As 2023 comes to a close, two Ontario mayors agree there were no bigger issues across the province this past year than housing and homelessness.
They also suggest other orders of government will need to show up to solve the problem.
Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath characterizes a lack of affordable housing across Canada as “not a very good story” and that the city will “have to have” more resources from the province of Ontario and the federal government to accommodate the estimated 6,000 in the city needing a more stable roof over their heads.
“We’ re trying to find the ways not only to provide some assistance capital-wise, but also to encourage the provincial government to partner with us as well,” Horwath said.
“We also have the asylum seekers and refugees, and we’re working with the federal government to try to get them to help (and) bring more resources to support those folks.”
City staff estimate Hamilton’s housing market between 2011 and 2021 has lost some 16,000 lower rent housing units and that rental units below $750 declined by some 10,000 between 2011 and 2016, with a further 5,500 lost between 2016-21.
It’s also believed the problem contributed to a drop in ownership, moving to just 65 per cent in 2021 from the 72 per cent recorded in 2006.
Get the latest National news.
Sent to your email, every day.
A Housing Sustainability and Investment Roadmap, established in 2022, hopes to bring those numbers back up via new construction, acquisition of existing homes, repair of offline community housing and income supports for those who need it.
An attempt to develop city-owned parking lots and vacant properties into 150 permanent dwellings is a recent example of what the blueprint seeks with deep dives into site conversions across the city as a measure.
Horwath hopes the roadmap will aid non-profits in cutting red tape and other barriers to speed up approvals for provincial and federal funding via a newly-developed Housing Secretariat, tasked with continuous updates for council on the progress of initiatives and developments.
“We’re working really hard because it’s not just something that is a one-off,” she explained.
“We need to put the focus … the resources and we need to do the advocacy with the other levels of government.”
Hamilton has just over 13,ooo subsidized housing units operated by some 40 partners.
A promise to issue 2,600 permits in the next three years and a plan for 9,000 units over the next 10 years captured $93 million in funding from the federal government’s Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) in 2023.
It’s the same cash Mayor Marianne Meed Ward hopes to get for Burlington in 2024 via a $40-million application into the federal government’s HAF funding.
Development charge exemptions for non-profit housing, a pilot studying the expansion of transit corridors and a permit system removing barriers to intensification were some elements the municipality committed in the federal qualifying process.
“It’s really about making sure that we can accommodate all of the new people coming to Burlington … and that young people can afford a house and people can stay in our city,” Meed Ward explained.
Social services, housing and homelessness in the municipality is handled by Halton Region which estimated there were some 300 unhoused in 2021 with about half of those in some sort of transitional accommodation.
Halton was given close to $10 million from the province for homelessness prevention in 2023 with Meed Ward seconding a motion from Milton Coun. Colin Best in March, urging Ontario to acknowledge the circumstance as a “social, economic and health crisis.”
Meed Ward says finances will be “huge” in any solution, considering development charge cuts and inflation in homebuilding costs are essentially asking the city to fund things “they were never intended to.”
“So trying to make sure that we have a financially sustainable city and we can make sure that things are in a state of good repair without putting everything on the backs of taxpayers is a real key,” according to Meed Ward.
“We have joined forces with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Association of Municipalities of Ontario to ask for a new municipal funding framework because we can’t continue to fund all the services that a community needs on a 100-year-old model.”
The Burlington housing plan, an overall commitment of at least 29,000 units by 2031, centres around three GO Transit stations where underutilized, vacant and parking lot land exists.
“It’s land that can be deployed to create really complete communities, and is more than housing,” said Meed Ward.
“It includes community centres, parks, jobs, services, all of the things that our community needs.”
Aging retail plazas and corridors around Fairview Street near Burlington GO station are being sought as mixed-use transit-oriented developments.
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.