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Sold! Little danger of becoming a suburb in Hamilton's housing boom

Numbers show that it's not necessarily commuters who are driving Hamilton's housing market. It's Hamiltonians themselves.

Numbers show that it's not necessarily commuters who are driving Hamilton's housing market. It's Hamiltonians themselves. The final installment of a 4-part series

While housing booms have turned other cities into bedroom communities, statistics show that the number of Hamiltonians who work here - such as Kyle McKeown - is about the same as it was five years ago. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Living at the end of Ontario Avenue in Stinson, Kyle McKeown is a lot happier than he used to be.

For 10 years, he lived in a small one-bedroom apartment near Toronto's Ossington subway station. The rent was high. He and his wife felt increasingly dissatisfied with their neighbourhood. And they were too far away from their family.

When they moved to Hamilton six years ago, they didn't have jobs here. But the two-storey brick home they found on Alanson Street was homey and in their price range, and that made it worth it.

Now, not only do they expect their modestly priced home to nearly double in value in the next few years, but they have both found jobs in Hamilton. McKeown is a senior communications co-ordinator with the Canadian Cancer Society's Smokers' Helpline. His wife is a gallery manager.

Sold: How a hot housing market is changing Hamilton

A four-part series looking at Hamilton’s housing price boom and what it means to the city.

Tuesday: The hot spots: Hamilton’s hot housing market.

Wednesday: Waterdown: From village to bedroom community.

Thursday: Who’s getting left behind?

Today: Is Hamilton becoming a suburb?

McKeown fits the profile of the new Hamilton homebuyer — young, professional, and arriving from out of town in search of lower prices and a sense of community. But he also fits another little known trend — he doesn't commute.

While booming housing markets in places such as Oakville and Brampton have now turned those cities into bedroom communities, people who live in Hamilton still tend to work in Hamilton, said Paul Shaker, executive director of Hamilton's Centre for Community Study.

Hamiltonians driving their own housing boom

Anecdotally, housing market watchers say that increasing prices are driven by Torontonians who buy here and work in Toronto. But the numbers don't show that, Shaker said.

"You hear stories of people buying property here and working in Toronto, but it seems to be negligible," he said. "When people do commute, we want that to be a transition phase. We don't want it to be permanent."

Intra-commuting rates in Hamilton vs. the GTA

  • Toronto: 81.13 (percentage of Torontonians who work in Toronto)
  • Hamilton: 69.43 per cent
  • Mississauga: 55.11 per cent
  • Burlington: 44.06 per cent
  • Oakville: 35.82 per cent

Source: Centre for Community Study

That's what it was for McKeown, whose Toronto rent was more than his mortgage is now.

A native of Simcoe, when he moved, "I didn't really know about Hamilton, per se," he said. He associated it with what many out-of-towners do — its gritty urbanism, its steel mills, its rougher neighbourhoods.

When he moved here, he bought a GO pass and spent hours commuting, which was "boring as all get out," he said. But he always expected it to be temporary.

More leave Hamilton for work than come in

He foresees more Torontonians wanting to live and work in Hamilton. Like him, they "come for the prices and stay for the city."

Mayor Bob Bratina rejects the notion that Hamilton will become a suburb. Bratina is an advocate of all-day GO train service, but he says that will bring people into Hamilton to work as well as take them out.

"The fact is that the GO train runs in two directions," he said.

There are more people who leave Hamilton to work each day than come into the city. In 2011, 61,395 commuters left Hamilton and 38,340 came in, Statistics Canada figures show.

But the number of Hamiltonians who live in their own city is still far above cities in the GTA, Shaker said. Seventy per cent of Hamiltonians work in their own city. Only Toronto does better — 80 per cent of Toronto residents work in Toronto.

Commuter gap is closing

Every other GTA city scores lower. In Mississauga, 55 per cent of its residents work there. In Burlington, only 44 per cent of residents work in Burlington (7,755 work in Hamilton) and in Oakville, only 37 per cent work where they live.

Top 5 commuting destinations — where Hamiltonians work

  1. Hamilton: 139,470 (69.43 per cent)
  2. Burlington: 23,445 (11.67)
  3. Mississauga: 7,145 (3.56)
  4. Oakville: 6,895 (3.43)
  5. Toronto: 6,835 (3.4)

Source: Centre for Community Study

And despite the housing boom, Shaker says that the gap between commuters flowing in and out of Hamilton is narrowing year over year.

"It's clear that despite the perception, the reality is that a large majority of people live and work in Hamilton."

Because of these figures, Shaker questions whether out-of-towners are really driving housing prices. It's more likely, he said, that it's Hamiltonians themselves.

"It's reflective of neighbourhood revitalization more than anything else," he said. "It's not an anomaly of people parachuting in."

Not a crash, but 'balancing out'

Many don't foresee a crash in Hamilton's housing market. Anthony Chiarella, president of the Hamilton Halton Homebuilders Association, calls it "balancing out."

"There's been lots of conversation regarding a bubble bursting," he said. "We haven't seen any signs of it."

Local realtor April Almeida also refers to a "balancing out." Recently, mortgage rates in Canada nudged upward, which slowed the market a little. But that is OK, she said.

"There was a point in the summer where even I had trouble keeping up with properties to get my buyers into," she said. "They were literally listed and sold the next day. That isn't happening now."

Who works in Hamilton? Top 5 places where Hamilton workers live

  1. Hamilton: 139,470 (78.44 per cent)
  2. Burlington: 7,755 (4.36)
  3. Haldimand: 5,070 (2.85)
  4. Grimsby: 3,160 (1.78)
  5. Brantford: 2,960 (1.66)

Almeida foresees the Mount Hope area as a future hot spot. She's noticed more clients moving there in search of space. "They don't just want the big house. They want the big property."

Looking to buy? Try Gage Park

Realtor Derek Doyle predicts more growth in the north end. Two years ago, downtown homes were a bargain, he said. That's not the case anymore.

But the city is poised to develop part of the waterfront, more businesses are opening and north-end neighbourhoods are becoming increasingly walkable. That makes the area more desirable, Doyle said.

"There's still lots of room there."

Doyle's other prediction? Gage Park.

Houses are still reasonable there, Doyle said. But they look similar to homes in the current hot spots of Westdale and Kirkendall.

Predicting the future

"You have old staircases, big baseboards," Doyle said. "You have homes with great old character. Locke Street was a hot street but it's at the point where it's unaffordable to certain people. Now you have to look elsewhere, like southeast to Gage Park."

People still need to gain confidence in Gage Park, he said. But he foresees it happening.

There are other future hot spots in the city, he said. As for where they are, "I wish I knew."

Since moving here, McKeown has noticed other Toronto residents moving to Hamilton. Those who arrive in Hamilton end up getting caught up in its passion and enthusiasm, he said.

As for Hamilton becoming a bedroom community, he said, "I would say the danger is pretty small."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca