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150 Main St. 'perfect candidate' for affordable housing in Cambridge

After the Region of Waterloo unanimously passed a motion to investigate the idea of building housing over parking Wednesday, the search for a Cambridge location has begun, with the parking lot at 150 Main St. now a prime candidate
Cambridge regional councillor Pam Wolf stands in front of the parking lot at 150 Main St.

Another level of government has unanimously passed a motion that failed at the city level here in Cambridge. 

At last night's regional council meeting, councillors unanimously passed a motion that would look into the idea of building affordable housing on parking lots owned by the region and other regionally owned surplus land. 

Cambridge councillor Scott Hamilton's housing over parking motion has taken the region by storm since it was voted down at the Cambridge horseshoe, with each level of government putting the motion to the test of their councils. 

At Wednesday's regional council meeting, Coun. Pam Wolf tabled a reworked version of the motion defeated in a 5-4 vote at Cambridge city council in December.

Now that the idea has passed muster at the region, work on determining its viability and finding a viable space for a pilot project has begun. 

"I think what's great about this motion is that it encompasses all regionally owned land and not just parking lots, something we have only a few of," Wolf said. 

One of the locations that could serve as a prime candidate is the large back parking lot at 150 Main St. in Galt's downtown core. 

"I think that could be a perfect candidate and it would check a lot of the boxes that we are looking for," added Wolf. "Staff will definitely be looking into it to see if this could work."

Being close to the region's social services inside of 150 Main St., the Ainslie Street bus terminal and proximity to downtown makes the parking lot an ideal space for housing according to the councillor who originated the housing over parking motion.

Scott Hamilton agrees the parking lot behind the regional offices on Main Street would be a good target for a pilot project and said it has already been discussed as a possible Cambridge location. 

"'I'm excited regional council has unanimously endorsed the examination of this concept and I'm eager to see the region's report whether or not 150 Main is a viable option," Hamilton said. "If it would be to the betterment of the downtown core of Galt and the City of Cambridge, I'm sure it'd be greeted enthusiastically."

Associate professor in the school of planning at the University of Waterloo Brian Doucet delegated at last night's council meeting and told the horseshoe that after this motion passes they need a quick win. 

"You're going to want to find a project and a site to develop quickly," he added. 

This would allow the concept to be tested and then rolled out in other parts of the region while also showing the province and other municipalities the viability of the project. 

Doucet adds that more housing needs to be built and out-of-the-box ideas like these could get it done. 

According to Wolf there are 8,341 applications at the region for affordable housing with over 1,500 for Cambridge alone.

The average wait time to get into supportive housing in the region is more than seven years. 

"Waterloo region is known for being innovative and I think it's appropriate we examine creative ideas to meet our housing goals," she added. 

The councillors present at the meeting were disappointed that Hamilton's motion failed to pass at the city level with Coun. Rob Deutschmann commenting that Cambridge council's decision "cast the region in a certain light." 

Cambridge regional councillor Doug Craig commended Wolf for bringing the motion forward and said he hopes their unanimous support sends a message to the other municipalities. 

"I have some disappointment with the beginning of all of this process at Cambridge council, but here we are to set a new standard for who we are as a regional community," Craig said. 

He noted that to be successful, the region needs to petition the federal and provincial governments for more funds to take on initiative like these. 

Staff at the region will now start the process of looking for viable properties to build affordable housing and report back to council. 

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Joe McGinty

About the Author: Joe McGinty

Joe McGinty is a multimedia journalist who covers local news in the Cambridge area. He is a graduate of Conestoga College and began his career as a freelance journalist at CambridgeToday before joining full time.
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