a status symbol and always played down the terms choice rider or captive rider.

Transit, to me was about a career with ties to community building and social equity. So when I saw TTC’s recent campaign wrapped in messaging, it was the wrong tone to send to their customers.

Image via Sean Marshall

John Lorinc’s Spacing article “Just Who is the Face of the TTC These Days?” highlighted the leadership vacuum that exists. There is clearly a stark difference between Andy Byford, who recently resigned as New York City’s Transit President after a two-year stint, and the current TTC CEO Rick Leary. Case in point, as Lorinc mentions, Leary was incognito after the second subway derailment this year. In addition, .

Transit providers should treat all individuals with dignity and respect, one of the key points noted in a 2018 APTA leadership presentation on social responsibility. There is also strategic and technical leadership. For example, while transit service standards have evolved over time, including King County where they include social equity measures, Canadian transit agencies do not incorporate them service standards.

It was a mere 3 years ago that the TTC was awarded the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) Outstanding Public Transportation System. Oh have times changed.

The state of transit leadership thus far in 2020 is bleak at best. Andy Byford was a prime example of one who went out of his way to be publicly present and defend transit during some their trying times. The City and region is devoid of leadership and willingness to take risks.

It can only get better from here.

Community Strategic Planning for Lawrence Heights

I will be applying for re-entry into the Masters of Public Administration program at Western University for the 2020 academic year. While I would be entitled to change my interest, I wanted to come up with a new topic that reflects my passion of strategic planning with the purpose of relationship and community building.

So why would I want to be discussing this now? Whether I would be accepted or not, it is a topic worth discussing.

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Community Building in a Post-Trust World

Image Courtesy of New Jersey Health Initiative

While there are leaders within the community with whom they trust whether they are part of neighbourhood associations or from diverse leadership groups, most of the time they lack the resources or knowledge to improve their areas. Similarly, those community leaders have the institutional or local knowledge to provide to input. They lean heavily on politicians, who then turn to staff to build those bridges. They are the gatekeepers and intermediaries between a city’s vision and mission and the community’s interests. Having the leadership and trust between these parties is necessary. Servant and thought leadership approaches intersect in order to bring transformational change to a community. What they have in common is centered around building trust.

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Developing Strategies Through Lived Experiences

We all have stories to tell in our lives, including our careers. Our lived experiences shape our careers, whether they equate to something fruitful or you’re destined to be somewhere else. I’ve noticed over the last year that I enjoy storytelling. So much so, I am thinking about writing a book. I digress.

My stories have come out through blog posts and public speaking engagements. From growing up in social housing to taking transit for most of my life, my story is being told and I would use those lived experiences to influence policy changes and strategies.

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Rent Control Died in California and Ontario. Now What?

next-move0119re01
Image Courtesy of The Globe and Mail

I woke up to a blog post from Toronto Housing Matters where they supported the Province of Ontario’s decision to partially eliminate rent control on newer rental buildings.

The post continued into an academically, yet basic, economics argument on supply and demand, then moves to a discussion of why rent control is intrinsically horrible, especially for low-income renters.  I wasn’t convinced, so I did some digging. 

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Regional governance model sorely needed in the Greater Toronto Area

Over the last few days, it has been a transit junkie’s feast. Last week David Quarmby from Transport for London (TfL) was at the Toronto Region Board of Trade touting a regional governance model to oversee transit.  An eye opener was Quarmby’s proposal of TTC being handed over to Metrolinx, which I will discuss later.  Along with the Neptis report criticizing the current Big Move, a new direction is needed for regional transportation planning.

Political Missteps

Yesterday, Premier of Ontario Kathleen Wynne was also at the Board of Trade to make an announcement regarding transit funding where an increased portion of the gas tax would fund much of the Big Move.  Yet in a media scrum, Robert Prichard, chair of the Metrolinx Board was quoted in a tweet from Steve Paikin:

Um, check Section 32 of the Metrolinx Act there, Richard.

Let’s backtrack to all the missteps that have occurred to get us to this point.

In 2009, Dalton McGuinty announced to that in order to fast track projects from the Big Move, politicians from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area would be eliminated from the Metrolinx Board and replaced with those from the private sector.

Fast forward to May 2013.  The Investment Strategy was announced, albeit two years later, provided options to pay for future transportation infrastructure.  Councils from the GTHA were given choices to implement the revenue tools.  These ended up being an exercise in futility as the city council soundly rejected all but a few of the revenue tools.

A provincially appointed Transit Panel led by Anne Golden, the same person who led the Greater Toronto Task Force in 1996, came out with a watered down version of the Investment Strategy.  These were soundly rejected a few weeks ago from Kathleen Wynne.  Now we have reached this point.  Touting its record on transit which originally included less funding for the original Transit City Plan in 2009 (which Rob Ford killed altogether in 2011); flip flopping on transit expansion in Scarborough with Minister of Infrastructure Glen Murray making an announcement supporting a subway extension instead of light rail transit;  and, an about face on providing transit revenue tools for transportation infrastructure.

The Liberals announced (in preparation for a potential spring election) Moving Ontario Forward, with plans to build $29 billion of transportation infrastructure.  This includes 30,000 parking spaces and 15 minute two-way, all-day GO Transit service with electrification and calling it high speed rail.  I have a huge dilemma with these statements.  Metrolinx not only has built suburban parking structures at its GO stations, but it is free parking.  To build additional parking spaces while Metrolinx and its Transit Supportive Land Use Guidelines mention transit oriented development, goes to show they are talking out both sides of their mouths. Second, electrification is an outdated technology. This technology is similar to that of the ACELA line in the Northeastern United States. While California and other states are talking about building true steel wheel high speed rail options, and several European and Asian countries already have high speed rail in place, Metrolinx decided to enter the 20th century with electrification.  The hard negotiations occurs with the Federal Government and the freight rail operators to purchase rights of way for high speed rail.  It could have been part of the Windsor-Quebec City corridor while being developed in phases.

Options to consider

Returning the Metrolinx board to politicians is the right thing to do. But also the right thing to do is to have a stable regional governance structure in place where politicians are elected at large. Many Metropolitan Plannning Organizations in the United States appoint politicians to boards and committees beyond transportation.  Also there must be taxation powers similar to that of Metro Vancouver.

Quarmby’s idea of placing TTC in the hands of Metrolinx may not be a bad idea. Not necessarily putting it in the hands of the province, but to consider amalagamating many of the GTA transit systems into one regional network.  After all, transit passengers only care about getting to their destination in the quickest way possible.  They don’t care who delivers the service. Furthermore, new routes can be laid out reflecting current travel patterns. Metrolinx can hire local transit planners alongside regional planners to work on a new network, and not be as pessimistic as Steve Munro or politicians like Oakville Mayor Rob Burton who want to maintain their local political fiefdoms.

Cities and regions are the economic engines of the province and the country.  Innovation and creativity come from these metropolitan areas. In the book, The Metropolitan Revolution by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley  they cite several examples from various American cities such as Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles, where regional collaboration and the political will overcome the deficits caused by state and federal governments. I strongly suggest politicians, public administrators and urban planners should read this book and take lessons on defeating political gridlock.

Taking politics out of transit may be wishful thinking, as Karen Stintz once stated.  But if our elected officials have the creativity to get out of this political gridlock, then maybe there will be less politics and more results from our politicians.

NB: This article was originally posted and archived on Global News in 2014 but removed my name as author.