Housing a big topic at Ward 3 meeting

Ward 3 councillor Rino Bortolin gives a presentation during his annual ward meeting at the Windsor Public Library central branch, October 8, 2019. Photo by Mark Brown/Blackburn News.

The accomplishments and challenges of Windsor’s city centre were on display at Windsor Public Library Tuesday night.

A large crowd filled the lobby area of the central library to take part in the city’s annual Ward 3 meeting, hosted by Ward 3 Councillor Rino Bortolin. He was joined by representatives of the Windsor Police Service, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, and representatives from a host of city departments. Members of city administration were on hand to answer one-on-one questions about services crucial to Ward 3. Mayor Drew Dilkens attended the meeting but did not speak.

For the last several years, Ward 3, which includes downtown, has been the focus of the city’s bigger problems, such as crime, homelessness and opioid addiction. However, Bortolin also pointed out the inroads the city has made to the ward as far as parks, development and crime prevention are concerned. For example, the city’s Community Improvement Plan (CIP) helped bring housing units to the ward that otherwise would not be there, said Bortolin.

“When we worked on a downtown planning study that developed our Community Improvement Plan, that CIP has already passed over 338 units, worth over $107 million,” said Bortolin, adding that the bulk of that housing influx comes from a major development being built now at Wyandotte Street West and Crawford Avenue.

The downside to that is the increasing demand for affordable housing, said Bortolin, pointing out that the city of Windsor went from having one of the largest vacancy rates in Ontario a few years ago, to practically no vacancy today. Increased demand for university students and higher rents due to bigger demand for housing are also factors.

The new Meadowbrook development, the first major investment in affordable housing in Windsor in three decades, is a positive step but the councillor said it doesn’t scratch the surface.

“We’re not even keeping up with the new demand,” said Bortolin. “A hundred and forty-five units, and that’s over 30 years, shows you when there’s 5,000 people on the waiting list, how tight and how much pressure we have on the problem.”

A variety of other issues were brought up by guest speakers like Windsor Police Inspector Jason Bellaire, who discussed how the city is handling downtown crime through the hiring of 24 new officers and the creation of the Problem-Oriented Patrol (POP) unit to patrol downtown on busier evenings. When it came time for questions from the audience, topics were brought up ranging from the future of the Grace Hospital site to vacant downtown buildings.

Bortolin said the city was looking at expressions of interest for the Grace Hospital site, one of which belongs to Hotel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, an occupant of that parcel from 1920 to 2004. HDGH announced a plan last month to create new housing for the area, with an emphasis on health services.

Two ward meetings are scheduled for this week in the city of Windsor. The Ward 8 meeting, hosted by first-term Councillor Gary Kaschak, is Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Haig Avenue. Another first-term councillor, Ward 2’s Fabio Costante, will have his turn Thursday night at the Church of the Ascension on University Avenue West. Everyone is welcome to all meetings.