HAMILTON TARGETS POVERTY REDUCTION: HOUSING FIRST
April 12, 2017
Hamilton general issues committee is recommending that the city invest $50-million in affordable housing over the next decade, to increase the supply of units and keep its stock in a state-of-good-repair. This investment is a critical part of the city’s efforts to reduce poverty.
“Stable housing and affordable housing is the foundation of people’s path out of poverty,” Mayor Fred Eisenberger told NRU.
Tonight, Hamilton council will vote on committee’s recommendation to create a reserve fund for the city to build new affordable rental units and repair city-owned social housing units over the next decade. Committee also recommends that staff prepare a strategy to address issues of both supply and quality of affordable housing.
To kick-start the reserve fund, committee recommends using $20-million generated by extending the payback period by five years for existing city loans from the city’s Future Fund. An additional $3-million a year will be added over the next decade using additional revenue expected from the merger of several local utilities.
A report to committee from Medical Officer of Health Dr. Elizabeth Richardson and community and emergency services general manager Joe- Anne Priel says “housing must be the cornerstone of any poverty reduction plan” as residents need a stable home environment to address their other needs. They recommend the development of a comprehensive 10-year poverty reduction strategy by the end of 2018.
Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins told NRU that there are a number of different programs and services that the city could invest in as part of an effort to reduce poverty, starting with housing will help to alleviate the pressure on residents experiencing poverty.
“As many people struggle to pay their rent they have to make difficult choices. ... It might mean choosing between paying their rent and paying for other basic life necessities,” said Collins. “If we can provide people with more affordable housing options and a safe, habitable living environment it takes some of the stress factors out of their lives.”
There are almost 6,000 individuals and families on the city’s waiting list for social housing. Collins said since 2011, about 100 names have been added to the list each year as Hamilton’s housing market undergoes new pressures due to the changing economic climate and its proximity to the hot Toronto housing market.
“We’re seeing a lot of gentrification in the city,” said Collins. “It’s great to see people making investments in older parts of the city, buying homes and fixing them up. ... We see a lot of renewal for existing building stock and newer units constructed.”
However, Collins noted that this new investment in Hamilton’s housing stock has led to higher rents and increased competition for rental units. He said the turnover of units has also been slower. As rents increase people are choosing to stay in their units longer, limiting the supply of rental units.
In addition to the need for new rental units, a lot of units are in need of significant capital repair.
“We have a number of affordable housing units that are left derelict because we haven’t had the money to actually put them back into a state-of-goodrepair,” said Eisenberger.
Collins noted that much of the city’s affordable housing was constructed in the 1960s and ‘70s and major repairs are needed, such as elevators, roofs and boilers. He added that the city is “living on borrowed time” when it comes to maintaining these units.
Eisenberger and Collins are hopeful that if council agrees to invest in affordable housing, the city will be able to leverage additional dollars for housing from the federal and provincial governments.
“There may be a requirement [for city money] just like we’ve seen with transit announcements at the provincial and federal levels,” said Collins. “The fact that we’ll have $50-million poised to be invested in affordable housing, we’ll hopefully fare well in future federal announcements where there may be a funding requirement by the municipality.”
Eisenberger said that while the proposed investment could “move the yardstick” on poverty reduction, it is not nearly enough, and additional investment is needed from the federal and provincial governments.
“In the grand scheme of things this is a modest investment into what the overall need is. I certainly hope that the demonstration of our commitment to this issue will inspire the federal and provincial governments to do more as well.”