On Friday, November 19th, Hamilton City Council will finally face the age-old question in municipal politics, when they finally decide whether to side with developers or the interests of Hamiltonians.
The vote was initially scheduled to take place on November 9th, which turned out to be a marathon 13-hour day for Hamilton city councillors and the mayor. They heard and viewed delegations from citizens, farmers, non-profits and developers. Council was supposed to make a decision that night regarding whether or not to expand the current urban boundary. Yet, despite having a quorum, council postponed the vote until 6 p.m. Friday.
The delay could mean one more vote is on the table. Councillor Chad Collins was elected Liberal MP representing Hamilton East-Stoney Creek in September’s federal election. Rather than undertaking a by-election, it was decided an interim councillor would be appointed to his vacant seat. A total of 21 candidates applied for the 11-month position.
The decision came down to former city mayor Larry Di Ianni and retired Dundas Councillor and former Liberal MP, Russ Powers. In an eight-to-six decision, Powers, won and, if sworn in on time, will now be included in the vote on the urban boundary issue.
Developers and their representatives delegating to council repeatedly stated they needed the urban boundary expansion to be able to build affordable housing for young Hamilton families. But can they really achieve this elusive goal?
The provincial governments own document, A Place to Grow: Growth plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, states affordable housing, whether renting or buying, is achieved when the annual accommodation costs do not exceed 30 per cent of the gross annual household income for low and moderate households.
The median income for Hamilton households in 2015 was $75,000. A new-build townhome in Hamilton starting at $820,000 with 10 per cent down ($82,000) leaves a mortgage of $623,200. Amortized over 25 years, monthly payments would be $3,538.40 or $42,460.80 annually. That’s 57 per cent of the median annual income. That leaves young families with $32,539.20 annually, a mere $2,711.60 monthly, to cover child care, food, car payments, car gas, utilities, property taxes and other daily living expenses. Using these conservative numbers, it becomes clear that it’s impossible, given the current Hamilton housing market, to meet Ford’s 30 per cent gross annual household income threshold.
Instead of chasing pie in the sky, Hamilton’s council should focus its energy encouraging developers to build means-tested affordable and geared-to-income housing within city boundaries. It’s a win, win, win situation. The city is re-invigorated and re-vitalized with walkable communities. Hamiltonians can choose from a variety of mixed housing options to fit their needs and incomes. Farmers get to keep growing an amazing diversity of food on their invaluable land feeding Hamiltonians and surrounding communities while generating jobs, incomes, and taxes.
Chris Kruker owns and farms Manorun Organic Farm in Lynden, Ontario. He feeds families throughout Hamilton. Kruker will tell you that the 3,300 acres of farmland developers want to build on is extremely good soil that is climate-wise.
In fact, the soil is so good that Kruker has been trying to purchase more land to expand his vegetable production. According to Kruker: “We will all be impacted by the loss of farmland in Hamilton. Land prices are through the roof making it impossible to purchase additional land. So, we can’t expand our farm.”
In a recent city survey, over 90.5 per cent of Hamiltonians voted NO to expanding the current urban boundary. Kruker supports this decision. He describes this as a representative issue with the onus being place squarely on council to represent the interests of Hamiltonians not developers and not provincial interests. Kruker says it’s time to say NO to urban expansion.
As Kruker explains:
“This is a new era. The provincial projections were made before COVID. People, especially young people, are staying home. We can’t live the way we used to live. Living closer together with intensification and with multi-generational households will become the norm because adult children can’t afford to move out.”
Kruker says every time he has dealt with city staff, they have been nothing but wonderful. However, he acknowledges that they are given mandates to work within and these frameworks often impede city staff recommendations dictating the direction they should take which subsequently, dictates the outcome at council.
From experience Kruker knows that, “There is such a thin band of land that has the right climate and soil conditions. Moving from local to imported food is not only expensive, it undermines our food security. There should be a national policy on food security with incentives for farmers.”
Hamilton City Council is making a monumental decision that will impact every generation to come. In the midst of a climate crisis, affordable housing crisis, homelessness crisis and an employment precarity crisis, does council really want to be responsible for adding food security and food sovereignty crises to the list? Is that a legacy to be proud of?
When council votes on Friday, councillors would be wise to make the choice that reflects the will of the people of Hamilton. Doing things the way we always did them is no longer good enough. The people have spoken. Let’s hope you were listening.