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LETTER: Hearing the anger on housing crisis

'One has to listen to the sounds emanating from the voices of the marginalized, as well as the community advocates and agencies who speak for them'

GuelphToday received the following letter to the editor from reader Michael Douglas on the issue of the affordable housing crisis.

That age old question keeps coming up and going unanswered: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it fall, will it make a sound?”

The essence of this question arose again this past week in Guelph.

Allow me to take a stab at answering that unresolved query by referencing some excellent articles appearing recently in GuelphToday.

First, I would like to express my gratitude for the fine journalistic efforts of two GuelphToday regular contributors to community interest matters, Adam A. Donaldson and Mark Pare. As citizens we are kept abreast of many community issues and hot-button topics with the timely and informative contributions from these two gentlemen.

That critically important information and insight is not reaching me as effectively, from any other municipal resource.

Adam Donaldson’s March 11 article made reference to a March 8 tweet by Mayor Guthrie, who was addressing the issues of homelessness, affordable housing and the cost of living in general with the question “When are people going to get angry? Because I am angry. I am angry as Mayor and as the dad of two kids, who like their friends, feel they have no hope for a life of affordable living and housing.”

Mr. Donaldson opines that on the aforementioned issues, there exists a material divergence between the ‘optics’ of the responding political talking points; and the ‘actions’ being initiated to remedy those issues. He further suggests that Mayor Guthrie may be talking to the wrong people if he has not heard the anger of the electorate. The voices of community members living on the margins will not be heard if their input is not being directly solicited.

Personally I felt that Mayor Guthrie’s tweet to the electorate sharing his astonishment at the absence of anger totally missed the mark of genuinely assessing the community’s mood and concern on the housing affordability issue.

Anger can be defined as being annoyed, enraged, outraged, displeased, irritated, galled, incensed, cross, furious, irked, piqued, vexed, uptight, agitated, chafed, miffed, rankled, riled and pissed-off just to name a few sample descriptions.

I would wager my last dollar that when you directly solicit the input of the marginalized, acknowledge and hear their responses to community issues impacting them, the sounds of anger will be loudly heard in many forms. Moreover, the silence of not doing enough to effectively address the issues will be deafening.

Digressing back to that tree falling in the forest and pondering whether it makes a sound when it falls, of course the action of a tree falling in the forest will indisputably generate a sound. Whether anyone is present or within earshot to actually hear that sound does not alter the fact that it is inconceivable to contemplate that a tree can fall in the forest and not make a sound.

Conversely, Mayor Guthrie’s concern that he has not heard the anger of the electorate on the issues of homelessness, affordable living and housing draws an interesting parallel to that proverbial tree falling in the forest.

Everyone who read his tweet heard the sound of Mayor Guthrie confessing to being angry. When he spoke he made a sound. We did not have to be present to hear that sound.

Just because the mayor did not personally hear the electorate’s anger does not mean that anger was not present. To hear the sound of housing crisis anger, one has to specifically listen to the sounds emanating from the voices of the marginalized, as well as the community advocates and agencies who admirably speak for them.

The housing crisis issue took a time-sensitive turn at week’s end when Prime Minster Trudeau made an impromptu stop in Guelph to announce a housing program.

The federal government has invited municipal governments to develop their innovative action plans in line with the flexible criteria designed to reduce the barriers to building more homes, faster in the next decade. Mayor Guthrie acknowledged that now the work really starts.

We have to listen to the electorate, solicit the input of the city staff, consultants and stakeholders. Hopefully, in the process he will proactively engage with the marginalized segment of the community in developing the city’s viable affordable housing action plan for submission to the federal government for funding.

Thankfully the sounds of both Mayor Guthrie and MP Lloyd Longfield’s voices have been heard constantly and loudly on the issue of affordable housing. The electorate did not have to be present in the metaphorical forest to hear the sounds of their voices.

One can hope that Mayor Guthrie will make a point, though, to enhance his listening skills, listen and hear the palpable anger from those living on the margins and keep them inclusive in the process.

For in the seeds of their discomfort may be found some practical and beneficial solutions to the task of developing more affordable housing.

Michael Douglas, Guelph