In a previous post I said I wouldn’t burden you with lurid anecdotes from the campaign trail. That said, I’m being pressured to pronounce myself on what I stand for.
Bear with me while I try to walk the talk through District 5 and its 835 registered voters.
District 5 is far and away the wierdest electoral distribution in Hudson’s 2017 municipal election, a socioeconomic crazy quilt. I was told Hudson’s former urban planning director was ordered to redistribute Hudson’s eligible voters into socially and geographically distinct districts. If that was her mandate, it was a failure. District 5 takes in all of Côte St. Charles and a third of Main Road. It stretches from Lower Maple to Lower Alstonvale, from Whitlock West to the path that connects the fragments of Hazelwood. It includes some of Hudson’s oldest and newest streets. Roughly a quarter of the homes are on the sewer system; almost everyone on a septic tank would like to have the choice. The addresses from the foot of Macauley Hill to the Cameron farm don’t have town water.
Over the past two weeks I have knocked on the doors of modest cottages and opulent riverfront spreads as I explore District 5 on foot. I’ve introduced myself to residents doing their own roofing and explained my presence to housekeeping staff over camera-equipped intercoms.
I’ve come up with some interesting observations. For example, it’s best not to enter a home where the sound of a knock or doorbell is met with furious barking, especially if one has already been greeted by dogs or cats elsewhere. I made that mistake early on in my door-to-door walkabouts. The elderly resident invited me in. I was greeted by a morbidly obese creature that looked like a pitbull-mastiff cross. The dog was fascinated with the smells of other dogs and cats on my pants. Not in a friendly way. Only the dog’s clumsiness saved me.
I now understand a beef I often hear from Hudson’s firefighters and first responders: Why doesn’t Hudson require every homeowner and landlord to post civic numbers? Many municipalities don’t even give their residents the choice. The town plunks steel poles with reflective numbers at the entrance to each driveway. How often did I find myself retracing my steps to find 49A this or 555 that? The law says every civic address must post a number visible from the street on which it is registered. Not in Hudson.
I’m also learning doorbell/knocker etiquette, beginning with respecting personal space. After ringing or knocking, step back so that one foot is off the porch or stoop. When someone answers, you’re not in her/his space and probably lower and less threatening and the person isn’t forced to assume a defensive posture with the door between them and you.
I try to make human contact, and that doesn’t include handing them a flyer. I get them talking. And talk they do. They spill out their frustrations, their pet peeves, their wishes and their regrets. For a lot of people I think it’s cathartic to vent.
Here, in no particular order or priority, are some of the things I’ve heard:
Granny suites: Once the kids or parents are grown and gone, many homeowners would like the option of turning that extra space into something they can rent legally. This is a conversation we began having during the Corker administration. Why hasn’t the town moved on this?
Development: Whether we’re talking Sandy Beach, Ellerbeck or Norris, why should large-project developers be allowed to hook up to town water and sewers without being responsible for replacing the capacity they’re taking from sectors which don’t have water or sewers? They should be held responsible for replacing the water and sewer treatment capacity their developments are using. The town should prioritize the installation of sewers in many sectors where septic tanks are clearly not working properly.
Pine Lake: It’s a symbol and its loss represents Hudson’s crumbling infrastructure. Even Pine Lake’s most fervent advocates don’t want the town to throw good money after bad on more experts and studies. If there’s a way to do it on the cheap, give us back our iconic little lake that once welcomed everyone.
Roads/pedestrian paths: People have figured out the interconnection. Hudson’s roads are in terrible shape but there’s no point fixing many of them unless the town is ready to widen and rebuild from the roadbed up. While we’re at it, why can’t we add pedestrian/cycling paths that separate their users from traffic?
Snow removal: Rather than going with the lowest bidder, why is the town not considering cost plus? Residents are stunned when they learn the town is paying $400,000 a year plus taxes as well as footing the bill for salt and sand (another $200,000+ last winter). Other municipalities closely supervise their snow-clearing contractors in real time, someone who knows the industry told me.
Public security: Main Road and Côte St. Charles residents are fed up with reckless drivers and speeding, break-ins and noisy trucks. One resident living near a stop sign on Côte Road drew my attention to a transport using engine compression to slow down instead of applying its air brakes. Most municipalities have bylaws prohibiting the use of these Jacob brakes in populated areas; Hudson doesn’t. Crescent residents complain about the near-daily presence of drug dealers on their street at times when students are outside Westwood Senior High School. Why doesn’t the administration work out a deal with the SQ for a few hours of extra policing a month? Other MRC municipalities occasionally avail themselves of ‘SQ à la carte’ to crack down on impaired drivers, reckless driving and park security as well as the sale and use of drugs in parks and playgrounds.
Public space: I found a good way to get people talking was to ask them about Sandy Beach. The common answer: we used to go there. We don’t any more because it’s full of people not from Hudson who disregard the leash laws, trash the place and don’t pay a cent to its upkeep. Charge them for parking. Enforce the bylaws. Don’t settle for a servitude giving public access to the beach. Demand that Nicanco hand over the entire beachfront and a green buffer between the beach and its development.
Taxes: What’s too much? This year, the town adopted a revised budget based on a $12 million tax load, a 4% hike over 2016. (Although Hudson finished 2016 with a $916,000 surplus, $240,000 of that was earmarked for unbudgeted flood-related expenses.) One of the first tasks the incoming council will face is the adoption of a 2018 budget based on unaudited data from 2017. (Quebec allows an extra month because it’s an election year.)
One longtime resident said he was prepared to take a 10% tax hike if it meant better roads. I ran into another as she was emptying her house. She and her husband were splitting up and she has no choice but to sell and move with her daughters to somewhere cheaper. Not far away, another family had sold their house and are preparing to move to Rigaud because the wife can’t or won’t work and the husband’s salary isn’t sufficient. Why Rigaud? Because their youngest can continue to attend the Hudson school where the quality of the teachers will give him a chance at a better future. Hudson is getting too expensive for the working poor.
I ran into one of Hudson’s real estate agents as she was showing a home to a potential buyer from B.C. For someone on the verge of retirement whose Sunshine Coast or Scarborough home will sell for $1.5 million, Hudson is a bargain. For those who hope to remain here, property valuation increases driven by flip investors and contractors will continue to inflate taxes.
Affordable housing: My visit with one energetic senior repeated itself dozens of times throughout my walkabouts. She lives alone in a beautiful house overlooking a forest. She doesn’t want to give up her home, filled as it is with memories of her late husband. Her children and grandchildren visit but the day will come when she will have no choice but to downsize when she can no longer drive. A volunteer herself, I sensed that she will resist that as long as humanly possible.
What would be your idea of paradise, I asked her. Kilteevan, she said without pausing. It’s too far out of town but it’s perfect. Everyone there minds their own business unless someone is in need — and she can have a little garden.
I get it because I’ve seen it. The lady writing herself Post-It notes to remind herself of things she must not forget, then forgetting where she puts the notes. Women bury their husbands and live alone in their beautiful Hudson homes with their big dogs because there are so few communal facilities that will take pets. I realize it’s no really about affordable housing, but suitable housing, housing where someone with the means can find a niche that will shape itself to their needs. Would I like to be institutionalized, have to give up my dogs?
I raised some of these issues with one of my neighbours. “What’s that got to do with the city,” he kept asking. The inference was that all of this door-to-door bleeding-heart crap was softening my brain.
I don’t see it that way. Going door to door is total immersion in what Hudson wants and needs as well as a humbling lesson in who we are. Long after the campaign bombast has been forgotten, these are the conversations I’ll remember. Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to share what matters. If I haven’t gotten to you yet, I will.