The Urbanite – Jon Liedtke – Aug. 12, 2014
Coyotes prowling backyards, excessive noise from train bells and whistles, health concerns due to excessive pollen and an overall feeling of marginalization is what some residents living in Windsor Essex Community Housing claim they face on an almost daily basis.
Residents living on Memorial Drive near Howard Avenue are facing what they say are quality of life issues due to CP Rail tracks running behind their houses. After bringing the issue to political leaders and stakeholders multiple times over a number of years, residents are frustrated by a lack of change.
There are four specific issues identified by residents related to both the tracks and trains: lack of scheduled maintenance of the weeds and foliage; noise issues; quality of life issues due to sound and health concerns; and a lack of an adequate fence separating the train tracks from the backyards, posing safety issues.
The houses are maintained by WECH and contain 24 units that are both market value and geared to income.
“Quality of life is compromised by the lack of sleep … when the trains are backing up it’s like sonic booms, the windows vibrate,” said one tenant, who wished to remain anonymous because she is on a fixed income and feared losing her living accommodations.
A formal noise complaint was brought to the Canadian Transportation Agency in November 2012, but after an investigation the the agency concluded “the current noise and vibration from CP’s railway operations near [the residence were] reasonable.”
The existing fence has breaches throughout and residents claim coyotes, foxes, deer and snakes are regularly sighted in their backyards. “It’s not quite [chicken wire], but it’s not far from it,” said the tenant. “There are some residents that have invested their own money to put up fencing. We have grandchildren and small animals to consider, as well as our own safety. Our neighbours to the west have … been confronted by the coyotes.”
Natural barriers are preferred by WECH over standard fencing, explained Kari Schofield, public affairs manager for WECH.
The reasoning is threefold according to Schofield: aesthetically, it provides a more “inviting area”; Windsor Police Services prefer a natural berm so officers can “actually see what’s going on”; and liability pertaining to fencing.
“From a liability standpoint, if a fence is erected, you are responsible as the owner of that property to ensure that there aren’t any breaches,” said Schofield. “… if a breach occurs and someone is harmed, there is not only a great risk … but it is a huge risk for the corporation as well.”
The residents say the issues have been brought to various levels of government and stakeholders but “nothing has changed [or] improved.”
Residents feel marginalized because they are living in geared to income locations. “Obviously I think it’s unfair having contributed to society in a big way for my entire life, and I find myself in need of help … I absolutely think that [elected leadership] dropped the ball.”
Schofield expressed surprise to learn tenants were unhappy. “If we are in a situation to collaborate and find a way to solve a problem or an issue, that is what we are about. We have a team of people that work on these type of social or resident complaint issues … we try to find creative solutions.”
Schofield it made clear tenants, and the community at large, need to submit formal complaints. “We provide hard copies of our official complaint form because if it’s in writing, we have something we can actually move forward to.”
“We are a corporation that focuses on partnerships and collaboration, sometimes it’s a matter of us making a phone call to those we are already involved with … and in this particular case, we could have called CP, we could have assisted with some of these concerns [to] assist the best that we could.”
Remy Boulbol, a Ward 4 candidate, was made aware of the situation when she was canvassing throughout the neighbourhood.
“We’re talking about some of the people who need our help the most. They’re elderly and they’re on fixed income. … quality of life is severely affected in a way that can be easily remedied, there’s no reason for this not to be fixed.”
The situation represents a broader issue of train use across the county. The Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations prepared for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Railway Association of Canada concludes: “As the shift continues towards curbing urban sprawl and intensifying existing built-up areas, lands close to railway corridors will continue to become more desirable for development.”
When asked if residents wanted to move, the tenant firmly responded no.
“We love where we live, we love our homes, we love our neighbours … we’re a community. I’m grateful to be here. I would just like some consideration, some human consideration.”
CP Rail did not provide comment in time for publication.
Jonathon Liedtke is the managing editor of The Urbanite, Windsor’s alternative newspaper. He is also a member of Windsor’s “Punk with Horns” band The Nefidovs, and as such, is committed to enhancing and sustaining the arts community.