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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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