The value of Hamilton's housing stock is rising while perceptions around the city's identity shift β€” and make sure you thank the area's much improved air quality for its significant role in the turnaround, says the head of Clean Air Hamilton.

"I do believe that better air quality is integral to the resurgence of Hamilton," said Denis Corr, the environmental organization's chair. "This simply wouldn't happen if we had very poor air quality here.

"People just would not be coming from the rest of the GTA if we had extremely poor air quality."

Corr is quick to point out that better air is far from the sole contributing factor to a region that saw housing prices rise 23.49 per cent in May from the same month a year earlier β€” but it's definitely playing its part. 

Hamilton has seen steady home price increases for a decade and has consistently been cited as one of the hottest housing markets in the country in the last several years. In that time, pollutant levels in our air have plummeted.

According to a new report from Clean Air Hamilton that's going before the city's Board of Health on Thursday, the city has seen a 90 per cent improvement in major pollutants since the 1970s.

Benzene trends

(Clean Air Hamilton)

That includes an 87 per cent reduction in benzene levels in the last 20 years, and a 55 per cent drop in total suspended particulate matter in the same timeframe.

"Those are great improvements," Corr said. "But even so β€” there are still improvements we need to make.

"Fine particulates in the air are still a really significant problem."

Positive trends

In fact, as recently as 2015, Hamilton was above the provincial guidelines for particulate matter (PM 2.5). Those numbers dipped down to acceptable levels last year, the report shows, but they're still higher than other centres like Toronto, Kitchener and London.

Downtown Hamilton also recorded the highest annual mean of Sulfur Dioxide in the province in 2015, according to Air Quality Ontario's 2015 annual report.

U.S. Steel Canada

Denis Corr of Clean Air Hamilton says that the days of Hamilton being known for polluted, dirty air are gone. (CBC)

Yet the city's air quality markers are still mostly trending in the right direction. Graphs in the Clean Air Hamilton report all show contaminants like Benzo[a]pyrene, Benzene and Sulfur Dioxide steadily decreasing in our air.

That must be because Hamilton's steel industry is shrinking, right? Wrong, Corr says. "That's not the reason for the improvements," he said. "If it was, you'd see a distinct drop in a particular year, and that's not the case."

"It's the ongoing effort."

Clean Air Hamilton also has a greater depth of data on a granular level to work with than in years past, thanks to real time neighbourhood air monitoring across the city.

Now, people can visit HamiltonAQHI.com and see what the air quality is like right around the corner from their homes. Generally, Corr says, air on the Mountain is usually better than downtown, except for ozone levels.

Highways still culprits for air pollution

Often, he says, some of the worst air quality around southern Ontario is around the 400 series highways. But major city thoroughfares like Main Street and King Street can face the same issues.

"The air quality on major highways is usually three to four times worse than the rest of the city," he said. "And Main Street and King Street are usually the worst parts of downtown."

Dundurn Stairs

Green spaces like the Dundurn Street stairs contribute to Hamilton's "new" image. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The road dust, chemicals and particulate matter that's kicked up on busy roads can cause asthma and other lung issues, alongside cardiovascular problems, he said.

But even with those issues still present, the vast improvements Hamilton has seen have gone a long way to change the city's reputation as a hazy, polluted city dotted with billowing smokestacks, Corr says.

"It's not just this 'cool place to be where exciting things are happening,'" he said.

"More importantly, it's a place where you can live like a human being."

adam.carter@cbc.ca