Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing says the Hamilton council’s decision to stand firm in the city’s urban limits can only worsen an already bad housing situation at the GTHA.
In a statement after Friday’s vote against an expansion of the city’s urban boundary, suggested by the Ford administration to address an alleged housing “shortage,” the ministry claimed that accommodating population growth through the filling and intensification “is not feasible”.
“The Hamilton City Council’s rejection of an expansion of city limits will only serve to push home prices further out of reach for Hamiltonians and exacerbate the housing crisis,” a ministry spokesperson said in an email to Global. News.
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“We want our city partners to realize that Ontario is in a housing crisis, so we are encouraging city councils, including Hamilton, to implement a plan that addresses the problem of housing affordability.”
During the past two weeks, councilors participated in more than 20 hours of discussion through a pair of meetings on November 9 and 19 that included the review of more than 400 written submissions from advocacy groups and residents.
The catalyst for the debate was fueled by a land needs assessment – an Ontario initiative tailored to population growth, which the Ford government said it needed by July 2022.
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An earlier expansion plan recommended by a city staff report suggested an “ambitious density” scenario to accommodate an estimated increase of more than 110,000 homes by 2051.
Under that scheme, the city would combine intensification within the city’s existing urban boundary and add more than 1,300 hectares of farmland to accommodate a projected increase of 238,000 residents, putting Hamilton’s population at approximately 820,000.
Opponents of the expansion include environmentalists and members of the farming community who have expressed frustration in recent months, saying the provincial guidelines do not help the climate crisis or reuse land in need of improvement.
“The people of Hamilton want and need a sustainable walking community – small businesses and coffee shops in their neighborhoods, close to traffic and jobs,” Stop Sprawl Hamilton’s Zoe Green told councilors ahead of Friday’s vote.
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But the province says the city’s land needs assessment shows that they will not be able to adapt to growth and that the existing urban area does not have enough land to support new residents.
“Changing these approximately 60,000 houses to apartments is not feasible because it would exceed the supply of land available for intensification within the existing urban area of the city,” said ministry spokeswoman Melissa Diakoumeas.
The CEO of a residential construction consortium in the Hamilton area generally agrees with the province’s assessment, saying the lack of expansion will not generate demand for a potential deluge of apartments and condos likely to hit the market instead of family dwellings.
West End Home Builders Association director Michael Collins-Williams told CHML 900’s Bill Kelly that buyers who want a backyard are unlikely to commit to living in a skyscraper after city council rejection. of an expansion of 1,300 hectares.
“We just don’t think there is a market demand for 75 percent of homes in the future to be built as apartment or condo units and have no options for families, ”Collins-Williams said.
Collins-Williams said the association supports some intensification, particularly along the upcoming LRT corridor, but added that it wonders whether councilors who support limitless growth will “welcome with open arms” mid-rise and high-rise developments in their districts.
“We, as housing providers in the industry, will have to fight every single request,” Collins-Williams said.
“This means that these projects (could) take four or five, six years to go through approvals simply to provide the necessary supply of housing to meet population growth.”
Dr Frank Clayton, an urban and land development researcher at Ryerson University, says a no-holds-barred scenario doesn’t necessarily reduce environmental impact in southern Ontario.
He suggested that not everyone will settle for apartment-style living and potentially resort to commuting to and from Hamilton to get the home they want.
“They’re going to force people who want low-density housing and who work in the city of Hamilton to move further out like… the Niagara region, Brantford, Woodstock and those areas,” Clayton said.
More displacement would add to greenhouse gases, Clayton said.
Clayton, whose area of expertise is in the housing market, said that ultimately the best framework would be some kind of balance between the environment and the economics of the housing market.
“It is neither one nor the other. Because if you do one or the other, you’re going to have inadvertent impacts that you didn’t want to have, ”Clayton said.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger told Global News that the decision is the right one for now and that it is not a “decision forever.”
“It means that in the short term, we seek to maximize the potential of LRT, which has always been a focus on new intensification and urban redevelopment,” said Eisenberger.
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The Mayor said new opportunities still exist within the current boundaries and future adjustments to the boundaries will be considered through ongoing staff reporting.
“We will measure as we go,” Eisenberger said.
“I presented the address that each and every year we receive information from our staff on how homeownership is coming through and how we are accommodating the projected 100,000 new residents who are coming into our community.”
Clayton said part of the problem with filling and reconciling old lots is the cost that developers incur with a given project, sometimes leading to expenses that will not support family-style homes.
“It’s a lot more expensive … so you get apartments, not individual houses,” Clayton said.
“If you get a few single-family homes, they usually just replace the existing single-family homes, or they will be very, very expensive.”
He said any plan decided now would take years to reverse if the city chose to allocate urban land growth in a few years from now.
“To get redevelopment applications through the system, it can take five or 10 years,” Clayton said.
“We are planning for the long term and you cannot change the system quickly.”
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Eisenberger said he doesn’t think the prospect of pivoting is difficult and says several developers are prepared to present viable high-density projects.
“I think the best option for us right now is to encourage developers to look for infill opportunities in both single-family homes and higher-density homes in the existing urban boundary … then measure how that is affecting supply and prices. futures and everything else that comes along with it, ”Eisenberger said.
The question now is how the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing will receive the city’s decision.
Clayton said the Ford administration could now simply “veto” what the city has done and tell it to do something different.
In a statement to Global News after Friday’s vote, the municipal affairs ministry said it agreed with the “ambitious density” scenario that was initially presented to the city council in July.
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The mayor hopes the province will not overturn the city’s ruling leading to possible appeals before the Ontario Land Court.
“So we’ll have to work through those issues to see how that future outcome holds for our city,” Eisenberger said.
“Hopefully, the province will stick with our choice.”
Despite being aware of Friday’s vote, Diakoumeas said the province is still awaiting an official city plan for the ministry to review.
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