A Hamilton staff recommendation to enter into talks leading to an agreement to develop the Barton-Tiffany lands, now dubbed the Bayfront Studio District, turned into a debate on affordable housing at a Monday GIC meeting, From the conversation it became clear that there is a lack of understanding of even the definition of affordable housing. The discussion came as a new partner in the project, TAS was introduced. TAS has several residential and commercial projects underway in Toronto, including a 38-story condo tower in the Yonge-Eglinton area. They have also partnered with the Hamilton Community Foundation on the proposed redevelopment of the Coppley Building. The Bayfront Studio precinct design calls for the development of 830.000 square feet of rentable space in a cluster of low-rise buildings, more than 60 percent of which would be residential—the remainder, studio and offices . A concept plan showed a pedestrian-oriented precinct with streetscape amenities and public space.
As part of the presentation the proposal showed provision for 5 percent of the properties to be affordable housing. The 5 percent figure is similar to what other Hamilton developments that address affordable housing have been suggesting. In the case of the AEON project, 5 percent affordable housing would yield slightly under 40 units. In the discussion, it became clear that some councillors confused affordable housing with geared-to-income housing, which is not contemplated in this case, although there is a reference to creating 8,500 square feet of “affordable artist space.” Councillor Brad Clark noted that there is no real definition of affordable housing, noting that it is sometimes seen as less than 30 percent of an individual’s income. That calculation, however does not take into account what 30 percent income translates into if a comparison is being made between a person earning $40,0000 per year versus someone earning $80,000 per year.
General Manager of Planning Jason Thorne acknowledged that to date, the city has not specified a definition of affordable housing, but said that could be part of the discussion with the Bayfront Studio project going forward. Councillor John Paul Danko said there is a public expectation that when public lands are sold “we are using every lever to provide affordable housing.”
Ward three councillor Nrinder Nann wanted geared-to-income housing to be a condition of the proposed MOU, which triggered an exasperated response from Ward Two Councillor Jason Farr who has been shepherding the Bayfront deal. Stating the Nann proposal was last minute, he named several geared-to-income projects are either underway or completed in his ward and declared, “I’ll put what we’re are doing on affordable housing in Ward Two against any ward in the city,” adding later” we are walking the walk,” an apparent swipe at Nann.
In the end, Council approved negotiating a memorandum of understanding with the developers. The developer will assume the as yet unknown cost of remediating the land, but will be eligible for ERASE grants which compensate for cleanups through property tax breaks. It is not known how much money the city will realize after the yet-to-be negotiated sale is concluded, the property remediated, and the ERASE grants paid out, but the original intention was that the Hamilton Future fund, who put up the funding for the purchase of the lands be repaid.