Comment 33376

By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted September 11, 2009 at 11:51:43

This probably won't garner positive reactions either, but this is what I sent the mayor and councillors. It's a bit redundant, but again, what I could do in half an hour this morning.

"Hello,

I am e-mailing to request that the city does not approve the plan for the Connaught to be converted into a mixed-use building with half affordable housing. I hope Hamilton finds and retains a bigger vision for our downtown and the first impressions of our city. Please understand the impact this project in a landmark, historic property in a prime location like this will have on the downtown. It will not be positive.

Also, please understand where I come from: Combined, my income and my husband's income is still below the poverty line. We left good jobs in another city. Moving here a few years ago and facing the job market here, we both had to return to school, although I found part-time work in my field. We pay our bills on time, but we're not people with high disposable income.

And if downtown is a place I can still afford to live, then our downtown is in trouble. The downtown core should be expensive. It should be a destination. There should be competition to live there - because it's the first impression of our city to everyone who comes here. There's already many other affordable housing projects in downtown and surrounding downtown.

I have big issues with government assistance providing $18 million in funding for a $27 million project where only half of it will be at market rent. I have big issues with any development of the Connaught taking priority over quality development. The current recession is no excuse for letting a grand property like this be cut up into anything that can be figured out. It's been empty a long time, sure - but for a property of this location and scale, redevelopment can wait until a good proposal comes along and the economy allows funding of it.

In many places in this city, I'd take any action over waiting for perfection. The King/Bay Cottage Life project is a great example of that - sure, it's not perfect, but it's a big improvement on before! But for the Connaught, I'd wait further for a better proposal. Especially for this space not to be used for hotel purposes -- when we consistently as a city lose out on conventions due to a lack of hotel space -- makes no sense (the proposed/possible/maybe future use of it as a hotel doesn't impress me).

This project is incredibly shortsighted and does very little to contribute to the core as a whole. This is not forward-thinking nor does it reflect the true diversity needed downtown. There is already a big concentration of low-income housing in the core and more is proposed elsewhere in the core! I walk by several subsidized/affordable places on my way to work. Yes, we need more affordable housing --- but the bigger issue is that we need to diversify where that affordable housing is located, and attract different demographics to the core of our city. I live in Ward 2 just outside the downtown boundary, and I work in Ward 1 near King/Locke. If we had a vibrant, economically viable core, I wouldn't be able to afford to live as near to downtown as I do - and I'm quite fine with that.

That's a price I'm willing to pay to have an attractive, pace-setting, high-value city centre - that people enjoy coming to, that's a destination for out-of-towners, that sets the image for the entire city and that doesn't make people go "ugh, Hamilton." One where there's competition for housing and we have a decent real estate market with appreciating property values. And one where the concentration of skilled jobs and retail is matched by the amount of skilled workers and people with disposable income who live there.

Having true mixed-income development as a part of that would be nice, but it's not going to happen with the current proposal. We must focus on having money-making properties and setting the bar higher for what will be allowed, making our downtown an attractive and viable place for people of middle and higher income levels to spend their time and even live - there's many ways to work in smaller percentages of low-income housing to future projects and in a variety of neighbourhoods. It's much better to locate seniors near neighbourhoods with significant greenspace, community centres, transit, and parks. Many of the working poor need to be near schools for their kids..

Again, understand my own income is below the poverty line. Please also understand that I am also friends with several people who desperately need subsidized housing. I know a deaf senior gentleman whose neighbours constantly leave the door open in an unsafe neighbourhood. I know a working senior who lives in a tiny bedroom of a friend's house. I know single mothers who desperately want to stay in school and go to college. I'm not unfamiliar with the needs, nor do I deny that more affordable housing throughout the city would be a good thing.

But taking ANY redevelopment of a historic building in a prime location just because it's been empty for so long is a terrible idea, especially when they plan to locate more social services in the building and contribute to the unused retail space that will compound these problems.

Besides driving by on the QEW, our core is the first impression of our whole city once you get here. When people visit for an event, a concert, a hockey game, a family reunion and drive downtown, they've got their picture of Hamilton. And for years, visitors - whether businesses, conventions, students, anyone else - has seen a core that does not reflect success, wealth, or the great resources, history, and strength this city possesses. I constantly redirect out-of-town visitors to the areas that are attractive, have destinations, have beauty, have vibrancy-- but the primacy effect from the core is debilitating, and first impressions often cloud their entire experience of this city. You also see this effect with university and college students who travel through the core daily - it's an unfriendly place that reflects poverty, and when people are getting an education focused on a job, they want to distance themselves from a poor environment.

Yes, we need to make affordable housing possible - but we also need to think of the good of the city as a whole. This does not improve things in the long-term - and if the government can fund 2/3 of the project already, there are far better uses than subsidized housing, and perhaps we need to rethink what we allow to be built because it's better than "nothing." This isn't NIMBY-ism, this is reflecting what it means to have high standards, to wait for quality proposals, and to reflect true diversity downtown -- we need higher and middle income people in our downtown to balance out the concentration of lower income people like me. That's true diversity and truly doing what's best for Hamilton.

Please, set the bar higher and have a bigger vision."

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