Future of housing, transit top of mind for Woolwich Township mayoral candidates
Candidates took on questions about climate change, policing and equity, diversity and inclusion
The two candidates running for mayor in Woolwich Township talked about two top issues they're hearing from voters — affordable housing and transit — during a panel discussion held by CBC K-W.
The region has been too slow to act when it comes to ensuring there's affordable housing in local communities, said Patrick Merlihan, a current councillor, looking to unseat incumbent Sandy Shantz.
The lack of housing that's affordable is something he's felt personally, Merlihan said.
"I have children that are 20 and 18 now working and they really don't see a future in ever owning a home based on what's going on. I have nieces and nephews that are trying to get into the housing market and are unable to," he said.
He said while campaigning in Bloomingdale on the weekend, he met a couple who had recently been "knocked out of the rental market" and were moving a trailer into the backyard of a family member.
"They just simply cannot find a place to live that they can afford," Merlihan said.
He said the rise in development charges and community services fees over the last 20 years is a problem.
"Local governments have really loved development charges and they increased them significantly," he said. "In Breslau, we have a connector road that now will add another $5,000 to development charges going forward on every home in Woolwich Township. So how we fund growth can be directly linked to affordable housing as well. So that's somewhere we could certainly look at."
Shantz agreed housing is an issue, but it's not just being felt locally.
"We have taken a 'housing for' approach. We are doing some new initiatives, we're trying some new ways to engage our community, our service providers, because of course government doesn't do all the work alone," she said.
She pointed to projects she felt offered alternative housing options, including Elmira Community Living, Sprucelawn apartments for seniors in St. Jacobs and The Foundry apartment building in Elmira.
"The other thing to remember is there's a whole continuum of housing that creates a domino effect," she said. "We need portable housing, we need to deal with the homelessness crisis and we also need to pay attention to our continuum of housing."
Transit in township
Merlihan and Shantz were asked questions about several topics during the panel, including: policing in the township, how to address climate change and next steps now that council has decided staff and future council members will take mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training.
Transit in the township was also raised, and Merlihan said he wants to see a discussion at the regional level about making transit free.
He said Grand River Transit Route 21 that loops from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Elmira, then St. Jacobs and the farmers' market and back to the mall, isn't widely used.
"Transit is a huge part of the regional budget and if it's not being used and it's not being properly utilized."
He said he spoke to people who work at the farmers' market in St. Jacobs, and if they take transit, it's 2.5 hours on the bus. If they end up working late, they have no way of getting home.
"We really need to look at transit. We need to look at more ways for people to cycle and bike and get around town and I certainly will support looking at all of those measures to make transit work for more people," he said.
Shantz noted that in Elmira, there's a community bus that's run as part of a partnership with Kiwanis Transit and that's been "a benefit to the whole community."
She said transit, for the township, is "always a work in progress."
"We need to look at different options, and one example of that is being piloted in Breslau is an on-demand bus," she said.
"We've worked hard to get a bus into Breslau the last years and we finally have one. So that's a positive thing, and if it gets ridership — so I'm talking to you Breslau. Ride it. — and maybe we can get a regular route through there."
The municipal election is on Monday, Oct. 24.
How to vote in Woolwich
People in Woolwich will be able to vote by internet, telephone or in-person.
Internet and telephone voting will open at 10 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 14 and go until 8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 24.
In-person voting will only take place on voting day, Monday, Oct. 24, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at three locations:
- Woolwich Memorial Centre.
- Breslau Community Centre.
- St. Jacobs Fire Hall.
The township has also set up a voter help centre for people who have questions about how to vote online or by phone, to update or add their information on the voters' list or other election-related questions.