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City hopes to sell waterfront lands to build affordable housing

Hamilton has a dire lack of affordable housing. But the city thinks it's found a creative way to at least put a dent in the problem.
When fully developed, Hamilton's Pier 8 will generate about $7.5 million in taxes, city staff say. (City of Hamilton)

If you're a Hamiltonian who can't find affordable housing, your answer may come from an unlikely place — the waterfront.

That's where the city hopes to sell off land to have enough money to build more affordable housing units, or to fix social housing units long vacant because there's no money to fix them.

The idea came forward at a city hall committee meeting on Tuesday, when Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr pitched the plan. 

The city has big plans for West Harbour lands, particularly Piers 7 and 8. It plans to sell off land piece by piece to developers for low-rise condo towers, boutiques, restaurants and other amenities. It's been in the works since 2013, when the Hamilton Port Authority terminated a long-term lease on the lands with the city. The land should be ready for sale by 2018, Farr said.

Meanwhile, Hamilton has a dire lack of affordable housing. Its social housing waiting list is 10 years long — about 5,600 families and individuals, Farr said. And its rental vacancy rate is 1.8 per cent.

The city will look at how much money it stands to make from selling off waterfront land, and how to distribute that among every social housing provider in Hamilton. That includes the municipal one, CityHousing Hamilton (CHH). 

"Hopefully it'll put a dent in some of the issues we face," said Chad Collins, a Ward 5 councillor and CHH president, who came up with the idea.

This plan doesn't include West Harbour lands the city owns at Barton and Tiffany, which the city purchased years ago for a new $150-million stadium that was never built there. And the city is still repaying money to its own coffers — an account called the Future Fund — for that land, Farr said. So that will be paid back first.

The decision came during an emergency and community services committee meeting filled with grim news about affordable housing.

Councillors also heard about how Hamilton's hot real estate market is squeezing low-income residents out of their homes, causing homeless shelters to overflow.

Good Shepherd Centres executive director Brother Richard MacPhee also presented, saying its Notre Dame resource centre for street-involved youth is at risk of closing if it doesn't get extra money to ease its funding crunch.

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