'So, you're thinking about moving to Hamilton!'

This facebook group advises Torontonians looking to move to Hamilton on what to expect and offers support once they get here. We spoke with founder Jess Deyong.

A look inside the facebook group that advises Torontonians about living in Hamilton

For the last two years Jess Deyong and her family have called Hamilton home, making the big move from Toronto to have a more affordable lifestyle.

And now with the power of social media, she's helping others with the same move.

Deyong is the founder and administrator of the Facebook group  "So, you're thinking about moving to Hamilton! (#HamOnt)."

The private group of about 345 members is composed of people looking to make the move, who have already moved, along with some realtors.

It's very different when you get here. There's a lot of things that are not Toronto and will never be Toronto.- Jess Deyong

On the page, there's a poll questioning members about the reason behind their move, with a majority of people choosing the option of:  I am (or was) a first-time buyer looking at Hamilton as an affordable option.

"There's this enormous opportunity to educate people from Toronto and give them some more information before they make this huge life decision," said Deyong.

Every topic under the sun is discussed in this group from things like, real estate listings, housing costs, the school system, commute times into Toronto, to looking for restaurant and tile store recommendations. You name it — these people are talking about it. 

Why she made the move

Deyong says her and her husband just squeezed into the Toronto housing market in 2014 and admits that she doesn't know how they did it.

But half way through her maternity leave she started crunching numbers.

With a mortgage of about half a million dollars and daycare costs, the numbers weren't looking good.

"I realized that it was completely unaffordable. We couldn't stay there and if we did, we couldn't have another kid. It would just impact our lives so dramatically," said Deyong.

So they started to look at more affordable locations for their growing family.

'It was the only option'

Hamilton was on the list.

"It was the only option that wasn't a suburban, sprawling sort of you have to drive places option, and that's something we've kind of always loved about Toronto is that it's a city — and Hamilton is also its own little city in its own right."

Deyong didn't know much about Hamilton, nor did her Toronto realtor.

"We didn't know what areas to look at, what streets were good, what streets bad and what the Hamilton real estate market was like," she said. 

There's this enormous opportunity to educate people from Toronto.- Jess Deyong, former Toronto resident now living in Hamilton

Deyong says her first job in Hamilton was working with a real estate team, which is where she was inspired to equip others with information about Hamilton that she herself could have used when looking at the city. That eventually led to the creation of the Facebook group.

Jess Deyong and her family moved to Hamilton two years ago when they decided it was too expensive for them to live in Toronto. Deyong stands with her her two-year-old daughter, Mischa and her husband, Robin Deyong. (Provided by Jess Deyong)

CBC News did a Question and Answer with Deyong to learn about the discussions taking place about moving from the GTA and into Hamilton. The answers have been edited for length and CBC's style guide. 

Here's what she had to say:

What kind of support does the group offer? Do members help each other, or does information mostly come from you?

It's kind of like a self-sustained little micro-community that we've been building, so members are helping members.

I tend to step in there a lot because I've dealt with so many of these things, so it's not uncommon that I'll get involved in the thread.

What are the posts and comments like?

Sometimes people are looking for real estate advice and that kind of thing.

We're getting posts from people who've already made the move, offering recommendations, or people who are looking to make the move — asking questions and then having other people sort of step in and fill that gap for them. 

It's everything from restaurant recommendations for people who are missing Toronto restaurants, to asking questions about home improvements, and moving companies and questions about the commute.

Samples of what people are talking about

"Talk to me about schools in conjunction with considering buying a home in Hamilton."

"We are JUST starting our search and would love to know some areas to avoid."

"Anyone commuting daily from Hamilton to Toronto — specifically Union Station by public transit? How long does it take? Is it worth it for you?

"After a year and a half of living and renting in Hamilton during a transition period of my life, not expecting to stay ... turns out I fell in love with the city. I've decided to put down some roots here. I close in a month."

"Considering a move to Hamilton possibly within the next year but I know nothing about the city… What would be a good area with reasonable priced homes, good schools and most importantly safe and clean area and still somehow accessible to public transit?"

"Anyone have any daycare recommendations, literally anywhere in the city? We're planning to make the move next spring, but wanted to start making daycare arrangements now in case wait lists are anything like Toronto! Thanks everyone!"

Do you find that many people in the group have found it challenging to move to Hamilton from the GTA?

The market in the last two years in particular has been so insane. It's gone through three different periods. 

The summer of 2017 was in a lull for about a year. So it was really easy for people to find houses and now it's kind of creeping back to that weird zone. It's been such a confusing market for so many people, and it's so different from Toronto, that's part of why this group exists. 

The strategies that people are using in Toronto aren't working out here because it's a completely different ballgame.

I think depending on who you ask and when they bought or when they were looking, different people have faced different challenges. 

We bought a gigantic house for not a lot of money, so some people are now looking for that gigantic house for not a lot of money, but the market has shifted. So it's harder to find that giant house for $400,000, but there's still lots and lot of real estate.

Are people emotionally missing Toronto/GTA?

It depends on who you ask. A lot of people really miss it and it's a big lifestyle adjustment.

It's very different when you get here. There's a lot of things that are not Toronto and will never be Toronto. So people are still kind of trying wrap their head around that.

The job market is a really big issue for a lot of people that have steady employment in Toronto and then they're not sure what they're going to do when they move here. 

That is a huge sort of unsettling factor for a lot of people and related to that, there's a lot of people who are worried about the commute and if they still have jobs that they need to keep in Toronto, and need to do that drive every day. It's a real challenge for a lot of people.

I think those are the three main buckets people are talking about from an emotional challenge perspective — commute, work and missing a big city.

What are people saying is the biggest difference between the GTA and Hamilton? 

I think that's kind of the main difference is just it's a slower city. It's more small town. There are a lot of people that have some more closed-minded opinions about things. 

It's different so when you show up here and you see a lot of generational poverty and a lot of petty crime [and] a slower way of life, I think that's a transition thing for a lot of people from Toronto that they've kind of had to deal with.

Some of the more heated discussions in the group:

There was a really feisty thread that went up a while ago about Hamilton's lack of diversity. That I know is challenging for some people.

If you're coming from a really multicultural place like Toronto and then you come out to Hamilton where it's kind of like a small town, even though it's a city of half a million people, it's so far removed.

It's kind of like a unique little cul-de-sac where it's just far away enough from Toronto that it's not really the GTA and it's not really like a bedroom community of the city. But it's still close enough that you've got all these people making that move.

There's also a rift between the new comers and the people that have been here all of their lives. So if you are from Toronto and you say you're from Toronto, sometimes you have to be prepared to have somebody not give you a very nice welcome because they feel that you're forcing them out, and that you're helping this gentrification of their city they know and love, and they don't necessarily see you being there as a good thing.

More on the topic of gentrification:

This is a fantastic option for people who have been not just a little bit priced out of the market, but insanely priced out of the market. They have nowhere else to go.

People are displaced. They have nowhere to go and why wouldn't you be a welcoming source to say hey, you know, we've got a village here for you and all these resources and people who have made this transition and are very happy.

I completely appreciate and I understand the fact that people in Hamilton are feeling squeezed out and gentrified and that it's us, the Torontonians that are driving up the pricing of housing and forcing them out. But assigning that blame to an individual is really unfair and part of what we're trying to do with this group is to educate people of what the Hamilton market is like.

Issues surrounding pricing:

Part of the problem is that you've got out of town realtors or out of town buyers that are coming into this market, they don't understand it and they're just throwing money at houses in order to try to make it work and you don't need to do that.  

Being able to effectively strategize when you're buying a house in Hamilton will help the Hamilton market ultimately.

How do you want the group to be perceived?

We're not here to take over and force people out of their homes. We need a place to live and this is a great place to live.

The intention of every person I've ever met when they've moved to this city is to improve it and to help things and be part of the community and get involved, and really contribute or have an opportunity to start their own business or be an entrepreneur, which is building the city up so much.

So it stinks that we're getting this negative label when everyone who I know who has made the move has tried so hard to really make this city their home and get a great place to live.

Something that has surprised you about living in Hamilton?

It's kind of been a create your own village kind of experience.

I moved here literally knowing one person in this entire city and in less than two years I have formed this amazing network of friends. We all live within 10 minutes of each other.

It is such a strong, supportive community. I never would have had that in [Toronto] and it has made this move worth it times a million.



Laura Clementson is a producer for CBC's The National. She can be reached at laura.clementson@cbc.ca. Follow Laura on Twitter @LauraClementson.


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