Today is the day that Hamilton city council votes on whether to stop urban sprawl or expand city boundaries onto 3,300 acres of prime farmland.
Canadians live with the illusion that we have lots of farmland when in fact less the five percent of all land in Canada is arable and only 0.5 per cent of that land is prime farmland. Each day Ontario loses 175 acres of prime farmland which adds up to 50,000 acres per year.
The debate is absolutely about who can afford to live, eat and thrive in Hamilton. However, large single-family dwellings built on prime farmland that nourish the local community and provide food security is not the answer. These homes in no way address the affordability crisis.
Sky-rocketing housing prices in Hamilton are due to a combination of factors, not the least of which is the extreme unaffordability of Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville and Burlington. This is driving home buyers to Hamilton often with the financial means to outbid locals by bidding upwards of hundreds of thousands over the asking price. Simply building more homes for buyers to fight over is not the answer.
The real issue is that the provincial and federal governments have failed to address the need to have developers designate a percentage of all new builds as affordable rental housing. It is also the absence of a living wage and guaranteed livable income that would help Ontarians meet the financial demands of either renting or purchasing a home — whether that’s a condo, townhouse, semi-detached or single-family dwelling.
What really needs to be factored into this equation is the climate crisis we are immersed in and how that should absolutely be informing our housing options going forward. While many Ontarians may “want” to have a McMansion on a large lot, that choice is counter-intuitive to addressing the imminent climate crisis and should not come at the expense of our greenbelt, farmland, aquifers, food security and food sovereignty.
After over 90.5 per cent of Hamiltonians voted no to expanding the city boundaries on the Official City Survey, nine developers created the “Hamilton Needs Housing” Facebook ads disseminating fake news to the public. In fact, there is no grassroots support for the expansion of McMansions that will still require homeowners to drive to work, since there has been no discussion or plans for light-rail transit to be incorporated into these outlying subdivisions set to be built on prime farmland.
Truth is, the 236,000 future residents allocated to Hamilton by the provincial government can be housed within existing urban boundaries. According to mapping expert Zoe Green, the collaborative map designed by urban dwellers, architectural explorers, university students, community advocates shows just that:
“The mapping products they’ve created help Hamiltonians and our decision makers see the possibilities within the existing urban boundary. While an impressive body of work in its own right, it becomes very clear very quickly just how much land is available when this mapping is combined with information from the city showing, for example, the location of vacant buildings, subdivisions that have been approved but where no houses built yet, and the proximity of these areas to transit, community services and existing infrastructure.”
The vision for Hamilton should be intensification across the city including low rise buildings, duplexes, laneway and garden secondary dwelling units, additional builds on top of existing shopping malls and converting closed warehouses and schools to affordable housing units at an attainable price.
As councillors vote on Hamilton’s future they really need to think of individuals, couples as well as families with children and the next seven generations. Then, consider not only the diversity of housing that will be needed, but the environmentally-friendly transportation methods to get these Hamiltonians to school, work and leisure activities. Finally, consider the environmental impacts that each of these housing choices will have as well as the impact on local food security and food sovereignty. Once farmland is paved it is irretrievable.
Essentially this comes down to Hamilton city council making the best choice for all Hamiltonians — not developers or people willing to pay through the nose for a McMansion. Everyone’s future is at stake here.
Since August 2020 when the Ford government started using a developer’s lens rather than an environmental lens, the environment has become collateral damage to Ford’s practice of selling off Ontario to his developer buddies.
It is time for Hamilton city council to vote “No” boundary expansion onto prime farmland. Instead, let’s really address all of the issues that affect the affordability housing crisis in Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area. Don’t put this on future generations, vote to stop urban expansion.