I was going to save this for the second Hate Feature (first one is here) that is coming out Thursday, but once I started writing I realized that all that needed to be said about this subject could not fit into the hundred words that the Hate Feature gives me.
The new Somerset neighbourhood development that Regina City Council approved on Monday, March 18 is a terrible idea on every single level and demonstrates everything that is wrong with Regina in one terrible situation.
This particular development by BC company Earth King Project 135 Ventures, aims to build “modest” homes that will be affordable in Regina’s hot real estate market. While affordable housing is a desperately needed commodity in Regina, the land sandwiched between the Coop Refinery and the Evraz steel mill is not the place to be putting it.
In fact, most authorities on the matter have said they recommend against it. The Provincial Ministry of Environment, the Regina-Qu’Appelle Health Region, and even the Coop Refinery as well as the RM of Sherwood have all said this deal stinks, both metaphorically and literally. And yet, somehow, their expert advice was completely ignored by city council, who unanimously voted to let the project go forward.
The problem of our city council essentially being a Borg-like hive mind when it comes to making decisions aside, the health and well-being of citizens of Regina is at stake in this project, and it’s disgusting that the city is so blasé about the concerns of residents and organizations.
Fougere said that the city staff did “extensive homework” before determining that there was no health risk to building a new neighbourhood there, but from all suggestions they didn’t. Or if they did, they received a failing mark from the teacher.
But most egregious of all is that this land is going to be set aside for people who cannot afford to live anywhere else. This land, because it is probably the shittiest place surrounding the city, is of course where people who can’t afford to live in Regina will be housed. And they will either shut up and deal with the health risks and the terrible smell, or they will move to some other city that actually cares a shred about the health of some of its less-fortunate residents.
I can understand saying that people need to “work their way up” in the housing market and that “modest” homes like those being built are necessary as an entry point, but the starting point should not be located somewhere deemed so unsuitable for housing by pretty much every authority on the subject.
The major defence of this stupidity is that buyers will be aware of the problems of the home and will be able to choose whether or not to buy there, but when a city has next-to-no available, affordable housing and an unhealthily low vacancy rate, there are really no other options if you want somewhere to live.
Sheila Coles at CBC brought these concerns to the attention of the mayor on The Morning Edition just after the meeting when she asked Mayor Fougere, “Is there any concern that … desperate people will live anywhere?”(back-and-forth starts around 5:25 of the recording)
Dead air. For a full three seconds – what sounds like an eternity on the radio – before the mayor responded with “Ohhhhh, I’m not so sure about that.”
But then the million-dollar question from Sheila: “Would you live there?”
Another awkward pause before: “I might. Would you, Sheila?”
Unsurprisingly, and perhaps unexpectedly for Fougere, Sheila responded quickly with a resounding, “No!”
But more than just that embarrassing exchange, Mayor Fougere maintains that the upgrade that the refinery did last year was to decrease the fumes so putting people there is fine now, even though the refinery has clearly said that it is still bad and they do not want to be dealing with complaints from residents about the terrible smell. But you know, in his infinite wisdom, Fougere seems to know more about the operations of the Coop Refinery than someone actually working at the refinery.
The level of response from the mayor shows that he is backing this development 100 per cent, but one wonders why when so much is arrayed against it. Is he insecure that his campaign image as the mayor of continued economic growth is not very believable? Is he worried that even with the endorsement of ludicrously-popular former Mayor Pat Fiacco he probably wouldn’t have won if Marian Donnelly and Meka Okochi hadn’t split the vote? Or is it just driven by greed for development dollars? It’s hard to say.
But beyond the hubris of a city council and mayor desperate to appear friendly to the point of selling-out every ounce of morality to business and developers, the fact remains that Regina is pushing less-wealthy people further out of the city onto land that is dangerous, according to all authorities. We are placing some of our most vulnerable citizens into a place where they will be farther from the services they require, will incur more costs in travel due to commuting, and on top of all that, it’s a place that will potentially make them sick and kill them.
This is Saskatchewan. There is literally land in every direction. We do not need to be putting anyone in this area, let alone people that can’t afford to live in a better area.