On December 7 the City of Regina hosted an open forum for residents to learn about the rezoning of a building on 12th Avenue and St. John Street. If the rezoning is approved by City Council, this building could be the home of Carmichael Outreach, which is currently located just a few blocks away. That organization's need for a new building is undeniable. But is this intersection appropriate?
Chief among the concerns is the presence of a needle exchange program to be housed in Carmichael. Some also suggest that this move will bring crime into an area that is already dotted by abandoned property and on-street substance abuse. On the first point, RQHR, which runs the needle exchange program, indicates that the used needle return rate is nearly 100%, so it's unlikely that the needles dispensed through Carmichael will end up tossed into people's yards. The RPS (Regina Police Service) also indicates that the calls it currently receives from the area immediately surrounding Carmichael is negligible compared to calls it responds to throughout Heritage. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that property values surrounding Carmichael will be negatively affected. Instead, the development of the abandoned building on 12th will provide landscaping, a fence, and a usable humanitarian space.
To date my biggest challenge as Councillor has been working with Heritage residents who have expressed concerns over the intent of Carmichael Outreach to move into a new space located on 12th Avenue. Two weeks ago I brought the parties together - Heritage Community Association, Carmichael, residents - to discuss. This is not a case of NIMBYism as some have alleged, but of a community genuinely concerned with the future of this historic and largely disadvantaged quarter of Regina. And most of the folks who oppose the relocation are firm supporters of Carmichael and its place in Heritage. It's also important to note that there is need in this area for the type of humanitarian services currently being offered by Carmichael, according to the "Core Neighbourhood Sustainability Action Plan." I should also point out that I have received calls and emails of support from residents on that same block, so there is no consensus in the neighbourhood on what should be done.
Nothing about this issue is simple. Heritage has long been neglected by the City and economic development, like much of Regina's inner core. This is a symptom of the suburban flight that started in the 1950s and 60s. And, along with North Central, Heritage is one of the last remaining stocks of affordable housing, owned and rental. People in the area justifiably want change. In the long term, what Heritage needs is investment in infrastructure, services, community spaces (parks, centres, etc.), and commercial development that is sensitive to the local demographics. This does not mean gentrification, as outsiders fear. (Note: The local, working class residents who have called Heritage home for 10-30 years point out that the "gentrification" and "NIMBY" boogie man has been summoned by middle class academics who reside in Cathedral and more affluent parts of the city. Present company included. Are they wrong?) What makes this whole case so tragic is that working class people are being pitted against an even more marginalized population and an organization that provides this constituency with much needed services.
The decision I make on Council won't come easy. What do community members think I should do?