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Some concerns about Saskatoon housing project flagged as biased, exclusive

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WATCH: The development is set to house low-income Indigenous families – Sep 28, 2020

The head of a Saskatoon housing company is calling out the critics to one of its projects for being unwelcoming to low-income and Indigenous families.

Camponi Housing Corporation has proposed a $42.7 million development near the Parkridge neighbourhood, set to house low-income people, with priority given to Métis families.

“(Some) concern stems from not what we are doing, but who we would move in,” said Toby Esterby, executive director of the Métis-led company.

“I am firm in my belief that those questions are not worthy of an answer.”

With 164 walk-up units (407 bedrooms) and retail, office and community space, Esterby said the goal is to create a mini neighbourhood.

The rezoning application for the affordable housing project on Hart Road went before city council Monday evening. Council unanimously passed the proposed zoning amendment bylaw after hearing from the city’s development review manager, Esterby and community members.

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Several residents emailed council to express their opposition to the proposal prior to the public hearing.

“This is going to decrease the values on homes significantly… and bring in more crime into our neighbourhood,” reads an email from nearby resident Ashley Green, who declined an interview request.

“If this happens I will be putting my house up for sale and moving. Low income needs to be divided up throughout the city.”

A rending of the affordable housing project proposed for Saskatoon’s far east end. Camponi Housing Corporation

Another email flagged an influx of children to the neighbourhood as a security concern.

“That many children in a small area is going to lead to increased vandalism and other illegal activities,” the email from resident Timothy Martin reads.

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Laura Hicks, who has owned a condo near the Blairmore development area for six years, said the idea that crime would increase once more Indigenous, low-income people move into the neighbourhood is based on harmful stereotypes.

Read more: ‘We’re still in crisis’: USask researchers to unpack affordable housing efficacy

“The reasons why people don’t want (the Hart Road project), to me, are based on racial stereotypes and biases,” Hicks said in an interview.

“It’s not supporting racial equality for a specific group — so the racial equality of access to safe, affordable housing.”

The project will help address Saskatoon’s affordable housing shortage, particularly for seniors and large families, Esterby said.

“(It’s) about giving those families a place to call home that they can truly be proud of,” he told Global News.

“It’s time to welcome neighbours in and lift them up.”

Concerns about density, traffic

The letters to council from concerned residents also highlighted neighbourhood density, parking and traffic flow as potential problems.

“This development is way (too) dense for this area and the increase in population is unsustainable,” Martin wrote, flagging potential oversaturation of local amenities.

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Esterby said questions about density and traffic are valid.

Read more: Hundreds of thousands on waitlist for affordable housing in Canada: study

With about 70 wheelchair-accessible units, he said many residents will be seniors, who tend to have a “low community impact.”

Traffic flow and parking won’t be an issue, he said, as most affordable housing tenants don’t own vehicles. He also noted most amenities — including grocery stores, banks and schools — are within walking distance.

Consultation woes

Resident Dee Kirchmeier wrote to council saying they first heard about the project on Sept. 21.

Esterby said accusations about a lack of consultation are unfair.

Camponi sent out notices, shared information online and set up a temporary office space near the development site to engage in conversations with community members. About 75 people have visited the office since the beginning of August, he said.

At Monday’s public hearing meeting, council agreed the city’s planning and development team did a thorough job informing the community about the future affordable housing unit.

Hicks said there’s no reason why any of her neighbours should be surprised by the project.

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“If you didn’t know that this was happening… to be honest, you weren’t paying attention,” she said.

The development is in the ward of Coun. Ann Iwanchuk, who said she has heard from nearly 50 residents concerned about the city’s engagement process.

Read more: Saskatoon city councillor Ann Iwanchuk not seeking re-election

“The portion of the consultation process I am concerned about is not with respect to Camponi’s consultation,” she said in an email to Global News.

“It is with the city’s public meeting which took place through a virtual meeting, was not adequately advertised in my opinion, and did not provide for a dialogue during the meeting.”

Iwanchuk said she supports the project, but will push for more public consultation, and to vote on the proposal at the next council meeting.

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