At a time when a whole generation wonders if they will ever be able to afford decent housing: merely uttering the words “affordable housing” adds a gloss of respectability to any infrastructure project. It’s kind of like the “abracadabra” magicians used—say the magic word and everything is cool. And so when Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna blew into town in May with $1.7 Billion in pledged cash for Hamilton’s LRT, she was insistent that affordable housing be part of the deal.
Here is what she said then:
We wondered how that was going to work, so we sent a list of questions off to the Minister’s office.
1. How much affordable housing would be a minimum threshold?
2. Is the minister talking affordable housing or social housing?
3. Can we define affordable housing? The Hamilton definition of affordable housing is “125%” or less of the average market price, which in the case of Hamilton would be in the$1500/month range
4. Who is expected to pay for the affordable housing. Will any of the $1.7 Billion proposed by either Ontario or IC be expected to be used for this purpose?
5. How will this condition be monitored or enforced? Will it be written into the MOU that Hamilton will be signing with Metrolinx?
6. In making her announcement the Minister made a broader reference to social “conditions” attendant on the deal. Are there others besides affordable housing?
We got the following response from McKenna’s ministry
Since opportunities for affordable housing and other community building investments vary across each project, subject to factors such as existing development along each line, community needs and other relevant considerations, it is up to the province to bring forward their proposals on how they would meet these important commitments as they further design and develop these projects. Municipalities also play a strong role in the process of determining how much and where affordable housing will be built along transit lines and we expect their feedback to be reflected in proposals.
In this specific case, as Ontario updates and further refines their design of the Hamilton LRT we look forward to their revised project submission, which will include their updated plans to support affordable housing along the line.
So, it’s up to the province, and maybe the municipality to ensure that affordable housing is part of the deal, and since the “deal” is essentially a Memorandum of Understanding between Hamilton and Metrolinx, we asked Metrolinx:
1. Will there be an active discussion as the MOU is developed regarding affordable housing along the lines of my questions above?
2. Is any of the $3.4 B going to this purpose or is the expectation that developers will provide the housing?
3. Will there be any social housing as opposed to “affordable” housing which is not affordable to many low income people or people receiving assistance?
It took a few days, but the response from Metrolinx was, “As this is a provincial/federal funding agreement, it would be best to reach out to the province for comment.” We kicked it all back to the province and have been awaiting a reply for two weeks.
Here’s what appears to be the case. There is no active discussion between anybody regarding making LRT for Hamilton contingent on affordable Housing. Zero. If, as Mayor Fred Eisenberger says, the MOU that Hamilton will sign with Metrolinx “only needs to have the dates changed,” then there will be nothing in the new agreement about affordable housing because there is nothing in the old one. Developers in Hamilton have taken to throwing in a small percentage of their projects as affordable housing, as is the case with their Downtown Entertainment Precinct deal where 5 percent will supposedly be affordable. But “affordable” in Hamilton means roughly $1500 per month, and as a representative of tenants being renovicted from a King Street apartment block said recently, you’d need to be making about $60,000 per year to afford that rent and still stay within the guideline that says you shouldn’t spend more that 30 percent of your income on shelter. What’s more likely is that what little existing affordable housing that is situated along the transit corridor will cease to exist.