Hamilton is lagging when it comes to inclusionary zoning according to participants in a virtual town hall that was staged by ACORN Hamilton, the Hamilton Community Benefits Network and Environment Hamilton this week. The town hall underlined the growing gap between gentrification pressures that will result from the LRT construction and the needs of a growing population facing housing insecurity.
Karl Andrus of The Hamilton Community Benefits Network pointed out that Hamilton is not even set to consider inclusionary zoning—a measure that forces developers to include a set percentage of affordable units in the apartment and condo towers they build in order to receive a building permit—until next year. In a slide presentation he showed that several major cities across North America have had inclusionary zoning requirements for decades. Andrus says if Hamilton had adopted inclusionary zoning that mandated 10 percent of new units to be affordable, there would be 1200 of these units underway now in Hamilton. He predicted that developers will rush to get thousands more units underway in order to avoid having to include affordable units. Inclusionary zoning is aimed at creating both affordable rental and ownership opportunities. Several panelists noted that what is referred to as affordable housing is still out of the reach of many people, but is still worthwhile because it relives the pressure on social housing.
The Ford government has reduced the areas in which a city can apply inclusionary zoning to major transportation corridors and nodes, but in the case of Hamilton it would still cover a wide swath of developable land. Any property within 500 meters of an LRT line or the A Line BRT would be eligible, as would be properties within the same radius of the GO terminals at West Harbour, downtown and Centennial. Properties directly adjacent to A line of B line stops would be allowed to build extra tall towers.
Most of the Hamilton developers that at this point voluntarily talk about affordable units suggest five percent of the units being affordable. A representative from ACORN’s Toronto Branch says the number should be 20 to 30 percent affordable units on every development of 60 units or more. The proposed high rises that will accompany the downtown entertainment precinct do not have a condition attached to them that would mandate affordable units. Andrus warned that with approval of LRT we will see a development rush along the route that will significantly drive-up property values and exacerbate the affordability issue just in the next couple of years. For that reason, he said council needs to move more quickly on the inclusionary zoning issue. Developers have the option of paying cash-in-lieu to municipalities, the money to provide affordable housing elsewhere.
Hamilton councillor Nrinder Nann, an LRT supporter, said “to leave the issue of affordable housing to the development community makes some of us uneasy.” She called for an inventory of city-owned land along the corridor as well as that owned by other public entities.