As the City develops a housing and homelessness strategy, yesterday's affordable housing workshop highlighted opportunities for the public and private sectors to work together to ensure housing for everyone.
By Sarah V. Wayland
Published March 22, 2011
this article has been updated
Hamilton's Affordable Housing Flagship put on an event yesterday morning called "Scattered Sites: Creating Affordable Mixed Housing Opportunities for Everyone".
Speakers from Toronto and Winnipeg each described specific housing initiatives in their cities, followed by a panel discussion of four Hamiltonians on the barriers and opportunities to creating more affordable housing in this city.
First up was Cary Green and Hanita Braun of Verdiroc Development Corporation, a private developer in Toronto that has built several large affordable apartment buildings. The Harold Green Building won a 2010 Housing Award from the CMHC for Best Practices in Affordable Housing.
Located near the new Don Mills subway station, this building mixes family and non-family units as well as supportive and regular housing. It incorporates environmentally friendly elements as an essential part of its long-term affordability.
Verdiroc has also "revitalized" large buildings, including 25 San Romanoway near Jane and Finch.
Revitalization included adding meeting and play space, parks, and programs for children and youth. Since the renovations, the building has had a waiting list for units. According to the presenters, police visits have decreased significantly, as has graffiti. (Not sure if the presenter was joking but he stated that gang members helped out with drywalling and painting, and thus nobody wanted to be caught creating graffiti there!)
In contrast to the first speaker from a large company with large, multi-unit developments, Laurie Socha of SAM Management in Winnipeg discussed her work with pocket housing.
Pocket houses are small, eight-unit buildings erected on small vacant city lots, very similar to lot sizes in lower Hamilton. Intended for low income residents who might otherwise live in rooming houses, each unit has its own bathroom and kitchen facility.
Through a local municipal initiative to encourage urban housing starts, SAM was able to purchase each lot for $1. Lots were selected after a process of community consultation. Ms. Socha noted that the same design is currently being replicated in Regina, though she also noted that the Winnipeg project is still somewhat in the red due to various factors.
Sitting there in the Waterfront Banquet Centre looking out over Hamilton Harbour, it was hard for me not to feel the potential for this city. Initiatives like the two presented above could make a real difference here where a significant portion of our population lacks adequate and affordable housing.
It is true that some noteworthy initiatives are underway in Hamilton, including the reduction of shelter space due to the creation of more stable housing for persons at risk of homelessness, the apartments on Main Street East going up under the auspices of Homestead Christian Care and a residential conversion project at All Saints Anglican Church at Queen and King that has yet to come to fruition.
Yet, as one of the later speakers noted, we lack significant investment from the private sector. We lack a catalyst (such as an announcement about GO train service expansion) to really get things going.
A panel of discussants then articulated their visions for housing in Hamilton, barriers to getting there, and potential solutions. The panelists were Dr. Jim Dunn of McMaster University, Gillian Hendry and Paul Johnson of City of Hamilton, and Doug Duke of Hamilton-Halton Home Builders' Association.
Some of the points they raised (not that they agreed on all points):
Vision of a city where healthy neighbourhoods, not services, form a support nucleus to residents. An interesting vision that of course would also save tax dollars in the long run if it could be achieved.
Residential intensification is already underway in Hamilton, but not in the downtown core as we might expect. It's happening on the Mountain, Upper Stoney Creek, Ancaster and Binbrook especially.
Housing is not considered a universal right in Canada in the way that education and health care are. Canada is the only G8 country that lacks a national housing strategy.
Walkability is very desirable, even to people who don't live in walkable neighbourhoods. A study of the Atlanta region by UBC Professor Larry Frank found that one-third of participants would rather live in a more walkable area but simply could not find or access one.
The City of Hamilton is currently developing a Housing and Homelessness Strategy.
The event was sponsored by the CMHC, City of Hamilton, Hamilton-Halton Home Builders' Association, Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, and Re/Max Realty.
Organizers noted the diversity of "usual suspects" attending the event, representing not only the above organizations but other local players such as realtors, service providers, Hamilton Community Foundation, Homestead Christian Care, interested citizens, and many others I did not recognize.
It was refreshing to have people from the private sector in attendance as well as presenting.
Update: This article originally stated that Dr. Jim Dunn had worked on the Code Red project. This is incorrect, and RTH regrets the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.