Ontario has pledged new legislation that would give Hamilton the ability to demand that developers build more affordable housing — a move at least one city councillor says will help ease the city's housing crunch.
Ted McMeekin, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale, announced an update to the province's long-term affordable housing strategy on Monday morning.
In doing so, he pledged inclusionary zoning legislation. Such legislation would give cities, including Hamilton, the ability to demand that a certain percentage of a new development is affordable housing.
'We're in renovation, not expansion mode.' - Coun. Chad Collins
That's welcome news for Hamilton, which has 5,700 households on its social housing wait list. The city's hot real estate market has caused an affordable housing crunch, advocates say. But city council has lacked strong enough tools to force developers to build affordable units.
Monday's announcement partially fixes that, said Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor and vice-chair of CityHousing Hamilton (CHH). Hamilton's housing crisis, he said, is "one of the province's most severe."
"Affordable housing doesn't happen by accident," he said. "We need legislation that will give us the tools to require private developers to build affordable housing."
The change only addresses part of the problem, said Chad Collins, Ward 5 councillor and CHH president. CHH needs money to fix its aging units first — including 100 vacant ones — before it can afford to maintain new ones.
"We're in renovation, not expansion mode," he said.
"We need bold and transformative action to first address the state of poor repair and later make inroads with Hamilton's long social housing wait list."
This has come up before
McMeekin told CBC Hamilton that he hopes to introduce inclusionary zoning legislation as quickly as possible. He'd like to see it pass before June 9, when the legislature breaks for the summer.
'Friends, the stars are indeed lining up.' - Ted McMeekin
It's not a new idea. Two private members bills — one NDP, one Liberal — have been in circulation, although Monday's announcement likely renders those efforts redundant. Last week, the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton (SPRC) was among 57 organizations who signed a letter to McMeekin asking to move on legislation.
Andrea Horwath, Ontario NDP leader and Hamilton Centre MPP, made a similar call on Friday.
"I know alarm bells have gone off in some quarters around gentrification in the downtown and the fear that people who have lived there for a long time aren't going to be able to afford to live there anymore," Horwath said.
"The important thing is to ensure mixed housing and income levels."
'The sky is clearing'
In his announcement, McMeekin said for the first time, the federal, municipal and provincial levels of government are all focused on affordable housing.
"Friends, the stars are indeed lining up," he said. "The sky is clearing."
Deputy Premier Deb Matthews also said a national housing strategy is in the works. Local housing advocates have wanted a national strategy for years, and Matthews's words are one of the strongest indications yet that it will happen.
McMeekin said afterward that he's confident a national housing strategy is coming "very soon."
The money in the announcement — $178 million over three years for affordable housing across the province — had already been announced in the provincial budget.