To bring focus and urgency to the housing crisis in our city, Hamilton City Council launched the Housing Sustainability and Investment Roadmap (HSIR) in 2023.
The HSIR is intended to be a “whole of community” response, with the City of Hamilton partnering with community organizations that bring different strengths, experiences, needs and resources to the housing table. Although HSIR is an excellent step in bringing local resources together, ultimate success requires a fully engaged and committed federal and provincial government.
This Ward 1 update is to provide residents with the first annual update on the HSIR and the Housing Secretariat.
THE CURRENT HOUSING MARKET - Not Your Grandparent’s Housing Market
The change in the housing system has been fundamental and global in reach, with needs now extending beyond traditional lower-income groups and those historically subjected to inequitable housing conditions, including Indigenous Peoples, Black residents, women and members of the LGBTQ+ communities.
Students, persons living with complex needs, moderate-income residents and highly qualified essential workers such as nurses, caregivers and teachers are now experiencing housing stresses.
The City’s Housing Sustainability and Investment Roadmap (HSIR) recognizes a range of needs and aims to offer different interventions to match different circumstances.
The Roadmap’s scope includes average market rental, below-average market rental and ownership, community and non-profit rental housing, including subsidized or “rent-geared-to-income” housing.
WHAT THE CITY IS DOING - 4 Pillars of Action in the HSIR
The Housing Sustainability and Investment Roadmap extends across four pillars of action:
Pillar 1 - Construction of New Affordable Housing
Pillar 2 - Acquisition of At-Risk Affordable Units
Pillar 3 - Preserve and Retain Existing Affordable Housing
Pillar 4 - Housing Based Supports
The text below outlines the current activity in each of the 4 Pillars.
Pillar 1 - Construction of New Affordable Housing
Construction of new affordable units is the most expensive housing option. It requires deep public investment from the federal and provincial governments to construct and ongoing investment to ensure long-term security of tenure and affordability. But, it is necessary.
Over the past three years, the City of Hamilton has delivered or has pending:
Pillar 2 – Acquisition of At-Risk Affordable Units
Preserving existing affordable units is more cost-efficient than new construction and faces fewer procedural hurdles like zoning and permitting, which can add time and money to the purchase price of each unit.
Of significant importance is the Provincial Government’s current policy of residential vacancy decontrol (e.g. when a tenant leaves, landlords can charge whatever the market will bear). This policy came into effect in 2018 and is one of the major drivers of the escalation of housing costs. Putting in place a modest set of controls would not cost the province any actual resources. A provincial government serious about housing would take this opportunity to act and act quickly.
As noted in my last Ward 1 letter, Hamilton has lost 16,000 modestly priced rental units ($750/month or lower) over the last decade as investors moved west to Hamilton, where most of the rental stock is aged, and investors are buying up these rental apartments. “As tenants leave (either involuntarily or by attrition), they upgrade building amenities and units to obtain higher rents.” (Dunn and Pomeroy) The result has been a spike in homelessness.
Pillar 3 – Preserve and Retain Existing Affordable Housing
In 2023, Hamilton City Council approved a suite of bylaws to curb affordable unit loss caused by disrepair and neglect. Collectively, this is a groundbreaking policy for Hamilton.
The scope of work includes actions aimed at curbing “renovictions”. This occurs when a tenant is displaced when repairs are undertaken, and the property owner increases the unit's rent following displacement. The goal is to enable tenants to stay in place, retain existing rental stock and keep it in good repair.
Pillar 4 – Housing Based Supports
Many individuals needing affordable housing also need support. These supports, in the form of rent supplements and/or personal health supports, are to ensure successful tenancies and end the high risk of homelessness for these individuals.
Homelessness Action Plan
The HSIR is separate from the City’s Housing and Homelessness Action Plan, but both strategies inform and affect the other. Having limited financial capacity, the City has to invest scarce resources in short-term emergency solutions like shelters while simultaneously working to advocate and budget for permanent housing to quell the tide of people entering shelters and living in encampments.
Ultimately, it is the goal of the City of Hamilton to retain, enable and develop permanent, long-term housing solutions. The City of Hamilton must be prepared to pull every municipal lever at its disposal if it is serious about achieving these goals.
The first step for the City of Hamilton was to realign staff to create a Housing Secretariat to work across City departments and with community stakeholders to implement the HSIR. This step has been taken.
The Secretariat is to ensure all oars are rowing in the same direction and to reduce barriers to achieving the Roadmap’s housing goals.
The recently launched Housing Secretariat website contains information on the Roadmap, collects details on potential affordable housing projects, and gives developers and residents interested in working toward solutions an opportunity to participate.
Affordable Housing Resource Fund
Also, in 2023, Hamilton City Council approved the creation of a $4 million fund to support affordable housing opportunities. However, a more significant investment fund is required for action opportunities specific to supportive housing. A multi-year housing reserve ($10 million per year for three years) received approval in principle. This reserve will support efforts to qualify for and leverage senior government funding to deliver at least 200 new permanent supportive housing units for people exiting homelessness.
WHAT THE CITY CAN DO NEXT - Time for Interventions
A previous Ward 1 letter offered a brief history of our housing system, detailing the divestment from publicly funded social housing by federal and provincial governments over the last 30 years in favour of market-based solutions.
As a result of the two higher levels of government getting out of the affordable housing sector, 94% of Canadians are housed in the private market (homes, condos and apartments), with another 4% in non-market housing such as co-operatives and not-for-profit housing. In short, most of our housing, rental and ownership is set in a speculative investment model, with prices and supply affected by market forces.
The same Ward 1 letter detailed how income support programs (e.g. Ontario Works) and income polarization (e.g. growing gap between rich and poor) have made it extremely difficult for lower-income households to meet rising rents, contributing to the housing crisis and the growth in homelessness.
All governments, including the City, must work collaboratively with the private housing sector to lift the overall housing supply and build quality and appropriate housing. A diversity of housing stock, without the forced high cost of car dependency, can create pathways to attainable housing and ease the tenure cliff being felt by a growing number of residents. However, the HSIR recognizes that accelerating built-form diversity alone is not enough.
The reliance on the private market (at 94%) for something as critical as housing has proven inadequate and is generating huge costs and losses, in human terms, in economic terms and terms of social and health conditions. There’s also a case to be made for the government to interrupt the private sector monopoly that it helped create to affect that market. In other words, it’s time to think about interventions.
What Interventions Might Look Like
Interventions, particularly in the rental market, are necessary.
Intervention can take the form of a modest housing subsidy to stave off eviction and a pathway to homelessness.
Intervention can take the form of supporting a non-profit housing agency in purchasing an apartment with modestly priced units at risk of being bought by a private REIT (real estate investment trust).
Intervention can take the form of municipal zoning changes, reduced parking minimums and built-form allowances to create a lot of units of moderately affordable housing without subsidy.
Intervention can take the form of selling surplus municipal parking lots for a nominal price to not-for-profit housing corporations for affordable housing development.
Intervention can take the form of a suite of city bylaws with adequate enforcement to ensure that ageing rental units are not allowed to fall into disrepair, with vital services like water at risk.
Intervention can take the form of deep subsidies for supportive housing with wrap-around services for residents with complex needs to ensure successful tenancies and halt the pathways to homelessness.
In closing, the affordable housing crisis confronting our City has been at least 30 years in the making. Realistically, it won’t be solved in a year or even a decade. And we won’t make substantial progress in the absence of leadership by both senior levels of government. But that sobering reality can’t stop our community from demonstrating our commitment in tangible ways. With focus, urgency and creativity, we can and will begin to make a difference.
Dunn, James R., and Steven Pomeroy, 2023. “A Strategic Implementation Framework for the Hamilton Housing & Sustainability Investment Roadmap. Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative and McMaster University
Definitions Currently in Use
- Moderately affordable housing: up to 125% of Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) average market rents
- Affordable Rental Housing: 80% of CMHC average market rents
- Deeply Affordable: Rent-geared-to-income OR affordable to people on Ontario Works (OW)/Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). One bedroom = $500 to $600 per month
- Community Housing: Non-profit or co-op housing that offers a mix of rent-geared-to-income and affordable rental units
- Supportive Housing: The HSIR focuses on supportive housing for people with a history of homelessness. Different types of human service supports are linked to units.