Amid Hamilton's affordable housing crisis, 252 more apartments can become condos

They all campaigned on more affordable housing for low-income Hamiltonians. But on Tuesday, city councillors approved converting 252 lower-city apartment units to condos.

The 2 projects - one downtown, one in Kirkendall North - follow all the rules

Effort Trust will eventually convert units in the Kensington Apartments building into condos. (effortrentals.com)

They all campaigned on more affordable housing for low-income Hamiltonians. But on Tuesday, city councillors approved converting 252 lower-city apartment units to condos.

City council's planning committee gave Effort Trust approval to convert 128 downtown rental units in a 115 Main St. E. high rise. Developer Denis Vranich was approved to convert 124 units at 220 Dundurn St. S. in Kirkendall North.

The conversions come after an October municipal election where affordable housing  was prominent in campaign talk. With these projects, though, city planners say council's hands are tied.

"I will support it, but with reservation," said Maureen Wilson, new Ward 1 councillor, of the 220 Dundurn conversion. "As a city, we have an acknowledged affordable housing crisis."

"While I appreciate the application meets the requirements, I just want to say it is a concern of mine."

The conversions meet the city's criteria in its official plan, which includes:

  • Hamilton's rental vacancy rate is 3.1 per cent. The city only stops condo conversions when rates fall below 2 per cent.
  • More than 75 per cent of the tenants were OK with the conversions.
  • Existing tenants will be protected by the Residential Tenancies Act, which means they can keep renting. 
  • The rents in both buildings are also more than $773 per month for a one bedroom, which is the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation's threshold to be considered "affordable." Effort Trust charges $969 for a one-bedroom at 115 Main. Rent in the Vranich building — a former National Hosiery Mills factory — is $1,499 to $2,999.

City planners will be tweaking the criteria they use to allow condo conversions, said Steve Robichaud, director of planning. But that won't come until at least next year.

Jason Farr, Ward 2 councillor, said he knows how the conversions look politically. The city, he said, has plenty of projects underway to increase affordable housing stock.

The 220 Dundurn residential complex is in the former National Hosiery Mills Ltd. building, built in 1929. (220dundurn.com)

Affordable housing, he said, also includes affordable home ownership. If Effort Trust does convert the units — city planning staff say the company has no immediate plans to do so — then owning those condos will likely be affordable too. 

"It comes back to what we can control municipally," he said, "and how we can enhance opportunities for the entire spectrum."

The conversions will be a windfall for the developers. In general, staff say, converting a building to condos makes its value 2.74 times higher.

For 115 Main, the property's assessment will increase from $7,504,500 to an estimated $15,009,000. The taxes will decrease too, from $228,620.16 per year to $189,407.58.

For the Vranich project, the assessment will increase from $25,539,234 (annual taxes: $322,294.92) to an estimated $51,078,000 (taxes: $644,583.93).

City council still has finalize the decision Dec. 19.

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