Watching Hamilton councillors wrestle with the seemingly daunting task of getting 10 tiny shelters in place to house homeless persons. A thought occurred—could modular housing be a bigger part of the solution—not only to homeless individuals, who may require significant social supports but to others struggling with housing uncertainty who are still housed.
Councillor Brad Clark said what is on many minds, including city staff, that maybe the tiny shelter idea is not such a good one. The Kitchener experiment is being touted as a success story for others to emulate, but is it? At the end of the day the Kitchener operation looks like a shantytown—there’s no other description that fits. It would be difficult to find a neighbourhood that would accept such a solution. Somehow they managed in Kitchener, but it won’t be an easy sell in Hamilton as the HATS group can confirm, having been rebuffed multiple times. If you cant site it in a vacant lot on Barton Street, you are not likely to find a suitable location elsewhere in Hamilton
Back to modular housing. It is being successfully deployed in Toronto, in Oshawa and in many other cities. With modular housing, at least there is some uniformity in design. Modular housing can be anything from mobile homes, to the ATCO trailers you see on construction sites, that come complete with bathrooms and kitchens, through to prefabricated houses and apartments. There are dorm units where several people can share and there are wash-toilet units. Before he departed for the federal scene Councillor Chad Collins proposed that Hamilton explore modular construction to serve persons dependent on social housing in Hamilton, and indeed some modular units have been built.
Some examples of where modular housing is working:
In November Mayor John Tory presided over the opening of a 59-unit modular apartment building in the Beaches area. The units are all bachelor apartments with kitchen and bath. The new building will also have common amenities for residents including a dining room, a laundry room and programming space, as well as administrative offices and a commercial kitchen that can provide on-site meals for residents. There will be on-site supports for residents at risk. The price per unit works out to just over $300,000 and is supported by CMHC. It took only a year to put up the complex and have it ready for occupancy.
A modular housing project for residents of Durham Region who are experiencing homelessness opened last year in Oshawa. Less than seven months after the region announced the pilot program, the micro housing units were almost complete. They were built at a manufacturing plant in Cambridge by NRB Modular Solutions. The 10 units offer transitional housing with access to various health and social supports, including financial assistance, employment services, mental health and addictions and the teaching of life skills.
Since 2019, approximately 1,500 social and supportive homes have opened in Vancouver. There are approximately 1,700 units currently under construction. Of them, over the past three years, more than 650 temporary modular supportive homes have been created, providing immediate relief to hundreds of people living without a home.
Emergency shelters: London
Still, even with construction timelines of less than a year there is a gap to be filled on an immediate urgent basis. In this case could mobile housing provide part of the solution? In London 32 people were housed inside heated construction trailers converted into modest shelter accommodations in a parking lot. Companies like ATCO have mobile bunkhouses, wash units and units with self contained entrances and bath facilities in stock that can be set up for emergency needs. London has placed the units on city-owned properties and offers community supports to residents.
The rules for dealing with homelessness may be set to face a new challenge with this week’s ruling by a judge in a Kitchener case of an encampment dismantling. The judge ruled that encampments cannot be dismantled unless there are sufficient shelter places to house all the displaced residents. And he further ruled that shelter spaces that are inaccessible due to rules about substance consumption, pets and couples cannot be deemed to be available spaces. All the more reason to consider rapid deployment solutions like converted construction trailers and other modular solutions.
The important point is that while the LRT project will create many new housing opportunities, it won’t do anything for the unhoused, Hamilton was misled into thinking otherwise, when the funding was announced and as a result precious time has been lost waiting for a solution that isn’t coming. It’s up to council to establish its own affordable housing and homeless task force to deal with the crisis on an urgent basis. To not add extra burden on staff time, space can be made for the task force by pruning some of the multitude of subcommittees and special advisory committees that are no longer relevant. Reading Hamilton staff reports on the housing crisis one gets the sense that they know what needs to be done. Instead we burden them with requests for reports on tiny housing. Its time to put some political muscle to bear to get the senior governments and community focused on what is clearly the number one issue in Hamilton.
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