The province needs to come up with incentives to get developers to build affordable housing, says Ontario’s new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Ted McMeekin, also MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, held the first meeting of his 44-municipality Building Bridges tour in Hamilton on Friday.

The province has fallen behind in its approach to affordable housing, he told city councillors. And it needs to look at a strategy to encourage more affordable housing units.

“We need to create approaches to housing, including incentives to developers,” he said.

“I wrote my masters thesis on social housing. I think we did it better 40 years ago than we do now.”

Affordable housing is a pressing issue in Hamilton, where more than 5,000 families are waiting for subsidized housing.

Figures show that 629 new rental units are needed each year to keep up with population growth, advocates say. But the city is only producing about one-sixth of that right now.

Of the 1,264 new units built in the last five years, city figures show, 485 were condos and only 138 were apartments. The rest was housing for seniors or students. Condos are more attractive to build, developers say, because they can use pre-sales as collateral to build the project.

The last provincial budget allocated $4 billion over 10 years for affordable housing, McMeekin said. That will create 17,000 new units and renovate or repair 263,000 more.

It was an amiable meeting Friday, where council congratulated McMeekin on his attendance as they aired grievances over downloading and grant money the province gives to the municipality.

Downloading was the focal point, an issue that Coun. Sam Merulla says impacts nearly 40 per cent of the average Hamilton property tax bill.

City and province disagree over numbers

In the late 1990s, the Mike Harris government downloaded social services, social housing and court security to the city. From 2008 to 2018, Ontario is uploading some of those services back to the provincial level.

But the city and the province disagree on how much money that actually saves Hamilton property taxpayers. The province claims uploading has saved Hamilton about $78 million from 2009 to 2013. But the city says it’s only saved $11.8 million because uploading also stripped it of grants that came with the downloaded services.

The city is spending $35,000 to hire an external auditor to do an in-depth audit of the impact of downloading. The results are expected next month, said finance head Mike Zegarac.

If the audit shows disparity, McMeekin said, his staff and city staff will sit down and “make sure we’re comparing apples to apples.”

Merulla says he’ll give McMeekin “the benefit of the doubt” that he’ll try to fix the issue.

'I want to be optimistic'

“He has stated clearly today that he’s willing to work toward a solution,” he said, “and I want to help him do that.”

“I want to be optimistic.”

Hamilton is getting less grant money overall under the Liberals, Coun. Brad Clark told McMeekin. Clark is a Stoney Creek councillor and former Conservative cabinet minister.

In the last eight years, Hamilton’s infrastructure deficit has grown from $45 million per year to $195 million per year, he said. He’s also worried the province will stop footing half the bill for ambulance service.

“Talk about building bridges. We need assistance,” he said.

“It’s not just words. These are serious issues that if not resolved are going to result in tax increases in a municipality where one in four residents are struggling to pay their bills.”