City councilors, MPPs meet to discuss transit and housing issues

City councillors and local MPPs discuss bus rapid transit, high speed rail and affordable housing at City Hall on April 19, 2017. Hala Ghonaim/AM980

City councillors met with local MPPs Wednesday morning to discuss critical issues surrounding regional transportation and local affordable housing.

The heart of the discussion focused on anticipation of an impending report highlighting a high-speed rail corridor from Toronto to Windsor and surrounding cities.

Deputy Premier Deb Matthews, who was joined by NDP MPPs Peggy Sattler and Teresa Armstrong, and PC MPP Jeff Yurek, said councillor concerns regarding ridership, affordability and environmental impacts are being considered.

“I know what a huge game changer it would be for London,” said Matthews of high speed rail, unclear of what the price tag or timeline for implementing the corridor may be. “It would change our entire economy and I’m enormously supportive of it but we need to make sure it makes sense. What we don’t want to do is build high speed rail that isn’t being used.”

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A report by David Collenette, former Ontario transport minister, is set to come out this spring, highlighting the feasibility of implementing high speed rail with a 2014 study citing infrastructure costing upward of $2.5 billion.

Among further transit considerations, Matthews suggested that the 2017 budget being tabled next week is looking to pour billions into transit infrastructure.

READ MORE: BRT wheels in motion with $8M federal funding announcement

“I can tell you that the province is very supportive of transit,” she said, expressing support for London’s bus rapid transit plan. “It’s part of making better cities, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions (and) it reduces congestion. We’re very supportive of rapid transit and we’re very supportive of London’s rapid transit.”

The horseshoe also discussed the possibility of repurposing surplus government properties such as vacant schools into affordable housing projects.

READ MORE: Ontario housing affordability measures will be in spring budget: finance minister

However, a roadblock within the Ontario education act requires school boards to peruse the highest value on the sale of their properties.

London–Fanshawe MPP Teresa Armstrong said to AM980 that it’s important to consider all options and the Deputy Premier echoed with her support.

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“It’s true that the school board may not have the opportunity to get the higher value, but then if you want to build affordable housing, how does the city access those resources?,” she questioned.  “It’s got to come from somewhere.”

City council approved putting $1.6 million toward affordable housing Tuesday, a chunk from a $4.6 million budget surplus.

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