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Home News City’s emergency housing system “in danger of collapse”: staff

City’s emergency housing system “in danger of collapse”: staff

Angela Burden, GM of Healthy and Safe Communities

It was a sobering budget session for members of Hamilton City Council Wednesday. Already facing a tax increase north of six percent, members were told by Angela Burden, the GM of Healthy and Safe Communities That the city’s emergency housing system is on the verge of collapse. She said fixing the problem and setting some semblance of stability into the system could cost between $11 and $20 Million. None of that is in the current budget being considered by councillors it would be an add-on to a budget that is tending to grow, the longer it is under consideration than to be whittled down as was usually the case in previous years. What got this discussion started was a request from council for a report on how much emergency housing could be obtained for the $4 million council had earlier voted to provide. The answer was “not much”—maybe 6 to 8, units at the going rate. Mayor Andrea Horwath repeatedly asked staff to give her the dollar figure that will be needed from senior governments to address the housing and homeless crisis. Hamilton Housing Staff told councillors the city needs to build 300 affordable housing units a year to make a dent in the backlog and instead are building 50. Burden told council the shelter situation now is worse than is was during the pandemic, because with a return to normal activity it is not as visible.

Adding to the bad news, GM of finance Mike Zegarac told councillors that two of the reserve funds the city used to tap when emergencies arose are becoming depleted. So called “council-referred” items are add-ons to the budget that councillors make after staff have submitted the base budget. These total over $19 Million, a good portion of which came from previous councils. The new council  list of add-ons representing just over $5 Million included $2.6 million to the YWCA for women’s housing. Mayor Andrea Horwath while expressing deep admiration for the work of the YWCA said she was concerned, nonetheless with the ad-hoc way some of these proposals were finding their way to council for consideration. After much wrangling the YMCA proposal was approved. In the end, of the $5 Million, only $100,000 for the “tiny homes” proposal was chopped, and even that could be revived at a later date. Committee Chair Brad Clark said the Tiny Homes group had been having difficulty coming up with an operational plan. Proponents have also been struggling to find a location that is acceptable to residents.

Council went in camera to hear legal advice on the ramifications of challenging the Police Services Budget. Council is still expected to give final approval to the budget on March 29th.

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