Barton-Tiffany paves the way for more affordable housing in Hamilton

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Pic for Barton-Tiffany blog post

By Sara Mayo and Don Jaffray
Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton

The vision and design for the development of the Barton-Tiffany lands adopted by City Council recently will make for a walkable, modern, attractive, and desirable neighbourhood: everything that will make its property values among the highest in Hamilton.  But is an expensive and exclusive enclave the best choice for new development in our City?  Recently completed local planning processes would suggest not.

The city has policy tools at its disposal and outlined in Hamilton’s Housing and Homelessness Action Plan (adopted by Council last year) to ensure that instead of being out of reach for most, Barton-Tiffany joins many others Hamilton neighbourhoods and becomes an inclusive, mixed-income community.

These tools to increase affordable housing can help not just those living in poverty but also middle income families who are struggling to pay a larger and larger share of their income on rent or mortgage payments The city defines households who need more affordable housing as residents with a household income under $68,000 and paying more than 30% of their income on shelter costs. 

If Council does not use these policy tools, their own report warned that in 10 years there would be major negative social and economic repercussions. The waiting list for social housing would grow from about 5,600 households today, to over 10,000 households. Hamilton would lose one of its key competitive advantages – housing affordability.  This competitive advantage currently attracts many skilled professionals and employers who want to re-locate to Hamilton.  Without more affordable housing in the City, Hamilton’s rental market will become tighter with lower vacancy rates and higher rents.

The first tool is the simplest and already baked into the Barton-Tiffany plan. Due to the engagement and dedication of North End neighbourhood leaders on this issue, Council adopted policies recommend that Barton-Tiffany include affordable housing on 25% of the city-owned land, which is about half of the land available for development. For example, the city could set conditions of sale on land it sells to private developers to require affordable housing.

The second tool applies to privately held land, and is called “density bonusing” – essentially the city trading something developers want (such as higher buildings or tax holidays for example) for something the city wants (in this case a specified number of affordable housing units). In Barton-Tiffany, reducing parking requirements might be a perfect trade-off for more affordable housing. The walkability of the neighbourhood and proximity to transit means many families will want to live car-free or car-lite and buildings won’t need as much parking as in other neighbourhoods. The city should set a target in negotiations with private developers in Barton-Tiffany to match the city’s commitment and ensure 25% of owned and rented units on privately-held land be set at an affordable price.

A third tool is “inclusionary zoning”, which is similar to density bonusing, but instead of relying on the good will of the developer for negotiations, inclusionary zoning mandates at least a few affordable housing in all new private developments (often about 10%-20% of units).   The time has come for our Provincial Government to amend the provincial Planning Act and give municipalities this power.  A private member’s bill to this effect has been presented in the Legislature to facilitate this important policy change.

 Many builders and developers don’t like inclusionary zoning because they fear it will increase housing prices for others or reduce their profits and they don’t see the benefits. But just as parkland fees that developers pay benefit neighbourhoods and residents, so does including affordable housing in new developments. Affordable housing increases social cohesion, reduces poverty rates, and ensures that people can stay within their neighbourhood if their income changes, for instance as they get older or if they experience interruptions in employment or other temporary loss of income.  With affordable housing options in all neighbourhoods, young people starting out in the job market can continue to live in neighbourhoods they grew up in if they choose, without having to move to a further area with lower rents.

 The Wellesley Institute argues that “we all benefit when the people who staff our hospitals, banks, hotels, schools, retail stores and other workplaces can afford to live in the communities where they work. Over 200 American and Canadian municipalities have found that one of the fastest and fairest ways to create stable, equitably accessible, affordable housing is to ensure that it is built into any new development.” We urge Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin to fight for inclusionary zoning at the cabinet table and support necessary amendments to the Planning Act.

 We also urge Council to use affordable housing tools for other developments besides Barton-Tiffany. There are opportunities to mandate or negotiate affordable housing in the Pier 8 Waterfront Development, the City Motor Hotel site, or new subdivisions in areas from Waterdown to Winona. This will ensure that with these communities along with Barton-Tiffany will become thriving, diverse, mixed income neighbourhoods where everyone is welcome. 

A version of this op-ed was published in the Hamilton Spectator on October 10th, 2013.

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