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MEET THE CANDIDATES: Ward 1, Charlene Downey

'We all have a voice and I believe by listening, building relationships, and working together we can build a better Guelph'
Charlene Downey.

GuelphToday asked candidates running for council in the Oct. 22 municipal election to provide brief biographies and an outline of their platform and/or why they are running.

THE PERSON: I have been engaged with the Guelph community for 25 years – listening, building relationships and working on a micro level serving the city I love.

Twenty years of teaching throughout Guelph as an occasional teacher while homeschooling my own children on Alice Street in the heart of Ward 1.Over these years I have witnessed the divide between the “haves” and the “have nots" widen, but not without calls for action from our city, establishing many incredible grassroots initiatives.

But even with volunteering at many of them, most recently at The Life Centre for 10 years, serving approximately 40,000 meals, raising over $20,000, I know I can do more. Running for city council has been on my mind since as youth I watched my father fail to delegate at city hall in Scarborough because he was intimidated into silence.

We all have a voice and I believe by listening, building relationships, and working together we can build a better Guelph. I have just left my career, and my children are now independent. I am ready to dedicate myself to serving as your Ward 1 councillor, promising to be both accessible and available.

By the time you have read this, I will have knocked on around 2,500 doors, participated in eight or nine meet and greets, countless community events, plus attended six months’ worth of city council meetings. I not only want to hear your voice but I am determined to do the best job possible when I am your advocate at city hall.

THE PLATFORM: Together we can increase housing inventory: The pursuit of single family neighbourhoods are no longer a luxury Guelph can afford.

Back in the Mayor Joe Young days, assistant planning director Jim Forbes came to the conclusion that the focus on single family units in Guelph would lead to a housing crisis for low income families. We are now in that crisis with a less than 1 per cent rental inventory and house ownership out of the reach of many families. We need higher and smarter density, to create the walkable neighbourhoods that our residents need. Use the tools in our belt (bonusing, financial incentives, inclusionary zoning) to encourage developers to provide entry-level housing for the ownership and rental community. If the city is committed to providing more affordable housing it needs to take proactive action instead of waiting for the feds and the province to do the job. I would offer the following suggestions as a way of “getting the job done."

We can copy a program from the City of Waterloo that offers $25,000 low interest rate loans for homeowners to build basement apartments, provided they charge less than market value for those apartments for 15 years.

We can look north to Meaford, where they have opened up their bylaws to allow for tiny houses.

We can look to Toronto and Vancouver where they have approved laneway housing in order to help alleviate their own housing crisis.

We can even look to our bylaws, eliminating the need for houses with basement apartments to have 3 parking spaces. (This would immediately bring rental inventory back---as some units have been taken off the market because of the recent complaints over illegally-widened driveways.)

Together we can capitalize on non-traditional revenue streams.

Use the resources we currently have available to bring in additional revenue. Permit parking for street parking? Protected budgets at city hall to encourage saving

Update our bylaws so development actually pays for itself instead of costing the city between 20 per cent and 35 per cent? Advertising on parkades, bus shelters? Promoting our sports fields, parks and other venues! Guelph is a hub of innovation and our council needs to look outside the box and explore alternatives to increase the budget in the hopes of avoiding major tax increases.

Lastly, together we need to update our bylaws.

Whether we are talking about driveways, housing, infrastructure, environment protection, or parklands, it comes down to a bylaw. Guelph is in desperate need of comprehensive bylaw reform. It is through our bylaws that we can increase our rental inventory, ease community tensions over parking, protect and increase our tree canopy… encourage the direction we want our city to grow. There is a bylaw review being planned for 2019, but it will take creative proactive thinking and an ability to work together to accomplish the necessary reforms.

2 Quick Thoughts regarding bylaw reform.

Bylaw enforcement in Guelph is complaint driven. Unfortunately, this often results in tit-for-tat conflicts between neighbours. I believe that this problem could be minimized by adding a small cost (that could be waived by bylaw officers when the situation obviously warrants a complaint) to the process of lodging a complaint.

Guelph currently has a bylaw on its books that allows any “bylaw enforcement officer, police officer, chief fire official or designate, Animal Control Officer employed by the Guelph Humane Society, or any City of Guelph employee authorized by Council” (taken from the current Power of Entry Bylaw for Guelph section 1.4) access to your property, accessory building (shed, garage) without your permission or a warrant.  Currently this bylaw is wide open, without very clear guidelines and constraints to prevent misuse.