Committee backs amended anti-poverty plan that aims at housing

Presentations to council covered all angles of poverty causes and reduction strategies

Decision will see the money invested largely in low-income housing over 10 years

Medical Officer of Health Elizabeth Richardson presents to council on poverty at the General Issues Committee on Wednesday. (Dave Beatty)

Hamilton councillors have approved a 10-year, $50-million, poverty-fighting plan that puts the focus on affordable housing.

The plan approved unanimously Wednesday is an amended one from the one presented to the committee and worked out after broad consultation with many community groups.

That plan contained a lot of specific program or actions and the new motion does away with a lot of that specific direction to instead put the clear emphasis on dealing with the city's massive housing affordability problem.

We need a strategy to help people upstream, to keep them from drowning downstream.- Tyler Henderson,  Street Youth Planning Collaborative

The motion that council ended up carrying unanimously came from Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins and Mayor Fred Eisenberger.

The broad strokes of both versions of the plan involve spending the $50 million over the next 10 years, from 2017 to 2027.

The motion from Collins and Eisenberger stipulates that staff will report back to the general issues committee with a strategy addressing the supply and quality of affordable housing, "in keeping with the recommendations contained in the approved Housing and Homelessness Plan."

Where will it find the money?

It also requests that recommendations toward the improved quality of low-cost and social housing units be reserved for local housing providers.

Lastly, it says the financial recommendations around raising the supply of affordable housing units need to be directed through an application process based on the ones affixed to similar programs in the past.

Any recommendations should also emphasize a partnership between the public and private sectors, it says.

That money for the program breaks down like this: $20 million is to be derived from an extension of the payback term (from 2031 to 2036) of existing city loans from the Future Fund. The remaining $30 million, at $3 million per year, would come from the dividend uplift to the city resulting from the amalgamation of Horizon Utilities Corporation with other local utility providers.

The vote came after councillors heard presentations on poverty from every corner of experience and expertise. They included support organizations like Hamilton Food Share, research organizations like the Social Planning and Research Council, a McMaster University professor, and people with lived experience.

Under consideration was data indicating the success of other social policies, locally and nationally, in reducing poverty and producing overall economic uplift. Sara Mayo from the Social Planning and Research Council, for instance, said that the most effective national policies their research uncovered are "ladders" into the middle class.

In other words, those best policies are the ones that help people gain entry to the middle class through better education and housing availability.

Generations feel effects of poverty

Some presentations focused on the need for adequate housing.

Others urged some amendments to the plan that would make it cover more ground, like Tyler Henderson from the Street Youth Planning Collaborative. Henderson said the 10- year plan should have more consideration for youth at risk of becoming homeless — a demographic he once fit into himself.

"We need a strategy to help people upstream, to keep them from drowning downstream," he said during his presentation.

From a scientific angle, McMaster's Dr. Deborah Sloboda gave a presentation explaining how "a poor start in life" can have generational after-effects, with biological consequences radiating downward through parents to children.

And one presenter with lived experience was Katrina Gervais, whose emotional story of being homeless for close to two years seemed had councillors universally lauding her tenacity. Her story highlighted how escaping poverty had a ripple effect to her family members.