Hamilton agency will build 44 seniors social housing units on top of a rec centre

A city plan to sink $50 million into affordable housing has just sprang forth its first major project — a community hub that includes a school, a rec centre and 44 new units for seniors.

The Riverdale project will slightly ease the city's large waiting list, and share space with a school

Chad Collins stands outside the Dominic Agostino Riverdale Recreation Centre in 2016. CityHousing Hamilton is building 44 seniors social housing units on top of the expanded rec centre. The complex will also include a school and child care centre. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A city plan to sink $50 million into affordable housing has just sprang forth its first major project — a community hub that includes Lake Avenue school, a rec centre, a child care centre and 44 new units for seniors.

The Dominic Agostino Riverdale Community Hub will include seniors' social housing on top of an expanded rec centre. As it stands now, the city will contribute about $6.5 million to that, although that will change if the project gets the federal funding.

It's the first major project funded through a 10-year plan to sink hydro dividends into making Hamilton housing more affordable.

"In the absence of that $50 million, this is one of those projects that probably wouldn't be worth a thought," said Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5 (Centennial), who's also president of CityHousing Hamilton (CHH).

The project is just the latest attempt to give people affordable places to live in a rapidly gentrifying city.

The city's waiting list for social housing is about 6,000 households, Collins said. The city has a goal to cut that dramatically by 2023, but it's sliding in the wrong direction.

CHH, the city's largest social housing provider, has 522 units in the works right now.

The Riverdale project will include 44 seniors social housing units, a school and a recreation centre. (CityHousing Hamilton)

Only about 89 of those are new — 20 at Macassa, 19 at a Bay and Cannon project, six at Wellington and King William and now 44 at Riverdale.

Another 287 are units being replaced, the largest being 95 units at a Roxborough Park redevelopment at the site of a now-closed school. At a 50 MacNab St. tower, 146 units are being rehabilitated.

All of these projects mean better, more efficient units. CHH is always racing to improve its crumbling housing stock, and at any given time, units sit vacant because CHH doesn't have money to repair them. But the Riverdale project is the largest that will take people off the waiting list.

The project dates back to 2016, when city council brainstormed ways to shrink its rapidly growing wait list.

Council set up a subcommittee, which has met three times, to identify city-owned land to offer up to developers who would build social or affordable housing. (Social housing is typically rent that is no more than 30 per cent of a tenant's income, no matter what that income is. Affordable housing can mean the rent is at or below the market value for that area.)

Collins pushed for the Riverdale project, which is "a really good use of public land," he said. He wants to see more projects like this.

"We know it's a challenge for us to find properties to build affordable housing," he said. 

"We have a lot of examples locally where there's a school attached to a rec centre, but we don't have any examples where a school is attached to affordable housing. In that context, staff say it's probably the first in the province, if not the country."

It's in a location that needs it, Collins said. Riverdale not only has a large immigrant population, but tenants have held strikes at two large apartment towers because they say the landlord is forcing them out to jack up the rent.

City council approved its $50 million fund in 2017. Of that money, $20 million comes from deferring payments to replenish a pot of money known as the Future Fund. Another $30 million is dividends the city got when Horizon Utilities merged with three other utilities to form Alectra.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs

Reporter

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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