Plan to sell North End lands seems like a done deal, residents say

About 150 people weighed in on a plan to sell city lands in the North End to fix a social housing cash crunch. But some say they doubt anyone listened.

The city is asking for opinions, but residents say it isn't really listening

Paul Johnson, the city's former director of neighbourhood initiatives and new head of LRT, talks to the crowd at a west harbour consultation meeting on Thursday. Much of the meet was spent discussing a plan to sell two North End social housing properties to build more units around the west harbour. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

They came. They listened. They crossed their arms, and asked questions, and took notes.

But by the end of the night, some of the 150 residents assembled to hear a plan to sell land and build more affordable housing in the North End said they didn't think their opinions mattered much.

CityHousing Hamilton (CHH) is looking at selling two North End social housing properties — the 500 MacNab high rise, and the Jamesville townhouse complex.

Proceeds could be used to build more affordable housing on Barton/Tiffany lands, among other west harbour spots, a Deloitte report says. CHH is still weighing its options.

I got the message that they've already decided more or less what they want to do.- Nicholas Kevlahan , resident

City and CHH officials asked residents for their opinions Thursday during a monthly west harbour community consultation session at 294 James St. N.

Nicholas Kevlahan weighed in, but he doubts it mattered. 

"I got the message that they've already decided more or less what they want to do," he said.

"They were very clear they want to sell off the land as soon as possible and put the money into more housing … I don't see how that will change based on what they hear here."

Lindsay Godard, a North End resident, echoed that.

"It certainly seems like there's a predetermined course of action." 

The issue dates back to last year, when CHH, faced with a cash crunch and a long social housing waiting list, asked Deloitte for a report. That report looked at how CHH and the city could capitalize on Hamilton's hot real estate market to sell land and build more affordable housing.

We are land rich and we are cash poor.- Chad Collins, city councillor and president of CityHousing Hamilton

Deloitte presented options that include selling 500 MacNab and Jamesville. Vacant city-owned Barton/Tiffany lands could also house as many as 400 new affordable housing units, the report said. That's nearly twice as much as at Jamesville and MacNab.

CHH has to act now, said Collins, who is a Ward 5 councillor. Aside from a $1 million emergency reserve fund, CHH has no money in the bank. And each year, it only has about half the money it needs to maintain its units.

"We are land rich and we are cash poor," he told the crowd.

Jamesville and 500 MacNab are "substandard," Collins said, but there's no money to upgrade them. Maintaining the 50-year-old MacNab building alone over the next 15 years would cost nearly $30 million.

It seems like we're raiding the piggy bank now and selling off valuable land for emergency money.- Nicholas Kevlahan

Kevlahan worries about the urgency. The land is on the waterfront and near a GO station, he said. Its value will only increase.

He worries the land will be gone, and the problem of how to fund social housing will remain.

"It seems like we're raiding the piggy bank now and selling off valuable land for emergency money."

Collins said he's listening. "We wouldn't be showing up tonight if we didn't want to hear the opinions."

But an increasing number of social housing units are sitting empty because CHH has no money to fix them, he said.

"We're well past the point where we can sit on land."

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