Residents of a housing complex in Ottawa’s Nepean neighbourhood are demanding the city turn down a proposal that would put their homes in the crosshairs of the planned light-rail transit expansion to Barrhaven.
Dozens of residents marched down Woodroffe Avenue on Thursday afternoon, chanting and waving signs to rally support for their effort to preserve Manor Village.
Transportation committee is due to consider a staff report on Monday that includes a recommended path for the Stage 3 of LRT, which could connect Baseline Station to Nepean Sportsplex and the Barrhaven Town Centre farther south.
But staff’s recommended route for the first phase of the project would see an elevated guideway for the train cut right through Manor Village, requiring the demolition of 120 out of 205 rental units on the site.
The proposal is “heartbreaking” to single mother Alison Trowbridge, who has lived in Manor Village with her young son for the past seven years.
Speaking to a gathered crowd of residents and ACORN Ottawa housing advocates on Thursday afternoon, Trowbridge described what the community has meant to her and her son, who struggles with his mental health but feels safe in Manor Village.
“I’ve lived in this neighbourhood for seven years. In that seven years, I have crumbled. I became a single mom and had no idea where I was going to go. It’s because of a lot of the people standing here that I’ve made it this far,” she said. “We’d be lost without you guys. And I don’t want to start over, I can’t start over.”
Trowbridge and many other residents in the housing complex are low-income families. She tells Global News that if she is “demovicted” from her home for the planned LRT route, she will be forced out onto the streets.
“We don’t have another option. We are a low-income family, I’m on assistance, and I’m maxed out on funds,” she says.
“There is that strong possibility of losing our homes. It completely flips our world upside down.”
City staff’s preferred LRT route is one of six possible paths the tracks could take. Among the other possibilities were elevated guideways or dug-out trenches for the rail along Woodroffe Avenue itself.
The staff report says the recommended route would provide the “shortest and straightest alignment” for the track, therefore minimizing curves, passenger disruption and maintenance costs. It would also reduce traffic disruptions on Woodroffe during and after construction.
Trowbridge says it hurts to read that these are some of the factors to justify displacing Manor Village.
“There are roughly 500 people here that could lose their homes, for what? For traffic, for other businesses,” she says.
“Personally, hearing that they’re concerned about shutting Woodroffe down for the construction of an alternative that wouldn’t displace us, it hurts to find out that’s more important versus this many people that will end up homeless.”
The total estimated cost of the Barrhaven LRT extension is priced at $3 billion, but scenarios involving the other five alternatives are not costed in the report.
Global News reached out to the City of Ottawa on Friday to request information on the price differences between the preferred option and other alternatives, but a spokesperson for the city said staff would not comment until Monday’s transportation committee meeting.
The report submitted for committee approval on Monday is an environmental assessment, an engineering-driven analysis that’s required before the city can go to the province or the federal government to apply for project funding.
Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, whose ward includes Manor Village, says staff are put in difficult positions when they’re asked to factor issues such as housing next to soil and groundwater impacts in the same report.
“It’s kind of a clunky device to deal with things like housing,” Egli says.
Egli, who doesn’t sit on the transportation committee and therefore won’t have a formal say in Monday’s vote, says he’s been in touch with the chair of the committee and city staff to find ways to mitigate any impacts on Manor Village residents.
He says he has asked his colleagues at council to ask “tough questions” to staff on why this route was chosen over others that wouldn’t have seen any units demolished.
Egli says there are also opportunities to get Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) involved in transitioning residents to possible new affordable developments in the area, which is in keeping with city priorities of intensification around the LRT line.
The report echoes this, calling the situation a “unique opportunity” to redevelop the area with references to surplus city-owned lands near the planned Knoxdale Station.
These ideas fall flat to Trowbridge, who says such proposals to relocate the community are “empty promises.”
She notes that city council declared a housing and homelessness emergency earlier this year, and OCH already has a years-long waitlist to place tenants.
To evict an entire community in the midst of a housing crisis, therefore, reeks of “empty concern,” Trowbridge says.
“We want the city standing behind us as tenants. We want them to vote no, to recommend an option that does not displace our homes,” she says.
Egli says he sympathizes with Manor Village residents and believes there are options that can avoid putting anyone out on the streets.
Funding and approvals for Stage 3 LRT have yet to be secured, so any shovels in the ground on the project are still many years down the line. Egli says he is optimistic staff can find solutions that will suit residents’ needs.
He acknowledges, however, that “saying that there’s time to work it out doesn’t take away that stress” for Manor Village residents.
Even if the transportation committee or city council vote down the proposed route in favour of an alternative that keeps the rental units out of jeopardy, another spectre of redevelopment hangs over Manor Village.
Ottawa-based Smart Living Properties finalized its purchase of the complex in September. The company builds and manages residences in Ottawa aimed at students and young professionals, but has yet to publicly disclose its plans for Manor Village.
Trowbridge says she and her neighbours have heard little from the new property owner about the fates of their homes.
Egli says potential redevelopment of the site might be in the cards even without the city’s intervention, based on what he’s heard of Smart Living’s plans.
“My understanding is they’re also waiting to see what the eventual decision is by the transportation committee and council. But it’s certainly within their future plans to do renovations and possibly a full redevelopment of the property,” he says.
“It may be even more immediate than anything the city plans to do.”
Global News reached out to Smart Living Properties via the company’s website and through phone calls on Friday but did not hear back.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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