Commentary

Is Affordable Housing a Priority for the Broader Hamilton Community: One Year Later

The benefits of universal access to safe, affordable and appropriate housing remain clear to individuals, communities and the entire city.

By Greg Tedesco
Published March 19, 2015

Close to a year ago, I wrote an article for Raise the Hammer asking if affordable housing is a priority for the broader Hamilton community. I discussed my thoughts on how affordable housing should be a priority for Hamilton and how we must continue to find innovative ways to ensure that everyone has options and opportunity to attain safe, adequate and affordable housing.

A lot can happen in a year, but has anything changed? In terms of who is sitting around the table, the answer is yes. Following provincial and municipal elections in 2014, new and familiar faces are once again entering the dialogue on affordable housing. One of those familiar faces is Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

Eisenberger joined in with a majority of respondents in an RTH pre-election questionnaire in stating that he supports an expanded role for Hamilton to provide more affordable housing.

Eisenberger cited the city's Housing and Homelessness Action Plan as a starting point for this work.

A Changing Market

One year later, the local housing market in Hamilton continues to change. Average sale prices continue to rise and a tighter rental market has put pressure on the entire housing spectrum, as vacancy rates recently hit a 12-year low.

The social housing waitlist [PDF] remains relatively static, with 5,553 active households on the waitlist as of December, 2014. With the amount of potential new housing development on the horizon, questions continue to be raised around the need and place for affordable housing in our city.

Recent questions have revolved around what incentives developers may have to build affordable housing. This includes what potential power the city has to influence developers to consider the component of community need and "social good" in their development.

At the Hamilton-Halton Home Builders' Association Leaders' Breakfast last month, Mayor Eisenberger emphasized the benefits of private sector collaboration and partnership. He discussed strategies the city could employ to partner with builders to encourage affordable housing development, citing variable rate charges, inclusionary zoning and density bonusing.

Paving the Way for More Affordable Housing

This past October, Don Jaffray and Sara Mayo of the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton (SPRC) wrote an op-ed in The Hamilton Spectator to discuss potential strategies the city can utilize to encourage affordable housing development.

The article used the upcoming development of the Barton-Tiffany lands at a jumping off point to focus on three specific strategies; adding conditions of sale to city land, density bonusing, and inclusionary zoning.

Before you read any more of what I'm writing, please read their article. It provides a fantastic summary of potential strategies to encourage affordable housing development in Hamilton, while also speaking to the positive social and economic impact of encouraging and developing diverse, inclusive, mixed-income areas.

Similar impact and benefits were also echoed by Hamilton Community Foundation President and CEO Terry Cooke and McMaster University professor Jim Dunn in their Spectator op-ed, "The city we need: A Vital Signs Perspective".

Looking back at these articles, it also provides added context to the encouraging comments by Mayor Eisenberger at the Leaders' Breakfast, focusing on building and supporting inclusive neighbourhoods.

As these are going to continue to be important issues for Hamilton moving forward, I want to revisit one of the ideas presented by Don and Sara and highlight a couple other interesting potential community strategies relating to affordable housing.

Inclusionary Zoning

In Hamilton, inclusionary zoning appears to have more vocal support than it ever has. Hamilton Organizing for Poverty Elimination (HOPE) and the SPRC surveyed municipal candidates (PDF) on whether or not they would explore and implement an inclusionary zoning bylaw requiring a certain component of housing developments to be affordable.

Many respondents who eventually were elected stated that they would support steps toward inclusionary zoning, a strategy which is also discussed in the Housing and Homelessness Action Plan. The desire appears to be there, so what is the next step? The province.

Cheri DiNovo, NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park, has previously introduced inclusionary zoning legislation five times. Each time, it has failed to pass into law.

New Liberal MPP Peter Milczyn introduced an inclusionary zoning bill this past November. However, it still has not gone to committee and he continues to preach "patience".

Municipalities may need to be very patient if history is any indication. Milczyn's private member's bill has still not received larger government support to this point and was absent from recent changes to the Planning Act.

How much longer will cities like Hamilton and those in need of affordable housing options have to wait? I hope we get an answer soon.

Land Trusts

Shifting topics slightly, I wanted to explore a couple community based concepts that have had my attention recently. The first one is the potential role of land trusts in contributing to creating affordable housing.

While the land trust concept is fairly new in Hamilton, it does present interesting potential to build local partnerships that may lead to creative solutions to affordable housing.

In our city, the Hamilton Community Land Trust (HCLT) has recently been granted non-profit status from the Ontario Government and continues to work toward identifying goals and strategies approaching one year since their public launch.

Eventually, it would be great to see the HCLT be able to acquire and hold land in Hamilton for the purpose of affordable housing.

Pocket Housing

While not a new idea in Hamilton, it is one that may provide an opportunity to help increase availability of affordable housing and effectively re-purpose under-utilized pieces of land throughout the city. Inspired by Winnipeg's award-winning pocket housing project [PDF], Hamilton's Affordable Housing Flagship undertook a study in 2012 to apply the concept locally.

More recently utilized as a case study [PDF] by the Hamilton Community Land Trust, pocket housing was identified as potentially being utilized on city tax arrears properties, mixed-use properties along Barton Street, and other areas where financing remains a challenge.

While finding suitable, development ready land could prove to be a challenge, the HCLT identifies creating local partnerships as key to creating solutions and building capacity for collaboration.

Priority for the Broader Hamilton Community?

I'll finish where I started, and once again reflect on the original question; is affordable housing a priority for the broader Hamilton community?

We already know that if individuals have safe, affordable, appropriate housing, they are more likely to experience better health, more active community engagement and participate more actively in the local economy, as well. On a very basic level, the benefits to individuals, communities and the entire city remain clear.

Development and intensification on the scale of what is being discussed at Barton-Tiffany and in different areas of the city of Hamilton does not happen often, presenting an incredible opportunity for the city moving forward.

An opportunity to be leaders and ensure that ongoing development promotes inclusion and accessibility, while working to fulfill the City's vision to be a safe, healthy, vibrant and sustainable community. The issue of affordable housing should be an important one for us all.

As always, multi-level support and collaboration will be important. Change will come once again this year in the form of a federal election and we need to ensure that affordable housing is a focal point as campaigns begin - a good time for a reminder that Canada is the only G8 country without a national housing strategy.

It was recently announced that Hamilton has signed on to be a pilot city for the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness' 20,000 Homes campaign, a national campaign to provide housing to some of Canada's most vulnerable individuals experiencing homelessness.

This campaign has the potential to create significant, tangible change and my hope is that at the very least it continues to place the issue of affordable housing back on the national, provincial and municipal agendas in a more comprehensive way.

To echo what I said one year ago, community ideas and grassroots movements continue to be an integral voice in neighbourhood development and affordable housing strategies. Please continue the conversation throughout the community and let's continue to do what we can to provide forums where everyone can participate and everyone's voice can be heard.

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 fmurray (registered) | Posted March 20, 2015 at 12:45:16

Great article, Greg.

It's so important to have supportive infrastructure in the community for necessities: Food, shelter, transportation, childcare. And with the heated housing market, housing of all forms becomes less affordable.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 23, 2015 at 23:35:09

Strange that affordable housing doesn't seem to generate many comments. Important and timely topic. I'm under the impression that the City isn't particularly committed to encouraging a diverse, inclusive, mixed-income community on Pier 8 as part of their Waterfront redevelopment plans.

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By Colin G (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2015 at 22:38:14

There is no shortage of good arguments in favour of affordable housing. How can one not support it? Affordable housing is like clean water. Anyone out there that doesn't support clean water?
The problem with affordable housing is that we do not have anyone, or enough knowledgeable and experienced people, who can use the tools out there and produce affordable housing. Lots of talk but little action. We need a critical mass of expertise.

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