Affordable housing expected to be part of former Kitchener bus terminal redevelopment
Region set to add community members to project's working group
Region of Waterloo staff say the former Charles Street transit terminal in Kitchener will be redeveloped for multiple uses and that includes to bring more affordable housing to the downtown core.
"Affordable housing is one of the four guiding principles of the project, so yeah, it is our intent to bring affordable housing to this site," regional project lead Sarah Millar told CBC News.
The plans for redevelopment are still in the early stages, but Millar said the project will also focus on equity, diversity and inclusion, sustainability and climate change, and economic development. The land is mostly owned by the Region of Waterloo but the City of Kitchener owns about 13 per cent of it.
The nearly three acre block was the site of the city's bus terminal since the late 1980s until 2019. It was turned into a drive-thru COVID-19 testing centre in 2020. It's sat empty since April 2022.
Being a prime space in the downtown core, some residents have different visions of what this space could be.
Amy Smoke, who is part of Mohawk Nation, Turtle Clan from the Six Nations of the Grand River, said it would be a "great location" for a community centre for Black, Indigenous and racialized people.
"We don't have space in this city for that type of communal gathering, and Charles Street terminal is such a wonderful location," Smoke said.
The region has already undergone an initial round of public engagement with nearly 1,000 responses to a survey. The priorities coming out of the survey, in order of importance were:
- Climate action.
- Affordable housing.
- Equity, diversity and inclusion.
- Economic development.
"Indigenous reconciliation" was a top issue that came up during the open-ended questions — respondents wanted to see it included in the process. Affordable housing came up in the open-ended questions again, too.
Bangishimo Johnston, who is Anishinaabe from Couchiching First Nation, is advocating for the Indigenous centre alongside Smoke. Johnston said that their revision will touch on all of the region's guiding principles, including affordable housing.
"There can't be any reconciliation unless there's land back," Johnston said.
"We need to go make decisions about what works for us with our healing that needs to take place within our communities, right?" Johnston added. "So if the region could just give that piece of land back to us, that'd be great."
More diverse input
Despite the survey's response, the region didn't feel the respondents were as diverse as they'd like, a regional staff report presented to the planning and works committee on June 7 says.
The region will now open its working group for the project beyond regional and city staff to community members. People will be able to apply in a few weeks, and the region is recruiting a facilitator from the community, too.
The region will also be sending people out into the community in August and September to survey residents walking in the area around the former terminal. They'll also be at venues like libraries and festivals to get further insight.
"For us, we see there's lots of opportunity here to bring a diverse mix of uses, including affordable housing and some other economic drivers to downtown Kitchener as well as possible community uses," Millar said.
"We want to hear from as many people as we can to make sure we get the mix right and we're meeting the needs of both immediate downtown Kitchener community, but also the region at large."
A recommendation of what this site can be is expected to be brought to the region and city councils in 2023.