London’s mayor spoke of better days ahead as he delivered the annual State of the City address, done virtually this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Ed Holder highlighted the resiliency of Londoners during the pandemic, while also announcing a five-year plan to help London achieve functional zero for chronic homelessness.
During his address Tuesday, Holder announced London had made history by becoming the first community in Canada to achieve functional zero for Veteran homelessness. That means the number of veterans experiencing homelessness is less than or equal to the number of veterans the city can house in a month.
By adding 3,000 new affordable housing units within five years, Holder believes the city could become functional zero for “chronic homelessness, period” in five years.
Currently, the city is averaging 150 units each year. At that pace, Holder says it would take 20 years to reach functional zero. He says that the five-year goal may be ambitious, but that he is confident it can be done.
“It requires us to quadruple the number of affordable housing units that are currently being provided annually, but we can do this, and the time to start is now,” said Holder, while issuing a challenge to London’s private sector.
“You make investments in buildings and property. We need you to make additional investments in people and community. Whether it’s providing labour, property, funding, or partnerships, join us.”
Mayor Holder also used Tuesday’s speech to look back on a turbulent 2020, and acknowledged the harsh toll the pandemic has taken on people’s personal and professional lives.
He credits the resiliency of Londoners, who proved once again the power of community.
“We see it every day, and in ways that too often go unnoticed or under-appreciated, we see it as well during times of crisis, and times of overwhelming sadness,” said Holder, mentioning the explosion on Woodman Avenue in 2019, and the partial building collapse in December 2020.
“That same sense of community, that sense of empathy, and sense of compassion, has guided our response to COVID-19.”
He paused for a moment of silence to honour the 181 lives lost to date in the London area as a result of the virus.
Holder also gave special recognition to health-care professionals, essential service workers, and first responders.
“You are not only frontline workers, you remain our last line of defence. You have held the line, against all odds and for that, our entire city offers you its deepest gratitude, and will remain forever in your debt,” he said.
While acknowledging the ongoing threat posed by variants and the risk of a third wave, Mayor Holder expressed optimism and confidence that better days are on the way.
“There’s more of this behind us than lays before us,”
“Instead of getting back to the way things used to be, I’d rather we look to where things are going. And where we’re going is proudly, enthusiastically, and confidently towards a more prosperous, economically exciting, equitable, and compassionate London.”
Holder also highlighted his continued commitment to improving transportation across the city, including bus electrification, while also pledging to use his recent appointment as chair of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Task to advocate “in the strongest possible terms” for more frequent, more reliable, and faster rail service to and from Toronto.