Special Report: Light Rail

Integrate Transit and Housing Policy to Support Equity

Rather than looking at transit, housing, health and economic development as separate issues, we must continue to integrate these discussions to develop creative, local solutions that meet the needs of current and future residents along the LRT corridor an

By Greg Tedesco
Published June 05, 2015

After last week's historic announcement of investment in transit infrastructure, Hamilton has reason to celebrate. With the light rail transit (LRT) commitment, spurred by dedicated local transit activists, our city can now move ahead with increased planning around the many potential economic and social benefits of improved transit for our city.

LRT can be an incredible asset for Hamilton in many ways. Inclusive, accessible, efficient transit and city design can be transformative for communities. However, this doesn't happen without intentional planning and ongoing dialogue on broader community needs.

When we look at improved transit as part of a larger complete streets policy, the potential positive impacts become clear. Inclusive, accessible transit connects residents to employment and local services, and at its best can promote healthier communities, social inclusion and broader community participation.

In the Vital Signs series, Hamilton Community Foundation CEO Terry Cooke and McMaster Health, Aging and Society Professor Jim Dunn wrote about the challenges and opportunities facing Hamilton, discussing the potential for LRT to make transportation and transit more inclusive:

LRT is cheaper to operate per passenger than bus service and attracts high numbers of new transit riders, bringing in operating revenue to help pay for better bus service across the city. It attracts and shapes new developments, filling in the vacant and under - used properties around t he line and increasing the city's property tax revenue. It makes more jobs accessible to low - income workers and attracts more of the young creative entrepreneurs Hamilton needs to create new jobs.

LRT is not the one cure-all for every challenge our city faces, but with proper planning and policy decisions we can leverage this investment and position ourselves for long-term success.

A common discussion seen in other cities has centred around LRT and its potential impact on housing and neighbourhood affordability. To realize the true potential of LRT in our city, transit planning must be directly linked to the affordable housing conversation and broader work around equity, inclusion and poverty reduction.

Rather than looking at transit, housing, health and economic development as separate issues, I hope that we can continue to integrate these discussions to develop creative, local solutions that meet the needs of current and future residents along the LRT corridor and throughout the entire city.

In looking specifically at housing, local initiatives like the Hamilton Community Land Trust could prove to be an asset in protecting long-term affordability in areas around the transit line.

Municipal planning tools, such as inclusionary zoning (which remains in private-member bill limbo), could also help in supporting the sustainability of mixed-income neighbourhoods.

Housing affordability is and will continue to remain a key issue in Hamilton and throughout cities in Canada, making it critical to continue to bring this issue forward as we approach a federal election in the fall.

An estimated construction start time of 2019 for LRT may seem far away. However, as the next phase leading to planning and implementation occurs, I hope we see a broader focus around equity and affordability issues integrated into the process.

In doing so, we can fully recognize the potential of modern transit for all Hamiltonians and have further reason to continue the celebration.

See also:

Greg Tedesco is a proud Hamiltonian for the past ten years. He is interested in issues around health, equity, inclusion & social justice. Connect with Greg on twitter @greg_tedesco.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2015 at 09:32:52

(This reply below has no mention of "LRT", as repeat readers know where I stand)

There are a lot of opportunities for low-rise and medium-rise developments all throughout near the CBD of Hamilton. Given good enough city planning, there is plenty of room for Hamilton downtown density can more than triple without tearing down lovely old residential houses -- lots of parking lots, old strip malls, single-storey businesses, and replacing decaying (non-heritage) low-rises with taller buildings.

Now -- affordable housing can be a controversial thing, but I must admit on average, I am generally impressed at what happened to Regent Park in Toronto. There were pros and cons, including temporary displacement of the poor families far away from their jobs, before being moved back into (usually) much nicer subsidized housing units in the glass condo towers (the same towers contain a mix of market price units and low-income housing units). Those who stayed the long haul through the disruption, got rewarded with much nicer housing and a better neighborhood. This is an area that had historically had murder, gun, and crime problems. The area is becoming a mixed-income neighborhood that integrates immigrants working to climb the job laddder, in an area with some rather nice amenities, and actually manages to fund itself. Some of it is rather sterile (now-common cookie cutter glass condos) but has gained some nice patio eateries and attractive recreational facilities, and the area is getting greatly densified in a mix of subsidized and non-subsidized housing.

Recently, I stopped in the area, and saw what looked like immigrants pushing baby strollers exiting/entering a glass condo, tattooed people, hipster young people, business people in suits, and they milled out peacefully. I saw no beggars in the area and a nearby patio pub was milling with people drinking coffee or beer. That's a better scene than the old slum that used to be there.

On the subject of funding -- as far as I know, it manages to self-fund itself, and even the controversial adjacent PanAm Athlete's village (not actually part of Regent Park but in the West Don Lands, part of the area revitalization) nearby is set to profit (or break even) once the condos are sold after the Games, as they are designed to become desirable condos. So it does not have to be a taxpayer drain.

History in other cities show that integrated neighborhoods work far better than segregated neighborhoods or poor-apartments that perpetuate into slums. Some elements of this model can be brought to Hamilton's struggling population (our controversial welfare drain) in conjunction with parallel initiatives to bring a bigger percentage of them back into workforce with the revitalizing downtown with increasing numbers of jobs. It does not all work perfectly and is hard to measure, but it really must be considered against a variety of options -- some say we must kick the welfare drain out of Hamilton but we obviously cannot just callously do that en masse -- and other solutions are needed as a less-costly method of inclusiveness, and pulling at least more of people out of poverty.

Even if Hamilton cannot afford the scale of Regent Park revitalization, it's worth looking into precedents, and borrowing elements of this for smaller scale local projects, and studying some of its elements, its mistakes and its benefits, as an unfolding story book on a social housing experiment that looks reasonably successful so far.

Concurrent job creation initiatives should happen, including working towards better business-friendliness (e.g. revitalizing Main/King), new business lands (e.g. discontinued Steel lands, etc) and downtown offices (e.g. new high rise offices, not just condos), including outlying areas and, of course, better public transit, as an integrated solution, as we are still very transit-poor especially outside peak hours.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-06-05 09:51:26

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