Ottawa Citizen: City of Ottawa's official plan does little to address racial segregation, says lawyer opposing Heron Gate redevelopment

Posted April 8, 2022

Ottawa is a “segregated city” and the city’s official plan doesn’t do enough to address the systemic racism and discrimination that has made it that way, says a lawyer fighting the redevelopment of Heron Gate.

“There are high concentrations of racialized people in a few specific areas. And that’s a result of racism in a number of facets, like housing discrimination, employment discrimination, inequality of income distribution,” lawyer Daniel Tucker-Simmons said.

Tucker-Simmons is representing the tenants’ rights organization Acorn Ottawa in an appeal of the Heron Gate development before the Ontario Land Tribunal. At a case management meeting on Friday, the developer, Hazelview Properties, and the City of Ottawa argued the appeal should be dismissed, saying that the issues of racism and discrimination raised by Acorn aren’t land use planning considerations.

Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Tucker-Simmons said that was a “failure” of the city’s official plan.

“If you’re telling me that, as the applicant (Hazelview Properties) very boldly stated, that human rights and discrimination and the Charter are not legitimate planning considerations, that they’re not valid land use planning grounds, that’s a real problem,” he said.

“The fact that the official plan doesn’t recognize that Ottawa is a segregated city and that something needs to be done to desegregate it — that’s a level of 1990s colour-blindness that’s astonishing to see in 2022.”

Ottawa’s 2021 official plan does give a nod to discrimination, noting “gender and racial equity are important dimensions of planning a healthy and inclusive city” and that “Inequalities exist and land use planning should work to eliminate them.” It also says the city will develop a “toolbox” to eliminate such inequalities. But the word “racial” appears only 14 times in the nearly 1,000 pages of the three-volume official plan.

Last September, city council approved a social contract with Hazelview (formerly known as Timbercreek) that gave the go ahead for a high-density residential development on the 21-hectare site along Baycrest, Cedarwood and Sandalwood drives. Hazelview is proposing to build a 6,427-unit rental community of which 1,020 units would be classified as “affordable” for the next 15–20 years. In its official plan, the city considers $1,476 to be an affordable monthly rent.

Some 800 run-down, end-of-life townhouses have been or will be demolished to make way for the new build.

But what the city and Hazelview consider “affordable” is way out of reach for the typical residents of Heron Gate.

“Hazleview and the city keep telling everyone there’s all kinds of affordable housing being built,” Tucker-Simmons told reporters. “And Acorn is saying ‘Hey, there’s all kinds of affordable housing here already. You’re just going to make sure there’s less affordable housing.’ There’s something really wrong. The city has to be honest about what’s happening here. And so does the developer.”

At Friday’s hearing, Hazelview’s lawyer, Zachary Fleisher, urged the tribunal to dismiss Acorn’s appeal.

“Acorn’s wish that there was more affordable housing provided is not enough to justify a hearing and they have not undertaken any efforts whatsoever to substantiate their case,” Fleisher said.

In a statement to the media after the hearing, Hazelview said the city had extensive public consultations and reviews before giving its OK to the project. While Ottawa’s official plan “encourages” affordable housing and sets a goal of 25 per cent, the city does not have “inclusionary zoning” policies that would make that a requirement.

“The 25% goal in the Ottawa Official Plan is an overarching target for the city as a whole but was not intended to be enforced on a site-by-site basis and, in the absence of IZ policies, is unable to be enforced,” Hazelview’s statement said.

In a virtual press conference by Acorn after the hearing, which included a number of racialized, immigrant and disabled Heron Gate tenants who shared their stories, Tucker-Simmons said the city has to do more to protect those residents.

“Racialized communities get targeted by developers because a lot of money can be made if you disperse a racialized community in an area like Heron Gate. It’s only a 15-minute drive to downtown and it has very depressed real estate prices. If you can turn that racialized community into a white community, you’re going to make a ton of money,” Tucker-Simmons said.

“I’m not saying that the applicant in this case is trying to engage in some kind of Apartheid South Africa demographic engineering. But what I am saying is that they do profit a lot and they make a lot of money doing this and attracting more affluent white residents. That’s a major failing in our view … This case is an opportunity to address that problem. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”

The Ontario Land Tribunal reserved judgment in the case and will issue a written decision if the Acorn appeal will be allowed to proceed.

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Article by Blair Crawford for the Ottawa Citizen

 

 

 

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