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Position Paper: Affordable Housing

Hamilton is facing an affordable housing crisis. This crisis did not happen overnight and it will not be solved overnight. But, a solution is within our grasp. It will take cooperation, determination and strategic investments.

Affordable Housing

Hamilton is facing an affordable housing crisis. This crisis did not happen overnight and it will not be solved overnight. But, a solution is within our grasp. It will take cooperation, determination and strategic investments.

Any beginning must begin with this first guiding principle: affordable housing is an investment, not an expense.

Affordable housing is key to supporting the city’s official vision to be the best place to raise a child and age successfully and is fundamental to sustainability, positive educational outcomes, health and prosperity.

A second guiding principle is that the market has not and will not self-correct to address this crisis. Intervention on the part of all levels of government (federal, provincial and municipal) is necessary.

Thirdly, let us not view affordable housing as a burden but as an opportunity. Every neighbourhood across the city must take advantage of the opportunity to include affordable housing in its development plans.

Fourthly, the segregation of our city by income, and therefore housing type, will not make for a prosperous, sustainable or healthy city. Inclusivity based on mixed-income must guide our city building actions.

Finally, any affordable housing strategy must have full awareness of the circumstances and needs of residents. To this end, it is my fundamental belief that we must apply a gender lens to our housing strategy. A gendered lens is a disciplined, informed practice of looking at something – – in this case affordable housing – rooted in the fundamental acceptance that urbanization is a deeply gendered process. Women and men experience urban environments differently. For example, more women than men lead single-parent families, more women suffer from domestic violence, and more women, as the dominant caregiver, are at risk of losing their children if their housing status fails. A failure to accept this basic premise means that housing policy and housing projects will never be fully informed, and, therefore, will never fully hit its mark.

As Ward 1 City Councillor, I will call for a housing strategy rooted in several pillars:

1. Look for Housing Partners

Identify and work with stakeholders, including our senior orders of government, non-profit organizations and cooperatives, the private sector and individuals, to find opportunities and create an environment that identifies affordable housing as a priority in Hamilton and the responsibility of many.

2. Get the Land and Approvals Ready, Minimize the Risk

Reduce costs and wait times by having the necessary development approvals in place for shovel-ready lands across the city for affordable housing projects. This could act as an incentive to private sector investment in affordable housing.

3. Use City Assets for “Housing First”

Support a “housing first” policy when it comes to identifying and assessing the use of city-owned surplus lands.

4. Allow and Encourage Secondary Suites & Laneway housing

Secondary suites, such as basement apartments are the most cost-effective means of adding to the available housing supply. Our regulatory environment should facilitate such development along with the development of laneway housing/garden suites. I am very pleased that Hamilton City Council recently approved a regulatory and planning environment that will allow for laneway housing.

5. Utilize Pricing Mechanisms to Encourage Affordable Units

Prices are key drivers of development patterns and housing availability. Municipal government can set prices with its use of development charges, property taxes and user fees. As Ward 1 City Councillor, I would support the suspension of development charges against affordable units.

6. Preserve and Protect Existing Rental Stock

Much of Hamilton’s affordable housing is dependent on the community’s existing private rental stock. But local research is revealing that this stock is being lost to condo conversions. Approximately 2000 primary rental units were removed from the market between 2004 and 2015. (HCF, Vital Signs 2015) As Ward 1 Hamilton City Councillor, I would support a strategy aimed at controlling the rate of conversions and insist that any rental stock lost in demolition be replaced.

7. Support for Low-interest Second Mortgage Programs

As Ward 1 Hamilton City Councillor I would support programs that enable residents with low and moderate incomes to qualify for low-interest second mortgages, such as those provided by Options for Homes and Trillium Homes. In so doing, individuals can get over the hurdle of a down payment that often serves as a barrier to home ownership.

8. Inclusionary Zoning

The previous Ontario Liberal Government made the legislative changes that give municipalities the ability to insist that a portion of any residential development in excess of 10 units are to include affordable units as part of the overall build. Hamilton must opt-in and make use of this land use planning tool.

9. Advocate, Education, Inform

The housing needs of Hamiltonians cannot be met by the City of Hamilton alone. The city must advocate for coordinated action on the part of all stakeholders (Federal and Provincial Governments, private, not for profit sectors) and have continuous conversations with the community about the importance of inclusive, mixed-income neighbourhoods and the role of affordable housing in supporting educational, health, economic and social outcomes.

10. Income

The City of Hamilton must continue to champion the need for a level of income supplement from our senior orders of government that will enable lower income persons to secure and maintain their housing needs. Moreover, support for a living wage must also be considered a tool aimed at improving housing security.