Commentary

Highlights from Affordable Housing Workshop

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.

Large Apartment Buildings

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!)

Pocket Houses

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.

Potential

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.

Panel Discussion

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):

Sponsors

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.

Sarah Wayland is a Hamiltonian, mother, and part-time civil servant. She moved to Canada to marry her husband John, whom she met at the University of Maryland while pursuing a PhD in political science.

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 09:26:28

That Pocket Housing idea is amazing. Apparently one of the remarks from the conference reported in the Spec was how there was a real urgency to create low-rise affordable housing, and avoid the flight of low-income renters into Apartment towers - which has been a cause of much difficulty in Toronto. These Pocket Houses could be just the thing to not only provide 'human scale' housing for marginalized people - but to do so in a way that integrates people into the community - and perhaps into more communities than just Downtown and the East End.

I walk past two or three boarding homes on my way home (having volunteered in them in the past, they're easy to spot), and know how bad the conditions can be. Pocket Housing sounds like a great first step in the right direction.

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By Jim Dunn (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 10:17:54


Thanks for this summary, once again RTH shows that it is terrific for spreading the word on important community events.

One point of clarification, however. I did not work on the Code Red Report. The research and writing was conducted by Steve Buist (The Spec), Neil Johnston (McMaster) and Pat DeLuca (McMaster).

I think it is a fabulous series, and Steve has, quite deservedly, received awards for it. But I had no involvement with its production and should not get any credit for it.

Because I think it is such a good report, however, I have participated in trying to keep the conversation in the community about is implications alive, but this is relatively minor in comparison to the series itself.

J. Dunn, Ph.D.
www.crunch.mcmaster.ca

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 10:27:28 in reply to Comment 61321

Hi Jim, sorry about that! I've updated the article to remove the incorrect attribution.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 12:09:12

The lack of affordable housing being built in this country has been scandalous as long as I can remember. In too many ways both the government and private sector just walked away from building it.

The thing is, affordable housing will appear one way or the other. A very large number of people simply can't afford high rents, condo fees and mortgages. Somewhere, somebody will have to lower prices to a point where people can afford it, or there will simply be nobody left to rent to, or sell to someone who will. This is how slums pop up, and past a certain breaking point, it ghettoises the whole neighbourhood, carving up old homes into rooms for rent, and scaring off anyone with the ability to leave.

What we need, IMHO, is an option for collective ownership of small-to-medium rental buildings. Something a little like a condominium, but run primarily as a co-operative of residents. The economics of rent are insane - in far too many cases it actually costs more to rent, and you get much less for your money. Pay off the building, put it in trust, and drop the rents to something that actually approximates the cost of upkeep. Share risk and equity with other similar buildings, and form a coalition to help establish more. Oh, and let some tradespeople pay in work.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 14:58:19

I would definitely like to see more adaptive re-use of heritage buildings for affordable housing throughout the city. I'm not talking on the level of City Housing, but more like Spallaci's West Ave school project. I went by on the bus yesterday and they did an absolutely amazing job. It looks like the units are filling up nicely and I think Barton might actually get some nice economic spinoff from it.

I'm not personally a fan of the standard affordable housing commie block towers like you'd find on John Street North or the generic townhouse design on James North and in the East end at Oriole Crescent. I find that their generic design features actually promote a "ghetto" image. Not much to be proud of for those who live in these places.

Comment edited by MattM on 2011-03-22 14:58:47

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 20:00:38 in reply to Comment 61367

this comment is bang on. the generic highrise or townhome projects are really bad, and I've heard nothing but amazing things about that West Ave school project. I need to go check it out. I'd love to see Barton Street get more projects like that added to it's streetscape.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:35:10 in reply to Comment 61376

I must say, as someone who's been to the former Soviet Union (briefly), the bit about "commie block towers" is spot on. It's stunning how familiar a lot of that stuff looks.

I don't totally know what the answer is, but "housing projects" aren't it. Build a ghetto, and that's exactly what you'll get.

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 15:08:17

I've been fascinated with 'Sea Cans' being converted to housing units. Could anything this funky and interesting happen in Hamilton? Could this be an affordable housing solution? Check the video!

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 15:15:03 in reply to Comment 61421

comment from banned user deleted

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By TnT (registered) | Posted March 25, 2011 at 00:39:14

Allowing multiplexing of properties is not the same as rooming houses or group homes. That would be a more effective use of properties then new builds.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted March 31, 2011 at 01:09:04

As a follow up I am curious if anyone has news on th St Luke situation? Following it makes me feel something has gone horribly wrong with our ward.

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By *karen b (anonymous) | Posted May 03, 2012 at 00:17:48

Hi there,

For days after attending this event I was kicking myself for not mentioning something that struck me as being surprisingly absent from the discussion and that was an emphasis on the need for energy efficiency to be an integral part of any new affordable housing construction.

Utility costs eat away at limited incomes and can get in the way of purchasing other essentials like healthy food.

It is anticipated that as cheap oil because less available, that energy efficiency will not be a luxury enjoyed by folks with both abundant disposable income and an interest in environmental issues: we are all going to need to do more with less in our everyday lives.

That is why I was delighted to watch this segment on The National tonight. It expressed what I wanted to say, but since I was the "new kid" in the affordable housing room I was too shy to add this essential piece of the affordable housing conversation (copy and paste to view the 4-minute segment): http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/News/TV_Shows/The_National/1233408557/ID=2230189649

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