Get used to taller buildings as Hamilton's housing boom continues

If Hamilton wants to keep its healthy housing growth, experts say, it’s going to have to get used to intensification. That includes more buildings, taller buildings and condo towers in new locations.
More buildings and taller buildings are coming this way as developers contend with less land to build homes on. (John Rieti/CBC)

If Hamilton wants to keep its healthy housing growth, experts say, it’s going to have to get used to intensification. That includes more buildings, taller buildings and condo towers in new locations.

Hamilton housing prices are on an upward swing, and will continue that way beyond 2015, experts said at a Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) seminar on Tuesday.

Some think intensification is not appropriate, that it’s a dirty word.- Ross Godsoe, CEO, Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington

But developers are running out of available land, which means the future of Hamilton’s housing market is up, not out. And Hamiltonians will have to get used to it, said Ross Godsoe, CEO of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington. 

“Some think intensification is not appropriate, that it’s a dirty word,” Godsoe said after the panel “Will residential intensification be a solution?”

“There’s not a lot of green space available,” he said. “Maybe there is today, but if you project five, 10 years down the road, there’s very little serviced land available. So what else do you do? You go up.”

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation held a panel on intensification in Hamilton. From left: Steve Robichaud, director of the planning division with the City of Hamilton; Ross Godsoe, CEO of the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington; Abdul Kargbo, CMHC senior market analyst, and Nando Di Caria, president of the Hamilton-Halton Home Builders' Association. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

It's a dynamic that's already happening in Hamilton. New CMHC figures show there'll be an increase in the number of multi-unit buildings over the next two years. A number of high-rise condo projects are already in the works downtown, including the proposed 22-storey project at the former Tivoli Theatre. A planned 30-storey condo project at the former James Street Baptist Church site, The Connelly, would be the third tallest building in Hamilton.

Building up requires educating the community on why it’s happening, Godsoe said. The issue still faces NIMBYism in Hamilton, including complaints about building heights and the impact on neighbourhoods.

The key, he said, is for developers to get the community involved at the start of the project, and to pitch projects that suit the area.

But community acceptance of intensification in general is “critically important,” he said. 

Hamilton’s housing market looked rosy at the CMHC outlook seminar. Abdul Kargbo, a CMHC senior market analyst, predicted increasing Hamilton housing prices at least through the next year.

But it’s the lower-priced areas  of the city poised for a real upswing in 2016, Kargbo said.

Hamilton Centre will see the biggest increase

While housing price growth will slow in the next two years, Kargbo said, prices will still be growing by more than 2.5 per cent per year in Hamilton Centre. And they’ll grow between two and 2.5 per cent in Stoney Creek, Hamilton East, Hamilton Mountain and Dundas.

Cheaper housing draws Torontonians to Hamilton, he said. Hamilton housing prices are, on average, 40 per cent cheaper than the GTA. But that’s not the only factor.

Jobs are growing in Hamilton, as is Ontario’s manufacturing sector, Kargbo said. And as the U.S. economy improves, so will Hamilton housing sales.

People are working longer in their lives, and taking on mortgages at a later age too, he said. And more seniors are staying in their homes rather than downsizing.

It’s a healthy growth, Kargbo said, and it does not resemble a bubble.

Acceptance has to start at the top

The growing market, however, will mean that apartment rental vacancy rates will also decrease. The solution to affordable housing for everyone, he said, will be infill and redeveloping or adding to existing properties.

That’s not a surprise to Conrad Zurini of RE/MAX Escarpment Realty, who attended the conference.

Intensification keeps housing affordable for everyone, he said. But support of it has to start at city hall.

“Until we see start to see some leadership at city hall, and more of a hard line in terms of smart growth, that whole opportunity is going to be lost.”

Zurini says he’s seen an increase in people interested in detached homes in central Mountain, east Hamilton and other affordable areas, as well as an increased interest in condos.

Hamilton's Housing Outlook — Highlights

  • The average resale price of a home in Hamilton will grow above 2.5 per cent in 2014 and 2015. It will slow in 2016, but Hamilton Centre's growth will still be more than 2.5 per cent.
  • More than half (56 per cent) of the housing starts in Hamilton in 2015 and 2016 will be multi-unit buildings, up from 44 per cent in 2011.
  • More people are moving into, rather than out of, Hamilton.
  • Many seniors are aging in their homes rather than downsizing.
  • More jobs will be created in 2015 and 2016, which will support housing demand.