On Tech Wages, YQG Perception and Leadership

Last week (Jan 23) the Brooksfield Institute put out a report that outlined wage and employment in Tech in CMAs across Canada. Windsor came out of the report ranked with the highest wage gaps between men and women in Canada.

On January 30th a rebuttal emerged. Now I have a lot of respect for Yvonne and her organization WE-Tech Alliance, I don’t agree with every position she takes, nor would I expect her to agree with me on every position I take. I also understand the position she takes as the head of an economic develop agency in our community. Fundamentally Ec-Dev organizations are at their core place-based marketing firms. They exist to sell a town, community or region to businesses, investors and people. I experienced this first hand when Sandra Pupatello chewed me out for this story in the Windsor Star, which hit the media just prior to starting a short term contract role at WEEDC. A learning experience for me, absolutely, but it hammers home the role of Ec Dev orgs. to make a place seem the most attractive and positive location as possible. The question becomes in my opinion should that positive first narrative drive our community conversations or not.

When I look at the post I agree that there are many great opportunities and resources for women in Windsor/Essex but I also feel it misses an opportunity to show adaptive leadership in our community. The missed opportunity is that post put the emphasis on others to do the work. She calls on employers to change, women to do more, the community at large to adapt, educators and parents to learn and teach. What the post fails to recognize is that many of the opportunities and she outlines requires a level of privilege and opportunity that isn’t available for many women (or men) in our community. I mentor and support women in my day job, but there are not enough Richard Peddie, Frank Abbruzzese in our community to go around. Both Yvonne and I are lucky to have had parents, who inspired, mentored and supported us to achieve what we wanted in life except there are 17,000 single parent households where might not be as true for the next generation.

I am privileged in my upbringing as a white male from an upper middle class nuclear family that enabled me to go to post-secondary education and 2 masters degrees. My partner is a brilliant PhD graduate is Biology who can’t find permanent work in our community and spent her holidays working retail because “I will be damned if you (Frazier) pay for my own Christmas gifts”. I too am not an expert on Tech or HR nor I don’t claim to be perfect or that I haven’t made mistakes but I recognize that I have had tons of opportunity and am where I am because both of my privilege and hard work. Equity means rolling up our sleeves, setting aside the advantages that we have and lifting up those who don’t have that same chance. That is missing in my opinion from the suggestions that were made. 

I don’t view the Brooksfield research as an attack on our community they are simply stating facts based on data. Could it have been framed in a different way, sure; could the media reported it in a more balanced manner, I guess, but we have acknowledged that our community faces a challenge in diversifying our economy and women face structural barriers to success. If we are worried that a tech company or woman won’t come to this community because of a bad media report, maybe we should develop a plan to solve the problem that they are writing about instead of burying our head in the sand. Do we want to attract them here and have them find out that we sold them a flight of fancy and things aren’t as they seem? What is the reputational risk of that?

Research like that from Brookfield gives us a baseline through which we can compare ourselves in the future. I do agree that this report (or any report) cannot capture every nuance of our community. That being said it does allow apples to apples comparison to other communities to be made. From this baseline we can determine if all of the activities and opportunities listed are they actually moving the needle in our region and allows us to measure change, re-calibrate and continuously improve. If we aren’t moving up the rankings next year or census then we need to try something else. We need to bring actual outcomes based data to the table; something the post also fails to do, to see if we are moving the needle as spinning positive message and not talking about our challenges only goes so far.

That being said, I do take exception to elements of one of the points.

Don’t always believe headlines “Windsor is the Worst Place For Women“.

First, in this era of #fakenews the post comes very close to calling parents and teachers to ignore respected academic work and the news media that reports it. The “Windsor is the Worst Place for Women” is a striking headline but research that has been conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which is a respected progressive think tank which has published a wide range of research on universal child care, wage and gender gaps across the country, pharmacare to name a few topics, which are policy solutions that would help close the wage gap that started this discussion. If we don’t believe that headline from a reputable news organization (CBC, Windsor Star, CTV) should we ignore “Windsor’s unemployment rate drops below national average” and do some additional research on that number? No leader in 2019 Canada should be calling on people to question respected media sources or research organizations.

Do your own research.

You ask parent and educators to go do research on what is being reported to them. We all know that they don’t/won’t do that as people don’t have time, energy or effort to do that and that is why Donald Trump is President of the United States. This is one the great challenges facing our society today, but to blanket any opposing statement as potential falsehood and create distrust by driving people to research and find potentially false truths in the media is also a risky endeavor. As a society we rely on expert opinions like those of Think Tanks to conduct research inform debate and policy. As this is what I do for a living and you asked me to do my own research, I did. These are facts from the 2016 Census for the Windsor CMA (the same geography and base data as the Brookfield’s Report):

  • 3,710 women (compared to 2,405 men) live in our region and speak neither English nor French. – Creating barriers to accessing education, employment or services.
  • Median income for women after tax $27,050 (vs $40,881 for men); average $31,364 ($44,208) – they make less money.
  • Female income percentage from employment: 64% vs 72.6% for men – women are more dependent on government transfers for income than men. There is some qualification bias here.
  • 81% of lone parent families are led by women. – single women are raising more kids then men.
  • After tax 7,300 women over the age of 15 have 0 total income (5,860 men)
  • 52% of women live in the bottom half of the income distribution vs 48% of men.
  • 30,120 women and girls are living in low income (LIM-AT) compared to 26,635 men and boys.
  • Workforce participation rate for women in the census was 56.1% compared to 64% for men.

Women in the Windsor CMA face greater challenges then men, this is a fact. The Census does paint a bleak picture for women in our community via statistical data. All you can say about this is that it may have improved since 2015, when the census was taken. On the other hand, it may have gotten worse we won’t know for sure until 2022 when data from the next census becomes available. It wouldn’t surprise me if CCPA came out again with its rankings and Windsor remained near the bottom.

A shift in thinking is needed from success being measure based on outputs around good headlines, great events and one off engagements to a system of longitudinal system level outcomes being tracked. It takes a generation to transform an economy and a region. A negative headline per year over 20 years of progress is nothing in grand scheme of things. As a leader, Yvonne can implement many of her own suggestions in her own organization and replicate best practice research and measurement: do a local study on closing the salary gap in the local tech industry; diversify her own organization board of directors, conduct focus groups with women in tech and share their stories both good and bad.

I am happy to share positive stories on our community and region. The problem that I struggle with is without data, how do we know that the story isn’t masking a bigger problem; and without robust dialogue around solutions and true and transparent buy in from industry, it is kind of hard to move the need.

The Windsor Research Project – Where are the People?

Where are People in Windsor-Essex?

As was mentioned earlier in a previous post, there is a lack of literature on mid-size Canadian cities and urban/sprawl issues which creates challenges in finding comparative context for our community. The vast majority of literature, research and best practices on sprawl focus on large urban centres. Large cities are home to the most acute cases of sprawl that present symptoms so severe that research has focused on solutions to the problems and individuals are willing to pay a price for greater convenience/lifestyle. Due to the lack literature on small and medium sized communities (of which Windsor-Essex is one) it limits the ability to accurately measure the impacts and consequences of outward growth in these communities.

That being said some research has emerged, with a professor from Queens University presented at 2017 Canadian Council of Urbanism Conference showed how mid-size urban centres in Ontario are transforming. Between 2006-11, urban cores of mid-size centres in Ontario shrunk by just under 10% while “auto suburbs” saw population growth nearing 90%, “exurban areas” growing by nearly 15%. The mid-belt “transit suburbs” only growing just by 5% with the technical definitions of each of these area being found in the report linked above. Over the same period, in large CMAs urban areas cores grew 6% while featuring significantly less suburban and exurban growth. Although there are comparative challenges in drawing conclusions between various mid-size urban centres due to their particular circumstance, the broader trend illustrated is clear, mid-sized urban cores face significant challenges in Ontario.

Gordon produced an updated paper with 2016 Census data in August of 2018. Looking at the Windsor CMA (this includes Amherstburg, Lakeshore, Lasalle and Tecumseh) we find:

untitled

The conclusions that are drawn from Gordon’s report show the uphill challenge faced by mid-sized urban areas across the country in revitalizing their centres. Although from his analysis based on Census Tracts some quibbling could be made around which tracts fall into what category given local context. The ability to apply practices and policies to smaller communities that do not face the same overt costs and challenges of larger centres remains a significant barrier in attempting to revitalize the cores of those communities.

Windsor and broader Essex County as a whole, will never face the vast distances of traffic gridlock that the GTA endures. As a result we will never face the same social, physical or economic costs of the scale of sprawl which in turn makes justifying and financing infrastructure change or policy shifts that much more difficult. With a average commute time of 18.8 minutes and 80.8% of people commuting to work arriving in under 30 minutes, Windsor CMA has one of the shortest commutes in all of Canada, who is to say to people that they live too far away from a city centre or their place of work? 

Flows 

Windsor-Essex County has a population of 398,953 people, divided between 8 separate municipalities. From a scale standpoint, Windsor dominates the region with being home to 52% of the population, this municipal division is little more than an illusion of artificial (some might say tribal) boundaries. With a drive time of an hour or so you can reach almost any point in the region in a reasonable amount of time which in turn has enable people to move outward.

On a typical day 2/3 of worker living in the town of Tecumseh and LaSalle leave their communities and cross into Windsor; they are joined half of Amherstburg and Lakeshore workers. In other words the rest of CMA is largely just a housing many of the employees of Windsor. Essex is home to a slightly lower rate of commuting to Windsor with just over 1/3 of its working coming to the City. Tecumseh is Essex next largest employer and I would suspect that the Old Castle tool and die cluster being the primary draw down highway 3.

Kingsville and Leamington are the outliers in our region, as Leamington holds a significant portion of it’s working population within their municipality. This is likely due to its relative distance, larger size and limited access to Windsor that makes it more of an employment anchor. It is anchor facilities, like Erie Shores Health Care and the Greenhouse sector, which also enables it to attract approximately 1,800 people from Kingsville (about the same portion that commutes to Windsor from Kingsville) and about 1,000 from Chatham-Kent. The outstanding balance of the work force are employed in the other municipalities or across the border in Detroit. What is important to read in these numbers is the scope of the commuting into Windsor.  There isn’t anything explicitly wrong with this migration as these flows of people are simply reacting to the perceived advantages of living in one community and working in another. 

The Creative Class

Given these population flows the question that must be discussed is who is living where. Although not without controversy, Richard Florida’s research and views on the “Creative class” have embedded themselves in social political culture. The idea of the techy, hipster living downtown and revitalizing the community via trendy coffee shops and hip attractions/amenities is the vision for most urban downtowns. Although Florida’s own mec culpa recognizes and attempts to reconcile his brand of what I would call elitist urbanism with its impacts on existing populations. Drawing people downtown remains the focus of politicians, community groups and local champions in our region. Mark Boscariol and I had a number of conversations on how Windsor could attract people and students downtown as well as the potential trade-offs of that attraction. Having listened to RCP year in review show and having finished reaching Florida’s book for a second time, it got me thinking about Florida’s creative class, and Mark’s belief in downtown. 

The question becomes who is living downtown and where is Windsor’s (Essex County) “creative class”? Florida generally defines the creative class as more education professionals who are responsible for the creation of intellectual property. The “creative class” (generally) are not those who create (physically build) the widget but rather those who design the widget. Unfortunately employment data that Florida has used to measure the creative class is not readily available for our region. 

As a result I looked at 3 proxies. First, where do people with greater than a University degree reside in our region. This isn’t to say that a BA isn’t sufficient to be a member of the “creative class” (BA in Computer Science as an example) but unfortunately this is how census data is parceled. The two maps below show, by total number of individuals over the age of 15 who hold educational level greater than a bachelor degree by census DA.

The map on the left shows the portion of the population with a degree above a BA while the map on the shows the total number of degree holders. Given that a post-graduate degree in our community is worth almost $17,000 per year compared to a BA in average wages ($98,700 vs $81,800) in the Windsor CMA. The presence of these concentrations of higher income degree holders creates an pockets of populations where needs are met, there is greater disposable income and in turn greater time to access community amenities and advocate for services. Unsurprisingly Old Walkerville and near the University are home to higher rates of post-graduate degrees (as a percentage) but from a raw number standpoint more live in Wards 1, 7 and 10 than the core (green map). These higher totals spill over into LaSalle and Lakeshore.

Another way to look at the data is by occupation area. Statistics Canada tracks ten occupation classification in public data: Management; Business, Finance and Administration; Natural and Applied Sciences; Health Occupations;  Occupations in Education, Law, and Social, Community and Government; Occupations in Art, Culture, Recreation and Sport; Sales and Services; Trades, Transport and Equipment Operators; Natural Resource Extraction and Agriculture; and Occupations in Manufacturing and Utilities. 

If we were to group these categories using Florida’s rough guidelines of creative vs non-creative employment sectors: we would find the first six categories (Management through Art, Culture and Rec.) generally aligning with the creative class and the last four generally do not. 

The map above illustrates percentage of population that reports being in the creative occupational categories. With a relatively strong correlation of 0.64 between the presence of a “creative” occupations and a rise in average income (median income scores 0.59). What is striking is when this is compared with 2006. When you compare the 2006 and the 2016 data (setting aside the shapefile differences creating distortion) you see dramatic shifts in our region. Part of this has to do with the changing nature of our economy through the Great Recession but when compared with other communities there is still work to be done.

Comparing Occupation classes by Census

Beyond our region we find, that we lag our peer communities and competitors in the global talent races which of course has consequences for economic diversification.

A third measure of the “creative class” is by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). Unfortunately at a sub-municipal level to ensure privacy of the responses only general industrial sectors (2 digit) are available. Given that there are 20 industrial codes compared to the 10 occupation codes it does allow for a more refined measure of types of jobs that are available. I divided the codes into two groups:

From these categories we find:

Due to measurement changes and available data not all 2006 rates are available.

What can be taken way is that due to the greater precision of the 20 categories, the actual “creative” levels in our economy decline from the 10 occupational categories. Our region in 2016 still lags Provincial and peer communities.

Within the mapping what we find is yet again an overall shift in the our region toward the more creative but where these people are living matters most. The biggest winners of the decade from a industry perspective were the suburban and semi-rural municipalities while core areas of Windsor (West Windsor, Wyandotte corridor) continued to struggle. Through a basic corollary analysis we find a weak negative correlation (-0.35) presences of the creative class employment and prevalence of low income. In other words, neighbourhoods with high rates of “creative” economy members, there tend to be lower rates of poverty.

The biggest taken away from this crude analysis of the “creative class” is that overall circumstance have improved but we are not catching up to the rest of the province. In an age of globalized work forces this puts our region at significant risk.

Density for Who?

Based on Florida’s arguments, the “Creative class” when in significant concentrations will drive urban revival. Growth of “creative” clustering outside of the city core has an important impact. From the Occupation data we find that in 2006, there is only 1 DA had greater than 75% concentration of creative employment, compared to 2016 Census DA with a 93%. In other words, the employment homogeneity of our neighbourhoods is shifting.

In 2006, only 16 DA in Essex County were home to greater than 2/3 of residents being in a creative occupation, in 2016 that is 44. Of those 44 DA, 21 reside in Windsor with only 5 being in the “Core”, 4 clustered around Walkerville and 1 closer to downtown. The remaining 16 are clustered in Ward 1 in and around Roseland; Old Riverside in Ward 6 and new developments in Ward 10. Contrary to Florida’s prediction, concentration of creative classes have not moved towards the city centre, demanding greater urban services. In fact in 2006, 11 of the 16 DAs with highest concentrations (66% or greater) were in Windsor, 4 in the core. Two of these DAs maintained their “creative” populations (Walkerville) while two lost populations, one near Ouellette Campus and one near the University in ward 2. In other words, there are more “creative” people in Windsor but they are not clustering in the core.

What we live in is a modest sized region that is then artificially divided into smaller governing units. It comes from these artificial divisions that a true debate of whether the sprawl like development occurring in our region and whether it has reached a point where actual measurable negative consequences can be found. Of course road traffic into Windsor from the surrounding communities carries a cost to the infrastructure of the City but those costs are unavoidable given the context and nature of the region. Even if Essex County was a single municipal government (like Chatham-Kent) those same costs would have had to have been bore and much of the development that has occurred would have likely occurred anyways and the fundamental nature of Windsor housing stock and layout would have still have encourage peripheral development.

per square km

The above chart illustrates population density by municipality but it removes the vast tracks of rural areas surrounding their own urban areas. For each of the communities, these developed areas make up a clear majority of the municipal population and in many ways show how concentrated people are.

In many ways the smaller municipalities of Essex County are actually better placed to develop more compact, urban communities than Windsor is. When you look at 2016 population density data for the developed areas of each municipality you see that in many cases these communities are denser from a population standpoint then Windsor.

These comparable population densities actual give the small municipalities of Essex County a significant advantage when compared to Windsor. A single amenity (bike lane, library, community centre etc.) in these communities is a far more impact on quality of life and connectivity then in Windsor. Items like the redevelopment of Amherstburg downtown. improving Leamington Waterfront or a new bike lanes connecting communities will transform these communities while a major project like the Riverside visit project or Ouelette ave redevelopment are pieces of a much bigger puzzle.

Windsor for its part does have the economies of scale to take on more projects due to its larger tax base, but it is burdened with the costs of maintaining an aging infrastructure. Looking at the proposed and bold active transit strategy for the City of Windsor the the time frames involved (20+ years) to reach some of the targets, show the scope of the challenge as culture change takes time and decades of investment.

In the meantime people are voting with their feet and wallets. More affluent suburban communities are comparably dense to Windsor, are home to higher concentrations of community amenities and all within a drive that is one of the shortest in Canada to their job. Even within Windsor, the trade offs between tackling the needs and wants of our community are at odds. Home to one of the highest poverty rates in Canada we fret over bike lanes, give subsidies to developers to build unaffordable units downtown while not fundamentally investing solutions to some of the broader social challenges.

Although not entirely mutually exclusive, given the resources constraints of pending cuts at a provincial level, and a mantra fiscal responsibility at City Hall choices will have to be made and questions will have to be asked. A truly urban centre can be built, and it can be connected to surrounding neighbourhoods through innovative and active transit solutions. If we don’t solve some of the underlying social issues in those same areas will they actually attract the “creative” individuals and companies that we are hoping to attract when they can get an equivalent lifestyle with less hassle in another part of the region.

The Windsor Research Project – This Old House

This Old House

Delving into the question of why the region is sprawling out, part the discussion must begin with the historical legacy of housing in our region.

Updating Housing Stock

As the table above illustrates, Windsor’s housing stock is substantially older than other parts of our region. As a result there are challenges in aligning these homes with modern need and preferences.  When people think of older housing in Windsor their thoughts tend to drift to stately, heritage homes of Old Walkerville, Sandwich and Victoria Ave downtown. In fact the homes that we are speaking about are more likely to look like are these:

The first home (left to right) is the house my dad grew up in. On Byng Rd. south of Tecumseh, it featured 2 bedrooms plus a attic room where 4 kids were raised with 1.5 baths. On the fringe of Windsor in the 1960s (now it is near the geographic centre of the City), the house featured a steep staircase to get into the basement and up to the second floor and 4 steps to get in the front door made the house nearly unworkable for my grandmother prior to her passing. Those same staircases forced a closed layout that didn’t allow for an open concept on the main level and only the decision by my grandparents to blow out the back wall of the house and build a porch did they get access to their backyard. A furnished basement added some additional living space and was home to the extra half bath, unfortunately it was (and I suspect still is) susceptible to flooding.

The second house is my home in West Windsor. With no basement and knee-walled upstairs the 1200ish sq ft. are great for my wife and I with our dogs. I would call this a prototypical “starter home” but I’ll be honest, if we were to have kids (or get more dogs), it would be hard to stay here despite being a block from a school. Both my wife and I work at home; she uses the second bedroom as her office while I used the former dinning room. A single bathroom is never ideal when two adults have to be places in the morning. 

The third home was my mom’s mother house on Janette Ave. Although the largest and oldest of the three houses, it featured only one bathroom and an unfinished basement with a 7 foot ceiling making almost unusable other than storage. Much like my dad’s house stairs played a major role in the design and it was these stairs that forced my grandmother from her home over a fifteen years ago. 

Although these homes have worked (and continue to work) for families in our community, times and preferences have changed. Compare these older homes to the “needs and wants” of many modern families. A room for every child, on-suite bathrooms, home offices spaces, separate TV rooms, open concept floor plans, energy efficient designs and appliances, a backyard, 2000+ sq ft, a garage, etc. Windsor older housing leave a lot to be desired for a significant portion of the population.   Without a doubt there is another segment of the population that these amenities don’t appeal to, but the question that has to be asked is whether they represent a significant enough portion of our community to drive political and economic decision making is another question. 

Impact of this Misalignment

The impact of this housing misalignment is partially illustrated in the map below.

housing price

Taken from home sale data from 2005 and 2015 that was collected as part of the Neighbourhood Market Value Study by the City of Windsor. The map illustrates the price change by equal count categories. When digging through the raw data, of the 379 DAs where data was available, 168 saw the median sale value in a neighbourhood decline over the decade, while another 29 DAs saw their values increase at a rate of less than inflation during that 10 year period (2.45% annually). The geographic concentrations of these swings are at least partially based on the fundamentals of the stock and not cyclical economic factors, especially since this data was snapshot pre/post the recession. More evidence emerges from the Windsor Real Estate Association data from 2014 and 2015.  

Open in a new window to view

The above shows how different neighbourhoods/communities residential prices changed year over year. As averages there were certainly some outliers and as we know that prices have continued to rise. What is clear is that the greatest growth in housing prices are emerging in areas of the city where the stock is newest. I myself bought by home built in the 1950s in West Windsor for $118,000 in December of 2016. What is important to takeaway is that not every neighbourhood is valued equally which many advocates in our community fail to account for and is largely the reason why developers have avoided building in the core without subsidies. 

Looking at home buyer preferences and matching them to Windsor’s housing market a general disconnect becomes clear. Although there are plenty of denser designed single family homes in Windsor’s core, unfortunately many of them are older, smaller and misaligned with modern tastes in housing which would require expensive renovation. Examining millennial housing preferences (other sources: here, here ) outside of walkable neighbourhoods and/or transit density they want things in a home that many houses in the city’s core don’t easily provide. Of course affordability is important but given that Essex County is one of the most affordable regions in Canada that point is of less importance than in the GTA or Vancouver. As a result millennials are looking for turn key, low upkeep, energy efficient, technology enabled, homes with open floor plans, modern appliances and home office spaces for their side hustle. When I think of downtown housing, although pieces of this are present in particular houses, they are not present at scale. 

Shifting demographics to seniors, looking at best practices in senior housing design, existing housing stock in Windsor’s core fails to meet many standards. My aforementioned grandmother had to leave her home due to not being able to climb the stairs to enter/exit her house while her laundry and chest freezer were largely out of reach. Doorways not wide enough for walkers or wheel chairs, non-accessible showers or bathtubs, lack of main floor laundry and a desire for a low/no maintenance dwelling much of the housing in the core of Windsor fail to meet these best practices and desires. Generally seniors like millennials are looking for turn key accommodations not moving into a downsized home that then needs tens of thousand of renovations.

Research out of CMHC from BC point to another key point, downsizing seniors still want space. For their “future home” 73% of seniors want a 2 bedroom or larger home, 34% identifying a single family home as their ideal dwelling followed by apartments/condos at 27%. Although from a different province the survey was a statistically significant sample and when I look at these numbers I see the new builds of ranch style homes in LaSalle or Lakeshore as being more compatible to these desires than a 20+ year old home in Windsor’s core. 

Building Out

The City of Windsor Market Value study pointed out that in portions of the city, developers simply couldn’t make a profit, this is was justification for the reduction of development charges in core areas of the City and the implementation of the Downtown CIP. The result of that lack of profit making ability we saw an outward push in development as new greenfield homes do turn a profit. Data from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation shows suburban County is out stripping the City in new home construction.

Housing Construction

Following Jan 2018, CMHC changing how they reported this data (because I can’t have nice things), from Jan to Oct 2018, the City of Windsor saw another 287 new units started, while the rest of the CMA saw 487 units. Unfortunately I haven’t be able to find a comparable breakdown of how these units are allocated as they become available only after a year is completed. It does appear that there is some shift in the style of housing towards semi-detached town homes, but they are still being built, at scale on greenfield sites.

Greenfield construction seems to be here to stay based on this data and even without including the Sandwich South Development Lands, the rest of the CMA has lands for thousands, if not tens of thousands of new homes. LaSalle’s (now former) mayor stated on Windsor Morning the town plans for 50,000 people north of Laurier parkway; new sewers have been approved in Amherstburg to “spur development”; Tecumseh suspending fees on certain development and the Town of Essex investing in Harrowby removing development charges.

This outward construction has not helped the rental situation in the City of Windsor.  When looking at the ratio of household ownership to rental by ward you see clear patterns. Concentration of rental households in core also impacts that overall housing market.

From a profit standpoint it is both cheaper and easier to build homes for sale than apartments for rent. At the same time there is a strong correlation (0.64) between renters and low income prevalence within the city. This does help paint some of the implicate outcomes of research on rental properties impacts on housing values (another here) that shows correlations with overall property values of a neighbourhood depending on the concentration, state and form of the rental housing.  Hence the battles between NIMBY homeowners against density and rental/affordable development. Even if those battles aren’t apparent (here as well) in our region they are baked into the process through which housing developers decide to build, they take the path of least resistance.

The census provides us another view of our regions development patterns. The following table shows the change in occupied housing type between the 2016 and 2011 census for each municipality and the Wards of Windsor. Definitions of the housing type can be found here.

Housing

Ward 7, 9 and 10 are all home to large sections of development lands which is targeted for suburban development in the City of Windsor but these development levels pale in comparison to the nearby LaSalle and Lakeshore for single detached homes. The decline in single detached homes in Ward 2-4, I would suspect result from both the conversion of homes into rental properties and rooming housing, and the removal of some blighted properties. 

So why are things happening this way?

Windsor Ugly Housing Issue

Fundamentally the City’s core is largely landlocked. Although there is plenty of vacant land, very little of it is connected in a manner that allows it to be assembled to build a subdivision that allow economies of scale. Generally a developer doesn’t want to build one or two houses, they want to build twenty or thirty as that is where there are increased profit margins. In addition, as much of the available land is some form of brownfield or has a vacant buildings already on it, the cost of that remediation for many lots in the core must be factored into the developers mind.

Despite there possibly being a latent desire for additional urban options in housing, broader statistics show that existing housing stock in Windsor is misaligned to the desires of many demographic groups. The recent CIP fueled announcements for the downtown core do offer promise new development but they still need to provide perceived value. One of the larger projects a 16 story, 120 unit building has been proposed downtown and supported through the CIP isn’t a done deal and still faces some hurdles in my opinion.

Downtown Apartment

The above numbers are an estimate based on publicly available information and they assume no profit making, construction delays, added costs or revenue to cover future maintenance. These numbers also don’t include the potential benefit of the subsidies offered by the City. Although very basic in its assumptions with the per unit cost being over $90 per month more then the average rental rate in Ward 3 before the owner makes his money back. The question becomes who lives here? 

If these units come in a $900+ per month or are selling as condos for $275,000 or $300,000 are existing residents able to afford that? At that price point and a few hundred dollars more in monthly payments, you could own a home and live the suburban dream instead of rent. The price you would pay is having to put up with one of the shortest commutes in the country to get to and from where you need to be. 

My house in West Windsor, certainly has appreciated in value in the past couple of years that I have owned it. In that time I’ve spent about between $8,000 and $10,000 in renovation and repairs despite doing a number of these projects myself. The simple fact that older homes require more work to maintain is a factor that may be driving people away from Windsor’s core.

The structural challenge of Windsor’s housing stock is one of the biggest barriers facing our city. This aged and misaligned housing stock has contributed to a segmentation of the housing market and the populations that live in neighbourhoods. At the same time, home ownership remains an aspiration for many in Windsor. Issues of poverty, asset inequality and access to services will only be solved when this housing asymmetry is tackled.

Developers won’t build homes in the core without subsidy due to a lack of economies of scale and profit potential. They won’t build apartments in outer areas of the city due to the political risks. This creates incentives to perpetuates existing development patterns that exacerbates the structural challenges that Windsor’s housing stock faces as that is what enables them to make a living.

For those looking for denser more urban Windsor, the problem you must solve is how to redevelop the existing housing stock and neighbourhoods without displacing vulnerable populations. A bike lane, a new tech business setting up shop or anchor institution opening its door aren’t enough to solve these problems in my opinion. Whole scale neighbourhood redevelopment maybe needed in many cases. So the question becomes how do you physically rebuild housing in a community and empower those who live there and more importantly who pays for it?

University Ave. Light Rail?

A tweet by former Councilor Bill Marra caught my attention.

As I responded when I retweeted his tweet, LRT should be considered but it needs to be done in the context of other possible corridor options like BRT, a street car or as a part of an traditional corridor with enhanced bus service and active transit options.

Although their is no doubt that an LRT running down University Ave knitting together Sandwich Town, the University, the Downtown would be game changing city building initiative there are some challenges. The first is whether such a rail line would be viable from a usage standpoint. Now there is no doubt that if built some riders would use it, particularly students shifting between University campuses but there is a real question of if there are enough people in Windsor’s downtown to support route.

Currently on Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa are home to LRT lines in Canada, with Waterloo Region, Surrey BC, Gatineau Que, Peel Region and Hamilton having them in the works. A rule of thumb with LRT, regardless of whether it is elevated/separated with their own right of way (think Eglinton LRT in Toronto that is under construction) or embedded in traffic (Q-line in Detroit) you need approximately 10,000 people per square km along the line. Although other research point lower thresholds, it then requires employment density along or at terminus of the line and entry points that captures ridership from other parts of the community.

Unfortunately Windsor fails to meet this this population threshold, with the City’s population density being only about 1,400 people square km. From the Census DAs along the University Avenue corridor we find a density of 3,992 people per square km and after removing the University and a few other lower density DAs (around the bridge and waterfront) it only increases the density to 4,348 people per square km. Although there is no doubt that an LRT would attract investment and intensification if we have double the population density in established neighbourhoods or transform where people do business in or city to potentially make it viable the question becomes, is it worth the cost?

The chart below illustrates the different lifetime cost structures of modes of public transit on a per km basis (Boring Company not included).

From the Neptis Foundation found here

There are several things to consider when looking at the chart above. Obviously initial capital outlay is important and in all likelihood, at least partially paid for by other levels of government. A similar statement could be made for the rehab costs as precedent is in place where upper level of government assist in long term capital revitalization. One the flip side, operating costs are almost complete bore by the local transit entity along with the financing costs for local portion of the capital and rehab costs. At just under 5 km from Mackenzie Hall to past Caesars on University Ave. the potential costs of transit in their corridor become very real.

London opted for a BRT (now itself in doubt) over an LRT largely due to the cost, construction time and questions about viability due to population density. Waterloo has gotten its LRT helping it cement its tech friendly image but it is $50 million over budget and months behind schedule. Hamilton and Peel Region are both pushing forward with Metrolinx LRT plans which have the potential of including community benefit packages to their impacted neighbourhoods.

All options should be explored for the regeneration of the University Ave corridor but when we get down to brass tacks, certain options are more viable and reasonable. Personally as the trade offs between one option and other could result in millions of dollars in additional lifetime costs. Those dollars maybe better utilized dealing with other quality of life issue or combating some of the social issues that exist in the same neighbourhoods as this study.

Although I think an LRT is impractical for Windsor, all I can do is echo’s former Councilor Marra’s comment to get involved and dream big. The online survey can be found here.

How your Councillor Voted 2015-18

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The Excel file below holds a record of all recorded votes by Windsor City Council from January 1 2015 to September 17, 2018. All of this data was mined from City Council Minutes that are posted on the City of Windsor website.

The file is sorted into sheets by year and tracks Yay, Nay, Abstain or Absent votes. In Columns O and P you have basic counts of the number of “Yay” and “Nay” on a particular item.

A few points to note:

  • Minutes do capture NAY votes on non recorded votes. These votes are included in this document, it is not clear if all other Councillors voted in favour, abstained or were absent for these votes and should not be interpreted as such and cells for non “Nay” voters are left empty.
  • Motion/votes related to In Camera items that are taken in Council are not captured.
  • Votes on Committee items are not full captured ex. items/minutes from committees end up in some council minutes, within those minutes/item are additional votes and results are included.
  • As some agenda items are several paragraphs in length, I only captured the item number and initial description. Please refer to the specific Council minutes for full description of the motion/measure/decision.
  • A “Nay” vote may in fact be supporting a measure as it depends on the wording of the specific motion/question/decision. I would encourage you to read the full minutes of the items. Logical a “Yay” vote may also be blocking an item

 

You can download the file below

Windsor-City-Council-Recorded-Votes-2015-2018

#Knowyourward- County Edition: Essex

townofessex

The Town of Essex is first of the communities that I am working on that has a ward system. As you can see from the map above, there is not a exact alignment between the Census boundaries and the municipal wards. The difference although visually large, from a population basis they tend to extend one roadway or concession over. As a result the variation between the wards is not significant enough to cause major variation in this data but due to the Ward not not being equal from a population standpoint apples to apples comparisons are more complicated.

Town Total Ward 1 Ward 2 Ward 3 Ward 4
Total Population 2016 20,427 7467 4422 6221 2317
Total Population 2011 19,190 6955 3990 2317 2365
Average Population Density (Per Square KM) 977.81 1730.85 529.28 70.33 1357.15
% Pop under 19 21.80% 24.30% 19.45% 20.50% 21.20%
% Pop over 65 19.10% 19.11% 19.54$ 18.10% 20.54%
Total Single Parent Families 870 390 140 225 115
% of Female Led Single Parent Families 78.90% 87.30% 72.10% 74.10% 70.80%
Income
After Tax Median Income  $        32,787  $        32,526  $        37,252  $        37,423  $        32,816
After Tax Average Income  $        37,527  $        35,729  $        37,928  $        41,855  $        32,724
Low Income Rate (LIM) 9.40% 11.52% 7.30% 7.84% 9.93%
% of population in the bottom income decile 6.09% 7.25% 5.28% 5.05% 5.82%
% of population in the top income decile 7.54% 6.32% 8.17% 10.25% 4.34%

 

% of Public Transit Users to reach Employment <1% <1% <1% <1% <1%
 Total – Occupied private dwellings by number of bedrooms 8080 3100 1600 2405 995
   No bedrooms 10 10 0 0 0
1 bedroom 580 330 90 95 65
2 bedrooms 1910 745 400 550 195
3 bedrooms 3630 1330 755 1060 485
4 or more bedrooms 1950 685 355 700 210
Household Wealth
Number of Households with and income greater than $150,000 250 65 55 120 10
Employment in Essex
    31-33 Manufacturing 21%
    62 Health care and social assistance 13%
    44-45 Retail trade 11%
    23 Construction 7%
    72 Accommodation and food services 6%

#knowyourward – County Edition: Amherstburg

Amherstburg.png

The Town of Amherstburg doesn’t have Wards, so I divided the community into 3 areas of close to equal population based on Census Dissemination geographies. The following table “Wards” show the Amherstburg total plus the socio-economic breakdown of the 3 areas.

Town Total Rural Amherstburg/ South Shore Downtown Amherstburg River Canard
Total Population 2016 21,936 7,271 8,603 6,062
Total Population 2011 21,325 7,115 8,660 5,550
Average Population Density (Per Square KM) 1037.18 285.66 1878.1 576.55
% Pop under 19 22.58% 22.64% 20.60% 26.40%
% Pop over 65 18.65% 16.40% 22.33% 14.70%
Total Single Parent Families 14.70% 10.80% 20.70% 9.10%
% of Female Led Single Parent Families 71.40% 64.80% 78.11% 69.20%
Income
After Tax Median Income  $35,311  $37,269  $31,068  $40,861
After Tax Average Income  $41,394  $46,304  $35,118  $46,581
Low Income Rate (LIM) 8.81% 6.03% 13.44% 3.75%
% of population in the bottom income decile 5.30% 3.40% 7.80% 2.90%
% of population in the top income decile 10.20% 12.60% 5.40% 16.30%
% of Public Transit Users to reach Employment <1% <1% <1% <1% <1%
 Total – Occupied private dwellings by number of bedrooms            10,690              3,420                3,305            1,605              2,540
   No bedrooms                     –                     –                       –                   –                     –
   1 bedroom                  205                    65                      75                  10                    55
   2 bedrooms              1,430                  365                   475                270                  320
   3 bedrooms              4,865              1,565                1,320                755              1,225
   4 or more bedrooms              4,130              1,225                1,390                585                  930
Household Wealth
Number of Households with and income greater than $150,000 450 160 65 225
Employment for Amherstburg
    31-33 Manufacturing 22%
    62 Health care and social assistance 13%
    44-45 Retail trade 12%
    61 Educational services 8%
    72 Accommodation and food services 6%