Affordable housing to be part of west harbour developer bids

The city will clearly signal to developers that it wants at least 5 per cent of the housing units built in the massive redevelopment on Pier 8 on Hamilton's waterfront to be affordable.

City signals to developers it will want at least 5 per cent of the units on Pier 8 to be affordable

The city hopes to put the development of all nine blocks of its waterfront project into the hands of one developer. (City of Hamilton)

The city will clearly signal to developers that it wants at least 5 per cent of the housing built in the massive redevelopment on Pier 8 on Hamilton's waterfront to be affordable. 

The affordable component would most likely look like for-sale condos that would be affordable to a household earning an average income in Hamilton, city staff said.

City councillors voted 11-to-2 Wednesday to change the wording of their motion to make it a requirement, not just an option, that short-listed developers show how they would make five per cent of the residential units affordable.

'The prevailing message is: City, you own the land' 

City planners and consultants said the overwhelming message from the public in meetings held over the last 18 months or so has been that the city should protect the new neighbourhood from becoming an enclave for the super-rich.

Two councillors vocally questioned the idea, suggesting that there could be better, more profitable uses for the waterfront land that could yield more money to invest in affordable housing elsewhere.

But Jason Farr, councillor for Ward 2, which includes the development site, said the message has come across loud and clear:

"The prevailing message is: 'City, you own the land, make sure you don't forget about that affordable housing option,'" Farr said.

"Literally the number one message from the public over probably well over 25 meetings over the last year and a half."

John Ariens, board chair for Hamilton's Habitat for Humanity, spoke in support of the idea of setting aside five per cent of the units for "the hardworking Hamilton families that otherwise would not be able to afford to live in this community."

Request for interested developers to submit qualifications

The affordable housing discussion came as part of a meeting Wednesday where councillors heard an update from planners on the $140 million West Harbour plan, and decided on how to put the land out to the market to see what interest there is from developers.

The city hopes to attract one developer — or consortium of developers — to build all nine blocks of condos and retail space on Piers 7 and 8.

Wednesday, city councillors on the General Issues Committee decided to put out a request for qualifications from developers in the first quarter of 2017, expecting to draw up a short list by summer and ask those finalists for more proposals by next fall. Then the city would expect development to begin by mid-2018.

Only the short-listed developers selected and asked to submit proposals would be required to show the plan for including at least 5 per cent affordable home-ownership units. 

'One of the quickest ways to sterilize waterfront'

Chris Phillips, who's heading the redevelopment for the city, said private developers have been getting in touch almost weekly to express interest in being involved.

The city is leaving some of the specifics in the plan open for the sake of fostering a sense of partnership rather than simply a land-buyer.

But some general principles will apply, which were talked about Wednesday – the city wants to see environmental sustainability, housing affordability, design excellence and urban innovation in the project.

"One of the quickest ways to sterilize waterfront is basically to allow residential at grade," said former Waterfront Toronto CEO John Campbell, whom the city hired to help sell the vision for the waterfront to developers.

"You need public uses, community uses, retail, that kind of thing, on the water's edge, to make sure your buildings have a there there, to make people want to come down there."