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West End report ranks more rentals as high priority

Improve gay facilities and programming: survey

"Why is there no properly publicly funded and supported LGBTQ community centre in the West End?" one survey respondent asks. Credit: James Loewen photo

A report outlining community priorities has been released by the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee one year after the city-appointed group was created and tasked with investigating the neighbourhood’s needs.

The 161-page report, released July 20, includes input from nearly 1,000 participants representing gay residents, renters, business people and people with young families, who responded to the committee’s survey in May and June. Concerns expressed by community groups such as the West End Neighbours (WEN), West End Residents Association (WERA) and the West End Business Improvement Association (WEBIA) were also considered in the report.

“I want to thank the dedicated volunteers of WEMAC for spending countless hours so that we can get updated information on priorities for the West End,” Mayor Gregor Robertson said in a statement July 27. “This report provides a great snapshot on community priorities from a diverse range of local perspectives, and I want to make sure it is reflected in city decisions going forward.”

Queer member Michelle Fortin feels the committee, with its $10,000 budget and goal of bridging communication between the West End communities, the city and potential developers, did a good job of capturing people’s priorities. “It was hard,” she says. “We actually went into the schools to try to engage young people and their parents.”

The committee’s interim report includes 23 recommendations, most focused on affordable housing, additional rental stock, transportation safety and enhanced livability for the West End.

Fortin says she and the other queer committee members gave the community an opportunity to outline gay-specific concerns for the neighbourhood but received very little response. “We thought that the LGBTQ concerns would rate fairly high and it didn’t,” she says.

One priority noted by community members who responded to the survey is the need to “improve LGBTQ facilities and programming” in the West End.

“The West End is in dire need of a usable, publicly funded, LGBTQ community centre,” one respondent writes. “The existing community centre on Denman St does not fill this role, and the Qmunity centre is drastically underfunded and located in a completely inadequate space. Why is there no properly publicly funded and supported LGBTQ community centre in the West End?”

“It was also noted that the West End is considered by many to be the LGBTQ community ‘home base,’” the report adds.

While members of the gay community held half the seats on the 12-person committee when it was created last summer, today only four remain. Gone from the committee are Rob Hines and artist Tiko Kerr. Remaining are WERA president Christine Ackermann, Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva, Dean Malone and Fortin.

“Having four people is a fairly strong representation of the LGBTQ community,” Fortin maintains.

The report also reflects many residents’ skepticism for council, the mayor and his advisory committee. “Honestly, this is so artificial,” one participant said of the questionnaire. “It is really cynical to ask for community opinion after tearing down [St John’s] church and Maxine’s. You suck!” another resident said.

Fortin says it’s important to show all responses to the survey. “We wanted to make sure that everybody was reflected in the report.”

The committee also echoed a city staff recommendation for a new community plan for the West End, which council approved on July 28. Work on the West End Plan is set to start at the end of the year.

In May, Councillor Ellen Woodsworth expressed concern about the committee’s process, which she thinks the community should have had more say in creating. “I think this is a committee with wonderful people on it, but it should have been chosen by the community, and they should have developed the survey and area plan with the community supported by the staff.”

“We want to be the West End Advisory Council,” agrees Fortin. “We want to drop the mayor’s part,” she says, adding that in the future she wants to see the committee move away from city hall and become more community-based.

“It’s all a very fascinating experiment going on in the West End,” says WEN’s Randy Helten. “It’s a core study for the city.”

“It’s a bit early for the community to have had a chance to look at the report,” he continues, “but I hope a lot of people review it and find that it reflects the community perspectives in a valid way.”

“At the end of the day, without conversation it is not a democracy,” Fortin says.

The full report can be downloaded here.