Toward an Affordable Housing Solution for Hamilton

After years of inadequate action on affordable housing, it will take time to move forward and see the real impact of recent announcements.

By Greg Tedesco
Published April 19, 2016

Spurred by recent developments at the provincial and federal levels, the discussion around affordable housing has become more prevalent in mainstream dialogue. In Hamilton, recent discussion around CityHousing and re-development in the West Harbour has expanded the conversation locally with more calling for inclusive neighbourhood design.

Two years ago, I wrote an article on Raise the Hammer asking whether affordable housing was a priority for the broader Hamilton community.

Two years later, there's no doubt that we're seeing positive steps forward for housing with the release of Ontario's Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy and the Federal Budget.

A lot can change in two years, and now it seems (for the first time in a long time) that we're making tangible progress at different political levels in working to address our affordable housing crisis.

Political Change

The provincial government made news last month with the release of the Long Term Affordable Housing Strategy. The announcement was generally well received as many long-awaited initiatives were included in the strategy, including: proposed inclusionary zoning legislation for municipalities; the development of a framework for a portable housing benefit; improvements to Ontario's supportive housing system; and the development of an Indigenous Housing Strategy.

Among the policy and planning changes announced, the one that received the most attention was inclusionary zoning. As a planning tool to promote the creation and sustainability of mixed income neighbourhoods, legislation around inclusionary zoning has stalled for many years. While not a cure-all for our affordable housing needs, it is a very welcome addition to our local affordable housing 'toolkit'.

Gaps in the provincial strategy, including funding to address the financial instability of the aging social housing infrastructure, seems to have been addressed somewhat [PDF] in the federal budget. In the budget, the Liberals made significant investments in affordable housing, as well as promising targeted engagement over the next year leading to the development of a long overdue National Housing Strategy.

Local Context

Hamilton continues to have one of the hottest housing markets in Canada, and there are no signs of this dramatically changing. Our city continues to experience significant positive developments. However, the reality of the insecure and ever changing picture of housing in our city remains.

This past October, the Hamilton Spectator published The Poverty Project, a retrospective of the last ten years of poverty reduction work in the city. Included in this series was a discussion on housing and how local market shifts have impacted our entire housing spectrum.

The housing market shifts have come faster and more aggressively than most had previously predicted, which has amplified our local housing struggle.

Years of a lack of commitment to addressing affordable housing at various levels, both through funding and policy development, has become all the more evident as we continue to play catch-up.

As we experience growth and development, we should be celebrating the many successes of our city. However, we also need to be honest about where we have collectively failed many residents in our community.

Hamilton's Rental Market

The rental market continues to play a significant role in Hamilton's housing crunch. The most recent Vital Signs report broke down how Hamilton's 'renaissance' has impacted the rental market, including implications for social housing.

Although recent statistics showed a bounce back in Hamilton's rental market vacancy rates, they are projected to drop again in the next two years.

Rental housing continues to be a key part of Hamilton's housing market, however is not always in the forefront of the discussion around new development in the city. In an article I think we can relate to locally, Max Fawcett gives a great analysis of why we should acknowledge a "new legitimacy to renting".

Place Matters

The proposed West Harbour development has been a catalyst for a much broader community conversation around affordable housing in Hamilton.

A welcome aspect of this community conversation has been the broader sentiment that affordable housing and mixed income neighbourhoods contribute to a healthier, more vibrant city and should be supported more widely.

Moving away from older homes to "denser, more efficient options" may make sense from a practical perspective, although it raises questions around future diversity of housing stock and availability of equitable housing options.

We need bold action, but we also need to keep looking at how creative partnerships and newly announced funding and planning opportunities can have an impact locally.

Supporting the availability of a variety housing options throughout the city is important when looking at the entire spectrum of housing. This is part of a broader community discussion around issues such as land use, neighbourhood design and transit connectivity.

The Hamilton Community Land Trust continues to be an emerging local group bringing much needed attention to these issues, creating opportunities for community driven dialogue.

The challenge, and opportunity, becomes balancing the need to maintain a variety of housing options throughout our city while at the same time adding more. An increase in good quality mixed housing and mixed income development throughout Hamilton should be what underpins our strategy.

While added federal and provincial support greatly helps the process in ways, we need to continue to get imaginative and explore all we can do locally to promote healthy, inclusive neighbourhood development.

Priority for the Broader Hamilton Community?

It seems as though we're finally at the point where the announcements regarding affordable housing are largely positive ones. Still, many in our city continue to live in substandard conditions or live with the fear of potential displacement from their community.

After years of inadequate action on affordable housing, it will take time to move forward and see the real impact of recent announcements. With this in mind, it is as important as ever that we remain vigilant in advocating for continued action on funding and policy development to work toward the time when everyone has access to safe, appropriate, affordable housing.

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 KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 19, 2016 at 14:46:42

Closely tied to the issue of affordable housing is the current lack of housing choice in Hamilton. We are denied housing choice and cannot choose to live in a car-free neighbourhood.

Needless to say, forcing everyone to live in a car-dominated neighbourhood and lifestyle is a major cause of lack of affordability.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-04-19 14:47:01

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By GWW (registered) | Posted April 20, 2016 at 20:24:01 in reply to Comment 117755

Hamilton has a range of privately built housing, ranging from newer projects in the suburbs, existing housing stock at a range of price points from less desirable homes in the north end to housing in the southwest, to condos now in the downtown core, and large quantity of apartments near the core.

If you are talking about social housing, the hard costs of building social housing, consisting of building costs, land, and soft costs such as development fees, architectural, engineer, various studies, OMB appeals, legal fees,interim financing, etc., all add up to something that is not affordable. Social Housing is heavily dependent on subsidies.

The big issue who is going to provide the subsidies, generally either the provincial or federal government.

If the City is looking for a local subsidy, or means of addressing this problem, perhaps they need to offer deals with developers to increase density, in exchange for cash or a certain percentage of units to be built and geared to income. Increasing zoning density, can if a project is designed properly be a win win for the City and Developer.

As for car free neighbourhoods, this doesn't sound very realistic. How do fire trucks, or ambulances reach such a neighbourhood, or how do you handle renovations with material and equipment deliveries? (Or Pizza delivery?) Downtown Hamilton does have Condos where parking is not necessarily provided.

Roads are a social benefit for all. Think of that the next time you buy your groceries, and fresh produce.

Comment edited by GWW on 2016-04-20 20:29:02

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 21, 2016 at 08:26:23 in reply to Comment 117796

This is a somewhat strange comment. If you really want to see how car-free neighbourhoods deal with those issues, I suggest that you go visit the Toronto Islands

Or if you have a bit more time and money, see the car-free downtown Utrecht.

There are a gazillion urban car-free zones, and an entire car-free city, Venice.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-04-21 08:41:05

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By GWW (registered) | Posted April 23, 2016 at 08:05:41 in reply to Comment 117800

Isolated pockets with car free areas may exist, but they are heavily dependent on infrastructure outside the enclaves that exist. Toronto Island is a static community with no growth or change, with residences not owning the land, with an average of only two home sales a year in a very convoluted structure. Venice by contrast has seen its population drop in half in the last thirty years. If you want to cater to an elite minority, but catering to the one percent does not cut it.

Show me a free standing community in North America that is successful without a solid infrastructure (ie roads c/w cars)system.

Comment edited by GWW on 2016-04-23 08:06:47

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted April 19, 2016 at 15:01:32 in reply to Comment 117755

in the sense that affordability has decreased in neighbourhoods that have good transit access and proximity to jobs, you are correct. the movement of individuals back to urban centres has forced many of the working poor away from services that they rely on and into the poorly planned and car-centric suburbs.

there are limited choices for those who are low-income, if you have money you can live in more walkable and transit friendly neighbourhoods. there are people who choose to live in these neighbourhoods and also use their personal vehicles a lot because they have the resources to make that choice.

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By Gentrify (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2016 at 20:33:55 in reply to Comment 117756

So gentrification is evil. We should never gentrify a neighbourhood, especially a stagnant and dangerous one like the downtown, and just let it be since poor people can't afford to live elsewhere. Yeah, riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted April 20, 2016 at 12:22:32 in reply to Comment 117771

lol you certainly have nuanced and well thought out opinions! having mixed-income neighbourhoods tend to be more economically productive and promote health to a greater extent than those that are skewed to more extremes of the income spectrum.

maybe you forgot that people have generally lived in urban areas so they can access transit and work opportunities more easily? perhaps ensuring those less fortunate continue to have these opportunities while those with greater resources and mobility can also enjoy the benefits of urban life would be beneficial to our community as a whole?

or maybe we can just make our cities enclaves for the rich so you don't have to be disgusted by the sight of some working class person waiting for a bus while you sip on a 15 dollar cocktail on some trendy bar patio.

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By Neighbor (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2016 at 18:39:21 in reply to Comment 117790

HeeHaw. You'd be a great guy to live next to with all that live and let live going on in there (provided everyone near you agrees with you.)

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted April 21, 2016 at 12:49:34 in reply to Comment 117794

i don't see how this at all relates to what i am arguing but i'll just assume that your life is so sad you have to go personally trolling people on a blog of an interest group so i won't really try to stoop to that pretty pathetic level.

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By bigot (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2016 at 17:34:27 in reply to Comment 117804

"or maybe we can just make our cities enclaves for the rich so you don't have to be disgusted by the sight of some working class person waiting for a bus while you sip on a 15 dollar cocktail on some trendy bar patio."

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By theydontseeitthatway (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2016 at 08:22:40 in reply to Comment 117794

Prejudiced and bigoted people don't recognize those attributes in themselves - i.e all non-poor people think the same. Anyone who is not desperate is a user. All people without money are mooches. etc. etc.

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By Anonymous Adam (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2016 at 16:10:15

I think there is more NON working poor then WORKING poor in this city. And in that case the NON working poor is living in the same place they always lived in and it passes on from generation to generation. They will never leave until they sell the home they bought for $20 000 20 years ago, to a Toronto hipster who wants to ride his bike to GO to spend all his time and money in a city he does not live in because its cheaper to live here...but for a $450 000 profit. These newcomers don't come here because of how awesome this city is, they come here to live because they cant afford to live where they came from, and its ruining the affordability of the city.
I will leave it to you guys to clean up lower Hamilton. Ill drive my vehicles and live in the quiet backyard a plenty area called the Mountain.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 21, 2016 at 19:42:33 in reply to Comment 117762

You think that because you never bothered to look it up. (It's not true... go look up the numbers.) But, of course, you won't actually "leave it to you guys to clean up lower Hamilton". With that attitude, you'll be vigorously blocking, anyway you can, literally everything done to improve the quality of life in the lower city.

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By keithbeck (registered) | Posted April 19, 2016 at 19:02:17

One issue left out from the article was the mention in the federal budget of a goal for the national housing strategy for the social housing sector to become self-reliant.

As the article points out there have been many recent steps toward increasing affordability. Finding feasible implementations locally will define how much progress to the goal of affordable housing for all the community we will attain. In my attempts to understand how local leadership thinks, I found them fixated on using the issue to gain more funding from senior levels of government when all signals point to this being ever more difficult. And blinded to opportunities to increase housing affordability by looking at the housing market of the community as a whole and how we may make injections to that market by policy.

To me that blinkered perspective is the most limiting factor to achieving more of the goal of affordable housing locally.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2016 at 11:45:55

The other side needs to be about adding supply to the regular housing stock. As long as we let fussy bylaws about shadows and parking block intensification developments, we're never going to make supply meet demand without paving the whole Green Belt. As long as supply never approaches demand, housing prices will constantly climb upwards.

If the Provincial Liberals had any credibility, I'd want them to adopt the Japanese model of zoning:

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2016-04-20 11:46:23

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 20, 2016 at 12:22:05 in reply to Comment 117787

this point also has to be repeated to those who for some strange reason have taken up the fight against condo buildings in our city, as if adding more housing options is a bad thing. The same people who whined and cried for decades when the only housing being built was low density, out on greenfield lands, are now trying to oppose urban housing.
Condos are a fantastic way for young people to get into home ownership and start building equity. They are also a great lifestyle choice for downsizing seniors who don't want to mow lawns or shovel snow anymore. If we prevent people from building different housing options, we guarantee ourselves an unaffordable future.

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted April 20, 2016 at 12:32:06 in reply to Comment 117789

supply side economics is not going to solve housing prices because it's clear that condo supply has limited bearing on affordability when looking at other markets in this country. i don't think you need to be in support of large scale condo development to support increasing density.

there are few options for people to choose from aside from a small condo in a tower or a SFH. we have completely neglected medium density development because developers do not want to build it. due to our housing bubble, a lot of condo units are built for investors so we see a ton of 1 and 2 bdrm units that are easy to flip for people to climb up the property ladder, but not good if you have a family.

Comment edited by highasageorgiapine on 2016-04-20 12:33:55

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By GWW (registered) | Posted April 23, 2016 at 08:28:13 in reply to Comment 117791

Condo developers will build what will sell. Once you get to a three bedroom unit, you are approaching the cost of a low end SFH or a townhouse, at that point most people would prefer SFD or a townhouse.

The supply side of social housing is dependent on subsidies. When you look at some of the issues in Hamilton, where there are vacant social housing units, how much as a society do we spend? We have federal and provincial governments both running deficits. The city has limited financial wherewithal. The City however controls Zoning/density which can create windfalls for developers or owners of property. The City needs to consciously skim off some of these potential windfalls, that only they can create, and direct it towards social housing.

Comment edited by GWW on 2016-04-23 08:31:16

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By pickedclean (anonymous) | Posted April 20, 2016 at 12:18:02

My pockets have already been picked clean. I can't afford any more HST, property or other taxes, or increased hydro rates or use fees or hidden costs or whatever. I am sorry but I have enough trouble keeping my own house in order and have no more room left to give.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 21, 2016 at 19:43:12 in reply to Comment 117788

You need to keep your house in better order, hoss.

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2016 at 05:53:45 in reply to Comment 117821

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 22, 2016 at 19:01:27 in reply to Comment 117835

Let's leave it to the experts why don't we? That strikes me as the best possible plan. We're in this together. Let's trust together in the collective expertise about how to build a successful and inclusive community.

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By SMH (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2016 at 20:14:12 in reply to Comment 117821

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 21, 2016 at 23:11:32 in reply to Comment 117823

P.S. if you've got a problem, since you seem to know who I am you know where to find me. Always happy to talk such things out.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 21, 2016 at 23:09:51

The "attitudes on this thread" you're complaining about are a recognition that the city needs to grow its affordable housing stock and pushing back against people who say "I got mine, Jack".

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