You have to give credit where credit is due to the community coalition Stop Sprawl Hamilton Ontario (SSHO). They have been successful in garnering 16,600 returned questionnaires and emails opposing expansion of the city boundary. They launched a lawn sign campaign, distributing 1300 signs which popped up in residential neighbourhoods across the city. In an admittedly unscientific survey, the Bay Observer did not see one sign that was not on the lawn of a single family-home, although we did get an email from a resident of a multiplexed house who said there was one on their lawn. One of the supporters of SSHO is the Durand Neighbourhood Association representing owners of some of Hamilton’s finest old Victorian homes. As earnest as this exercise in civic engagement is, the optics are problematic, creating an impression of residents, most of whom have secured their single detached homes, dictating housing choices to future generations—kind of an “I’m all right Jack” scenario. If there is no urban boundary expansion the only solution will be a massive increase in high-rise apartment development to accommodate the 230-odd thousand new residents that need to be housed somewhere. Setting aside the fact that such a lack of housing variety is against current provincial housing policy, there is the issue of freedom of choice for the consumer. Whatever you think of the development community, they don’t frog-march purchasers into houses at gunpoint—rather, the demand for housing outstrips supply.
Whether one considers the West End Homebuilders, a developer association, credible on urban sprawl issues, they do make a valid point when they say young people in the housing market will “drive until they qualify.” It is already happening in Brantford, Niagara. Waterloo and Haldimand.
Council will have to deal with all this at a special meeting in October that will be a doozy, no doubt. Should they go against staff advice and vote to freeze the urban boundary, you can expect a series of challenges to the Land Tribunal. It wouldn’t be the first time council has punted these kinds of issues to the province.
It is easy to say no to urban boundary expansion, especially if one feels no responsibility to offer solutions to a problem that isn’t going to go away on its own.
The staff report recommending what they called “ambitious density, meaning a level of intensification that staff frankly don’t believe is achievable, is a lot of reading, but it can be accessed here for those who want to learn more.