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Kerr wants to revitalize downtown core

Ward 4 regional councillor thinking outside the box on homelessness, affordability

Rick Kerr is moving up to the regional level as the representative for Ward 4. He touts homelessness, affordability, and the continued revitalization of Oshawa’s downtown as key issues. (Photo by Chris Jones)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Rick Kerr is well aware that his scope of issues will be expanding when the new council term begins in December.

Originally elected as a city councillor in 2014, Kerr won the spot of regional councillor representing Ward 4 in this past election.

Kerr says that the last council did a very good job at respecting one another, even when they were in disagreement.

“We had a lot of people who just focused on the good of the city,” says Kerr.

He also says he is really optimistic about the upcoming city and regional councils.

“I look at who’s coming up and I see a rock solid set of councillors there,” says Kerr.

For him, the most pressing issue in Oshawa is homelessness and affordable housing. He says while a lot of people think that it’s the city’s problem to fix, he believes that he can do more to help face this issue as a regional councillor.

“Now that I’m a regional councillor, I’m going to have access to people first to build a rapport,” says Kerr. “I’ll also have access to information that I need to sort of fill in the gaps in my understanding [of the issues].”

Before becoming a city councillor, Kerr used to teach ethics in the Police Foundations program at Durham College for 10 years. He believes this lends him a unique perspective on issues such as homelessness.

“I invented this 24 perspective analysis tool I used to teach my students,” he says. “So you could take any issue and you could analyze it and come up with a lot of different perspectives.”

Every year he and his students would look at the homelessness issue. According to Kerr there are about 30 different kinds of people that are homeless, so one solution won’t be able to solve the problem for everyone.

“There’s a spectrum of possible handout solutions or assistances that take somebody from being completely destitute up to taking that final step to having gainful employment and their own accommodation.”

Kerr also notes that there are a lot of gaps in that process, but bringing citizens and citizen groups together to build a community based solution should fill them.

“You can’t depend on government for everything,” says Kerr.

Kerr’s ultimate goal in the battle against homelessness and the issue of housing affordability in Oshawa is that everyone will be able to find accommodation.

He says that he has ideas to help with this issue, such as repurposing a “mothball school.”

What Kerr wants to do is to turn such a building ” into a wrap-around hub where shelter, counseling, career coaching, a community garden and low-income housing for seniors will be available.

“There’s a lot things that can be done and that I have ideas for, but now that I’m a regional councillor, as well as city, I have the wherewithal to bring in different layers of information to help make that stuff happen.”

Kerr also notes that many constituents wonder why their taxes are so high. He says that this is because much of the taxes aren’t just from the city, but from the region as well, and cities such as Toronto are able to tax the large corporations there and don’t have to tax their constituents as much as a city like Oshawa.

He also notes “As [General Motors] tax base goes down, the pressure on the residents goes up.”

Kerr believes that in order to revitalize the downtown core, the city needs to add more office towers, which will create more “feet-on-the-street.” This is a part of his eight-point plan to revitalize Oshawa’s downtown core.

Other points to his plan include branding Oshawa’s downtown as a hub for arts, culture and entertainment, improving parking, improving access to social services such as St. Vincent’s Kitchen, as well as improvements to other facets of the downtown core.

“So the whole downtown piece and the whole tax piece is going to be positively impacted by the growth that Oshawa is experiencing, but it can’t all be residential growth,” says Kerr. “We have to have increased academic economy, healthcare economy… plus we have to have additional business and industries coming to Oshawa, and that’s what’s going to suppress the pressure on the residents.”

“It takes a village to solve a problem,” Kerr says, paraphrasing the old adage “It takes a village to raise a child.”

But now that he’s a regional councillor, Kerr has to look at regional issues as well, and he believes that the biggest issue there is to get the province to release the employment lands on either side of highway 407, as this will add more opportunities for Oshawa and Durham as a whole to grow.

Kerr feels that the ward system will help him to work with his constituents by being able to do what he did as a city wide councillor in a much more focused way.

“I’ll probably have more concentrated phone calls – maybe fewer,” says Kerr. “But the bottom line, is the accountability [the ward system brings], and I am quite willing to stand up and take accountability for what I do.”

At this point, as his time as a regional councillor approaches and he has to learn a whole new system and work with new committees, Kerr says that he is happy to just go with the flow.