Mayor wants to spend $50M to reduce Hamilton poverty

Fred Eisenberger proposes using dividends from merging Horizon Utilities with other companies on poverty reduction. He also wants to spend $20 million more on affordable housing.

Fred Eisenberger wants to use millions from Horizon Utilities merger on poverty reduction

Mayor Fred Eisenberger signs an agreement to merge Horizon Utilities with other utilities in March. Now he wants to use some of the money on a poverty reduction strategy. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The mayor wants to sink $50 million – including earnings from the planned Horizon Utilities merger – into a 10-year plan to reduce poverty in Hamilton.

Fred Eisenberger revealed a plan Wednesday morning to put $3 million per year from the dividend uplift from Horizon's proposed merger with three other utilities into a "poverty reduction strategy."

On top of that, he wants to spend $20 million in city money on affordable housing, and develop a 10-year "integrated" plan to align city services toward reducing poverty.

"We're using our existing resources to actually make a difference in people's lives," Eisenberger said. "It's critically important."

Right now, Hamilton gets about $8 million per year in Horizon dividends, the mayor said. The merger will boost that money by as much as $5 million. Under his plan, the city will spend $3 million per year of that money specifically on poverty reduction.

None of the money is from new taxes or increases to utility rates.

Nearly one in five Hamiltonians live below the "low income cutoff," the mayor said, and 22 per cent of Hamilton children live in poverty. He cited rising rents, long waits for and deferred maintenance in city public housing and youth unemployment as more reasons to act now. 

Eisenberger doesn't know how exactly the money will be spent. He wants to bring together the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, the Hamilton Community Foundation, and groups involved in initiatives to do with early childhood, aboriginal affairs and other issues to figure that out.

As for the $20 million, that will come from money the city would use to pay itself back for the new Tim Hortons Field stadium.

The city borrowed $60 million from a fund called the Future Fund to pay for its contribution to the new stadium, which the province built. Instead of putting $8 million per year back into the fund, the mayor said, it'll put less into the fund instead. That means the loan will be paid back in 2036 instead of 2031.

It shouldn't cost the city anything, Eisenberger said.

"We're borrowing from ourselves, for all intents and purposes."

City staff would report back to councillors in October about how the plan is working. 

Eisenberger envisions half the $20 million will be spend on CityHousing Hamilton (CHH) social housing units, and the rest dispersed to other providers. Chad Collins, Ward 5 councillor and CHH president, worked on the plan with him.

Eisenberger will present the plan at a general issues committee meeting on May 4. 

Under the proposed utility merger, Horizon would merge with EnerSource and Power Stream to jointly purchase Hydro One Brampton and form the second largest power utility in Ontario. The Ontario Energy Board (OEB) still has to approve the merger.