Shari Decter Hirst - Brandon Mayoral Candidate

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Staff and members of the Canadian CED Network – Manitoba (CCEDNet-MB) called on 2014 municipal election candidates to share their position on policies that support our collective vision of fairer and stronger local economies, reduced poverty, and more sustainable communities. This is Shari Decter Hirst's response:

1. Are you in favour of this policy practice? If yes, how will you work to implement a procurement strategy that takes into account the added economic, social and environmental value of purchasing from businesses that generate community benefit through the inclusion of Community Benefit Clauses in contracts and purchases?

The City of Brandon is governed by NAFTA and other free-trade agreements regarding purchasing. This has significantly curtailed our ability to evaluate options beyond price. We have a Green/ Sustainability Policy, but have not considered a Community Benefit clause. There are obvious benefits, and this should certainly be researched and evaluated.

2. Which planning tools and powers would you ensure the City of Brandon acted upon to encourage the creation and preservation of affordable and social rental housing?

Affordable housing was a significant issue within the community during the 2010 municipal election. As Mayor, I have been privileged to work alongside community leaders who have been instrumental in building affordable housing in our city. The City has in place an Affordable Housing Strategy that mentions several of the tools outlined in the preamble, including:

  • Tax Increment Financing: Currently, Brandon has one housing project approved for Tax Increment Housing, although it has not yet been implemented. This is a proven motivator for developers and there will be other opportunities in the future.
  • Cost Offset Grants: this is a popular option that allows the City to come to the table to support affordable housing initiatives. We also do direct grants from our Affordable Housing Reserve.
  • Planning and Land Use: Brandon has been working in this area directly through changes that we have made for Secondary Suites and Boarding Houses, ensuring that they are owner occupied, as well as safe and in good repair.
  • Inclusionary zoning: IZ provides the opportunity to incent developers to build affordable housing or tithe them into contributing to an affordable housing reserve. While this continues to be an item in Brandon’s Roadmap for Growth under our Affordable Housing pillar, there is significant resistance on the part of the current council to its adoption.

In addition to these items, Brandon has also inventoried all available, developable land and identified several new parcels for affordable housing. We are able to give land as our contribution towards the project, although we are coming to the end of that inventory.

There are affordable housing initiatives happening in many communities. I have followed and supported the Housing Committee work of the Association of Canadian Municipalities, spoken at Manitoba Nonprofit Housing Authority conferences, and brought forward resolutions to Council supporting the Canadian Federation of Municipalities “Fixing Canada’s Housing Crunch” campaign.

3. Are you in favour of a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy for Brandon with targets and timelines? If yes, how will you partner with community-based organizations and other key stakeholders to create and implement one?

I am in favour of a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy for Brandon with targets and timelines. This type of initiative cannot be silo-ed into any one agency, as the root causes of poverty are complex and therefore the resources and strategies must also be complex. The City has been involved with several different stakeholder led initiatives.

The City of Brandon has a Poverty Committee that is chaired by Councillor Jan Chaboyer and provides regular updates to City Council on issues pertaining to poverty. The Poverty Committee hosted a Community Forum last year and the Safe and Warm Extreme Weather Homeless Shelter was one of the tangible results of community stakeholders working together for common good.

The Poverty Committee is also concerned with food security and I was proud to sign Brandon’s first Food Charter. The charter is based on the principle that all citizens, regardless of economic and social status, should have access to sufficient, affordable and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and to be free from hunger. Brandon is the first municipality in Manitoba to have a Food Charter in place

The City has been very involved in affordable housing initiatives, both strategically with our Affordable Housing Strategy, through collaboration with BNRC and other stakeholder groups. Working with partners such as BNRC, CMHA, Youth for Christ, Seniors for Seniors, Habitat for Humanity, Build Brandon, and various service groups, Brandon has been able to increase the number of affordable housing units in Brandon.

But solutions to end poverty are not just a committee responsibility, or even a staff responsibility, but involve us all. In the last four years, the City has been a partner at the table for innovative programs such as the community program offered at Westaway Bay, with the Youth Homelessness initiative you mentioned in your preamble to the question, to sitting in on research presentations on poverty and homelessness, to volunteering every month at the Helping Hands Soup Kitchen. Mayors lead by example, and when something is a priority for the Mayor, it becomes a priority for the City and City staff.