Hamilton City Councillor Donna Skelly dug up the old claim that Olivia Chow and her husband, the late Jack Layton, were living in subsidized housing in 1990 while Layton was a member of Toronto City Council and Chow a School Board Trustee
Hamilton City Councillors often use questions of staff to lead and posturing in favour of their political positions. Skelly was positioning against using inclusionary zoning in the redevelopment of City owned lands at Piers 7 & 8 on Hamilton's West Harbour.
What started as a line of questioning on criteria of affordable and subsidized housing, and how it is ensured people who need housing supports, turned into criticism of the idea of applying inclusionary zoning on Piers 7 & 8 where the City plans to sell land for a up to 1,531 new housing units.
It was at this point which Skelly, a two-time provincial Progressive Conservative candidate, brought the 25-year old claim about Chow and Layton into the debate.
"If the City does include, does more forward to include, affordable housing at the waterfront, that will be some of the most sought after real estate and rental units in the City of Hamilton.
How can we ensure that people who are applying, and can we actually prevent people who have a, is there anyway of actually determining who can actually access those units for 20 to 30 per cent of the going rate. Again, from my understanding is that you can't prevent anyone from using those, renting those units.
I'll go back to the example of Olivia Chow and Jack Layton using affordable housing units.
How can you prevent anybody in the prime piece of real estate in the City of Hamilton renting that clearly don't fall or aren't in need of social or affordable housing?"
Did Chow and Layton improperly live in affordable or subsidized housing? As David Demchuk wrote in 2014 for The Torontoist "Campaign Fact Check: Did Jack Layton and Olivia Chow Live in Subsidized Housing? The answer is yes—but it's complicated."
As much as we like things in black and white, the world rarely works that way. It must be stressed that Chow and Layton did not break any rules, that many housing advocates praised them for living in the coop, and their rent was the market rate for a coop at the time.
None of this was relevant to the discussion of inclusionary zoning at Council today. Skelly couldn't resist attempting to score a political point.
She completely undermined herself and the position she was advancing about the management and criteria for affordable and subsidized housing.
The focus won't be on her position as it relates to affordable housing on Piers 7 & 8. Instead, the focus is upon her decision to dig up a 25-year-old claim about a man who is deceased and who is widely revered for his work as a Toronto Councillor and leader of the federal NDP.
What should've been a day in which City Council looked good for focusing on substantive issues of planning and policy has become yet another embarrassing moment.
What a shame.