Hamilton

New North End housing project takes church 'beyond advocacy to actual action'

Hamilton's chances to strike before gentrification devours traditionally low-income-friendly places are becoming fewer, says a local nonprofit. A church is trying to do that with a new housing project.

45 units of affordable housing planned for James and Picton streets in gentrifying neighbourhood

A rendering of a proposed affordable housing project shows the corner of James Street North and Picton Street in Hamilton's North End. The Hughson Street Baptist Church is building a new building on the same block and is partnering with Indwell to build the housing. (Indwell)

A 45-unit housing project on the corner of James Street North and Picton Street in Hamilton's North End is aiming squarely at one of the biggest tensions in the neighbourhood in recent years:

As the community gentrifies, what about the residents who need affordable housing?

When you can go beyond advocacy to actual action — we're thrilled that we have the opportunity to do something.- Dwayne Cline, pastor, Hughson  Street Baptist Church

The apartments are slated to go on the same block as a new church building, a partnership between Indwell, a nonprofit, and Hughson Street Baptist Church.

Graham Cubitt, director of projects at Indwell, said the church's action is acting as a catalyst in the neighbourhood, prompting calls from other land owners.

"There's a constant refrain around affordable housing," he said. "But people don't know what to do. So if they can see that are ways to move forward, that inspires new creativity."

A woman pushing a stroller crosses the street at the corner of James and Picton streets, where a new affordable housing project is planned, adjacent to a new church. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

'Now could be considered a critical time'

Housing prices have shot up in the North End, sparked by interest in living close to Hamilton's waterfront and its shops and restaurants on James Street and its new GO station.

But houses that once were divided into space for two or three households have been converted back to single-family dwellings. Rents have gone up in the units that are still left, and for-sale prices are close to or more than double what they were 10 years ago.

Hamilton's chances to strike before gentrification devours traditionally low-income-friendly places are becoming fewer, said Cubitt, of Indwell. The nonprofit builds apartments and rents them at reduced rates for people on fixed or limited incomes.

A sign at James and Strachan streets welcomes people to the North End. Many advocates in the neighbourhood hope it remains "child and family friendly" -- to families of mixed incomes. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

"We haven't missed it yet, but now could be considered a critical time for making decisions around how we want to include affordable housing in our neighbourhoods," Cubitt said.

'What we could do to be part of the solution'

North End pastor Dwayne Cline doesn't oppose the economic uplift that has come to the neighbourhood, which he and his wife bought a house in about 15 years ago.

"We actually believe it's good for our neighbourhood," he said.

But there's a downside. People beloved by his kids and his church and his neighbours have been displaced, unable to find housing they can afford near the grocery stores and schools and community rec centres they're used to.

Cline pastors Hughson Street Baptist Church, a longtime anchor in the neighbourhood that has looked out and spoken up for its parishioners and neighbours who have fewer choices about where to live.

Dwayne Cline and his wife bought their house for $110,000 in 2001 on Murray Street in Hamilton. Since then, realtors from Toronto have told him he could sell for $600,000. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Now Cline's church is building a new building around the corner on James, and when it came time to design the space, the church brought affordable housing developer Indwell out to the site to see what might be possible in a partnership.

"We walked around with Indwell to see what we could do to be part of the solution – allowing people to stay in the place and age well in the area that they love," Cline said.

"It keeps part of the character and nature of this community intact," he said. "Allows for people who've lived here for a long time – who have (familiar) places where they get their food, to stay."

A realtor's sign points the way to a house for sale on Ferrie Street in Hamilton's North End, where home prices have been rising rapidly for several years. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Housing with supports

The project, supported in part by $6.3 million in government funding, goes next for approval to the city's planning committee in the next couple of months. There has to be an approval for multi-unit residential on the site, as well as a waiver to allow fewer parking spots that would traditionally be required for apartments.

There's a constant refrain around affordable housing. But people don't know what to do. So if they can see that are ways to move forward, that inspires new creativity.- Graham Cubitt, director of projects and development, Indwell

The church is leading the charge to fundraise the rest of the cost of the housing, as well as their church building, Cubitt said.

The project would allow people to rent one- or two-bedroom units at an affordable rate in relation to their income. It also matches them up with "housing-related supports," which, according to Cubitt, are measures that help them address any barriers there are to them thriving and living in their own apartments.

That may look like help finding and going regularly to see a family doctor, or keeping track of their income, or being supported in living with an addiction or a mental illness.

Dwayne Cline, pastor of Hughson Street Baptist Church

Some fears came out at a community meeting about the project in December. Some wondered about the type of people who'd live there. Cubitt said Indwell has a "very, very successful track record" in its line of work, but understands it doesn't always satisfy fears until people can see the project in action.

He said the company took into account feedback at an earlier community meeting and now is aiming to make the building meet targets for Canada's 2050 climate goals.

'When you can go beyond advocacy to actual action'

Cline and some of his church members have been a fixture at North End meetings, calling for mixed neighbourhoods, balanced by a mix of incomes.

But this takes it a step further. 

"When you can go beyond advocacy to actual action -- we're thrilled that we have the opportunity to do something."

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

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