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People Over Parking

You may have read or heard that half of Hamilton's City Councillors were blocking the City's efforts to allow for affordable housing on city-owned parking lots in downtown Stoney Creek, requiring the Mayor to use Strong Mayor Powers to resolve the impasse. These lots offer free parking, have been declared surplus for many years, and have been zoned for multi-residential use for 30 years.

To borrow from Edmund Burke, elected representatives, more than anything else, owe the public their judgement and not just their obedience to public opinion.  Citizens’ trust in government is frustrated when actions don’t match words.  

Any decision on housing affects everyone across the City.  Hamilton City Council unanimously declared a housing crisis in April 2023, followed by unanimous support for an action plan to bring focus and urgency to this crisis.  All of Council committed to action, not just words.

The action plan is called the Housing Sustainability and Investment Roadmap (HSIR)It is intended to be a "whole community" response, with the City of Hamilton partnering with community organisations to build affordable housing.

The sale or lease of surplus City-owned parking lots for a nominal price to not-for-profit housing corporations for affordable housing development is a tool available to municipalities and an identified action in the HSIR. The City and community partners can then use this land asset to leverage federal and provincial housing investments.

The City also created the Housing Secretariat to work with community partners to implement the HSIR. The Secretariat ensures all oars row in the same direction and reduces barriers to achieving the Roadmap's housing goals. The Secretariat is to end the politicization of affordable housing site selection, which has obstructed an 'all of city' approach to this crisis for too many years.

5 and 13 Lake Avenue South, Stoney Creek, Hamilton

The Lake Street properties are set out below. The City of Hamilton owns the properties outlined in both red and yellow and makes up the parking lots on Lake Avenue South and Mountain Avenue South. The yellow properties are the two lots recommended for affordable housing. The red property would remain a city-owned parking lot.

The proposal for the Lake Street lots would use 57 parking spots to construct 67 affordable housing units with 105 parking spaces remaining. As well, 30 spots will be added as part of the housing development for a net loss of 27 spaces. City staff have reported that the lot could be reconfigured with affordable housing developments to maximize the number of remaining spaces.


The phrase "but what about" is used in debate to deflect attention away from the actual argument with a response that seeks to change the subject with a counter that usually starts with "but what about X?"

 "The rest of the City should do its part. There are vacant lots elsewhere."

Yes.  I radically agree.    The Housing Secretariat also identified a total of six City-owned lots that are either vacant or being used as surface parking lots: 

  • 171 Main Street East (Ward 2) - parking lot; already zoned residential (currently undergoing a feasibility study)
  • 9 Clarence Street (Ward 2) - empty land; needs to be rezoned residential
  • 70 Hope Avenue (Ward 4) - parking lot; needs to be rezoned residential
  • 5 Lake Avenue South (Ward 5) - parking lot; already zoned residential
  • 13 Lake Avenue South (Ward 5) - parking lot; already zoned residential
  • 1126 Garth Street (Ward 14) - empty land; needs to be rezoned residential

There has been no political opposition by Council to using these sites for affordable housing.

There was a proposal in 2019 to build 44 social housing units for seniors and expand the Riverdale neighbourhood's recreational centre in Ward 5. But the plan had to be quietly shelved because it was not financially feasible and lacked Government of Ontario Ministerial approval to introduce residential with institutional use.  Conversely, the Lake Street parking lots are appropriately zoned, development-ready, and make financial sense. There is immediate value in developing the surface lots on Lake Avenue for affordable housing while work on the Riverdale site continues.

This is not an either/or debate. It's about AND.  All parts of the City must be part of the solution. History teaches us that affordable/supportive housing is overwhelmingly in older city wards. NIMBYism has allowed newer/suburban communities to avoid doing their share. In a crisis, we need all hands and all wards on deck.

"The loss of parking will hurt local business."

With his private sector professional commerce background, Ancaster Councillor Craig Cassar carefully identified 727 available parking within 400 metres of the Lake Street properties - 331 public and 396 private spots, all of which are free. These lots exclude residential buildings, auto service and businesses.

We know local businesses do well when more people live near commercial areas. If parking were a prerequisite for retail health, then suburban malls across North America would not be failing.

A parking stall can only be used by one car at a time. Free parking does not stimulate turnover and invites vehicles to stay in a stall all day, effectively eliminating available spots for people wanting to neighbourhood shop and support small businesses. 

This is about Affordable Housing

Let's be clear. Hamilton City Council is deciding whether to proceed with affordable housing on free, publicly subsidised surface parking lots at a location long determined as surplus.  

A litany of excuses has been put forward to justify opposition, yet the same opponents have failed to bring solutions to the table that address the immediate and near-term actions prioritized in the Housing Sustainability and Investment Roadmap. 

For example, they could propose changes that would affect site design and reconfigure the lots to create more parking stalls and address concerns regarding accessibility and seniors’ parking access to the adjacent medical building with its own parking lot of 64 spaces. They could allow for a site design that enhances safe and accessible walkways, landscaping, parkette investment, and a density shift from one proposed building to another to free up parking spots. They could assess the availability of on-street parking and remove restrictions where appropriate. They could do the work.


At the General Issues Standing Committee on February 21, the decision to move forward on the Lake Street properties lost on an 8-8 tie vote. This decision must be ratified at the next Hamilton City Council meeting.

To be sure, this decision prioritized parking over people and the Council’s duty to address Hamilton’s housing crisis. It has undermined our intergovernmental efforts to secure critical affordable housing investments and sends a clear signal that the municipality is not serious about doing its part to address the housing crisis. 

I hope my council colleagues will do the right thing and change their minds and votes when we meet again to ratify this decision. Housing and climate change are the most critical issues facing our entire City, not surface parking.