Post written by Nataliya Pekar.
Nataliya is a fourth year Civil Engineering student at the University of Toronto, and is currently in the process of completing a 16-month work term with the City of Toronto’s Pedestrian Projects Unit. When she’s not studying, she spends her time contributing to the U of T community as the Logistics Director for CivicSpark, and a technical lead for the Green Energy Challenge design team. In her free time, Nataliya loves hiking along Toronto’s many trails, reading, and listening to her favorite podcasts; and is fascinated with transportation, environmental sustainability, and building livable cities! Find out more about CivicSpark here.
On Saturday March 11th, CivicSpark held it’s 2nd annual Undergraduate Public Policy Case Competition—Building Up The 6ix. The competition attracted over 50 students from all around the GTHA. Together, participants worked to propose innovative solutions on the topic of affordable housing.
This year’s competition gave teams a month to develop policy proposals to solve the affordable housing crisis in the GTHA. Students got the chance to dive into the “shark tank” and put their solutions to the test in front of a panel of expert judges—a diverse group professionals from the City of Toronto, Toronto Community Housing Corporation, the Canadian Urban Institute and individuals from many more organizations.
Bringing students together in this way has been the mission of CivicSpark from the start. Founded as a university chapter of CivicAction, CivicSpark aims to get young people involved with civic issues. Building up the 6ix is just one part of achieving their mission, and provides a platform where students can develop a solution on a pressing social, political, and/or economic issue.
Teams were also treated to an excellent workshop by the Centre for Community Partnerships on Community Engaged Learning. The workshop gave students the opportunity to work together and discuss how action in communities can be reciprocal, respectful, and a benefit to those in need of affordable housing. In the afternoon, the top two teams moved on to the second round of the competition which included a surprise case. Unlike the original case, these teams only had 60 minutes to prepare a solution to the case and then present to judges. The surprise case challenged two teams to recommend a policy solution to providing affordable housing for the non-profit organization, Peel Living, while the rest of the students had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion with the judges.
All the participants showed considerable enthusiasm at the event—likely not a surprise as students are just one of the groups greatly impacted by a lack of affordable housing. Searching for places to live off-campus, tackling long commutes, or considering a future search for a home are just a few of the key issues students face.
Despite the acknowledgement of these challenges, students are often absent from the broader conversation on affordable housing. We are proud to say that this year’s competition sparked a conversation regarding how housing policy, in it’s current or potential future form, will impact young people.
In the end, the winning team was Team 7: Raj Jain, Joon Mun, Matt Yau, and Varun Sethuraman from McMaster University. Their idea was transit-oriented inclusionary zoning, a proposal to increase affordable housing in the GTHA. In their own words, the policy would “utilize a voluntary inclusionary zoning approach while incentivizing private interests […]. Specifically, [their] proposal is to offer incentives towards developers who are building units in areas experiencing current and future transit developments.”
Jaspinder Chera, Dena Hosseini, Marcia Garnes, and Matthew Singh from York University took 2nd place and several other awards were given for most unique idea, best powerpoint presentation, and best executive summary to Baie Tomar, Priya Moraes, and Mila Gillies-Adelman; Donna Liu, James Chungwon Park, Leila Atri, and Hebah Masood; and Pearl Almeida, Stephanie Bertolo, and Spencer Nestico-Semianiw respectively.
Congratulations to all the teams that participated and made the event such a success. Without a doubt, this would not have been possible without the students’ dedication, but also the support of our wonderful partners, CivicAction, Centre for Community Partnerships, and our incredible adjudicators.
To get involved with CivicSpark please visit our website.
Big thank you to all the judges who helped make this competition happen:
- Rob Dowler, Adjunct Professor (Ryerson & U of T);
- Abigail Moriah, Toronto Community Housing Corporation;
- Darren Cooney, Manager of the Homelessness Secretariat, Ontario Ministry of Housing;
- Sumeet Ahluwalia, Housing Development Officer, City of Toronto
- Anne-Marie Croce, Public Consultation Analyst, City of Toronto
- John Fraser, Human Rights Legal Support Centre;
- Rishab Mehan, Planner, City of Toronto; and
- Ariana Cancelli, Planner, Canadian Urban Institute.