Op-Ed: Housing unaffordability and the Hamilton real estate market: The municipality is tremendously at fault

Posted On Friday, 05 August 2022 21:07

The housing crisis in Ontario centers on the city of Hamilton, a place known for its industrial heritage. The city has a unique urban feel, complete with a vibrant arts scene and a modern, bustling downtown core. Located between Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment, Hamilton has amenities such as beautiful nature trails, parks, waterfalls, museums, galleries, restaurants, and shopping. 

However, the city is experiencing some of the worst in Canada’s ongoing housing crises, being the third most unaffordable city to live in North America. Canada has the lowest average housing supply per capita with 424 units per 1,000 people. According to Hamilton.ca, there was an increase in occupied dwellings of 5.3 per cent, or an additional 11,205 units to 222,805 dwelling units in 2021.

According to a recent report, it’s estimated that additional housing supply is required to restore housing affordability by 2030. However, due to the lengthy approval process required by developers, meeting the needed housing supply could be at risk for communities like Hamilton. 

“Canada’s approach to housing supply needs to be rethought and done differently. There must be a drastic transformation of the housing sector, including government policies and processes, and an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach to increasing the supply of housing to meet demand,” said Aled ab Iorwerth, Deputy Chief Economist at CMHC. 

The supply of new housing is sadly out of step with demand, and the result is a clear escalation in prices, pushing homes further out of reach for average earners. What’s worse, the process of approval to get housing developments rolling is unnecessarily complicated and lengthy. 

Many city politicians are elected on the principle of opposing new development known as “NIMBY" - "not in my backyard." However, they are also in charge of the granting of municipal approvals for development. Considering this inherent conflict, it is no surprise that city councillors have been known to butt heads when it comes to making housing more available in their municipal wards. This makes the relationship between development and representative government tragically adversarial. This disjunct between competing interests needs immediate attention. 

Flamborough-Glanbrook MPP Donna Skelly spoke about the issue in an article by thepublicrecord.ca regarding the council’s decision to freeze the city’s urban boundary. 

“Ontario has a housing crisis driven by a severe shortage of supply … and our government is using every resource at our disposal to build all kinds of homes,” Skelly stated. “But some city councils, including Hamilton council, are pushing an anti-housing and anti-growth ideology that is preventing orders from being built and driving up home prices. This includes Hamilton council refusing to expand urban boundaries.”

The city of Hamilton is required by The Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to develop a land-use plan for the next 30 years, with the intention of accommodating a net growth of 236,000 people as well as 122,000 jobs. The city staff is charged with updating the land-use plan to reflect the land needs and growth strategy, which needs to be submitted to the province by July 2022. 

With this proposed level of growth, development needs to happen fast if there is any hope for housing to return to more affordable levels, especially for buyers who earn average and less than average wages. 

According to nesto.ca, low supply and strong demand are pushing the Hamilton housing market to record highs, a situation that was made worse by the pandemic. 

In the same report of February 2022, the average price of a house in Hamilton was $1,003,193, an increase of 24.7 per cent from the previous year. In February of 2021, the average house price was $804,223, with a staggering rise of 32.9 per cent compared to 2020 at $605,140. That’s an overall increase of 65.78 per cent over a two-year period.

Hamilton residents can’t wait for the housing market to cool off. Housing supply is what determines the options available to consumers. Without the proper housing supply, Hamilton is only going to continue to see a rise in costs and less affordable housing options in the future. 

The pandemic had far-reaching and severe global impacts, so the expectation that the average person will be able to afford a home at the current price level is a difficult concept to accept. There needs to be more options available that fit within an affordable range for the average earning individual and their families.

As Hamilton continues to prosper and grow, it’s important that the city does not leave its own behind. More options need to be made available that fit within the budget of more Hamilton residents and prospective homebuyers.

So, where does the solution lie? 

Municipal-level government can’t rely solely on the province to manage the housing crisis as it exists now. City council members need to facilitate more development rather than stand in the way of the process.

Hamilton city council appears to be intentionally holding up thousands of homes that are available for approval. These homes are caught up in the pipeline of applications in the planning and engineering departments. 

There has been no urban expansion, despite the fact that most Hamiltonians did not oppose the proposition for the city to expand these boundaries. Yet, no homes have been built due to the freeze of the boundary, regardless of the needs and desires of the people who live and work within the city’s borders.

Council needs to take its leadership seriously and begin addressing the housing crisis facing Hamilton. Otherwise, they need to make room for other potential candidates who can offer the people of Hamilton the proper leadership necessary to make more homes available.

As it stands today, Hamilton city council’s leadership is failing to address Hamilton’s housing crisis. Not only this, but their interruption of development is actively contributing to the problem.

The solution to this ‘manufactured crisis' is in the pipeline of housing supply - i.e, making more homes available to a rapidly growing consumer demographic. 

As long as population growth continues at an unprecedented rate, and housing development continues to be impeded by Hamilton city councillors, there remains little hope or optimism for affordable housing in the Hamilton community. 

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