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Dig into ward budgets to pay for social housing repairs: Collins

Hamilton has a huge waiting list of people who need affordable housing, but hundreds of damaged units sit vacant. One councillor has come up with a new way to fix it.
Urban Hamilton councillors should put some of their area-rating money toward fixing affordable housing units, says Coun. Chad Collins. There's a housing shortage and there's no money in the traditional CityHousing Hamilton budget to fix them. (Fred Prouser/Reuters)

The new president of CityHousing Hamilton is calling on ward councillors to dig into their local budgets to fix vacant affordable housing units in their areas that are languishing because there's no money to fix them.

Chad Collins, also a Ward 5 city councillor, says there's a dire shortage of affordable housing in Hamilton. Meanwhile, 127 units sit vacant because there is insufficient money in the CHH budget to repair them.

But with a waiting list of more than 5,600 people — including families and seniors — he said it's time to try something different.

If we don't have safe, affordable, adequate housing, then what else matters?- Coun. Matthew Green

Collins wants to use $224,600 from individual area-rating budgets to fix units in Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8. He's also drawn up a suggested list of 25 units that need attention.

Some of the units on it need as much as $20,000 in renovations. The idea has the biggest implications on Ward 3, which would see nearly $67,000 coming from the area-rating pot to fix damaged units.

Overall, CHH needs about $1.8 million to repair vacant units. In a September presentation, CHH CEO Tom Hunter said issues include destroyed carpets, holes punched in walls and other damage that makes them unrentable.

CHH also doesn't have the money to properly support tenants, or screen them to know what they need before the units are destroyed, Hunter said. Each year, CHH Is $8 million short of what it needs to build and repair its units.

Meanwhile, councillors in Wards 1 through 8 have area rating money through a process devised to equalize services across the city. Councillors use it for special projects and improvements to their wards. 

Matthew Green, Ward 3 councillor, doesn't mind putting up $67,000 of his $1.6-million area-rating budget to fix 10 units at 350 King St. E. With Hamilton in a "housing crisis," he said, it's the best place to use it.

"It's all about priorities," said Green, who is vice-chair of CHH. "If we don't have safe, affordable, adequate housing, then what else matters?"

"The work (Collins is) doing around housing and finding ways to get new units online is fantastic."

Collins will present the idea for a vote at Wednesday's general issues committee at city hall.

Using local area-rating money to fix damaged units isn't a new idea. Scott Duvall, former Ward 7 councillor who was elected Hamilton Mountain MP in the fall, allocated $800,000 of his area-rating budget to fix housing units at one of his last city council meetings.

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