Don’t worry, Hamil­ton’s growth is com­ing

But af­ford­able and sub­si­dized hous­ing need to be­come pri­or­i­ties at City Hall

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - JEREMY KEMENY Jeremy Kemeny is a web pro­ducer for thes­pec.com, a down­town Hamil­ton res­i­dent and is pas­sion­ate about ur­ban af­fairs.

We should not be sur­prised by re­cent cen­sus data show­ing lower than av­er­age pop­u­la­tion growth in the old city. Yes, there is an in­flux of peo­ple mov­ing to Hamil­ton. A num­ber of re­cent re­ports in­di­cate a surge of young peo­ple are leav­ing more ex­pen­sive cities, like Toronto, mov­ing here look­ing for new op­por­tu­ni­ties.

An Au­gust 2016 anal­y­sis from the So­cial Plan­ning and Re­search Coun­cil of Hamil­ton names mil­len­ni­als as the largest de­mo­graphic group in the city, tak­ing over from baby boomers. It is clear that this is a de­sir­able place to live for GTA res­i­dents who can­not af­ford Toronto’s prices. But where are they mov­ing, and why has our pop­u­la­tion not spiked?

To an­swer that ques­tion, we need to look at the den­sity of our neigh­bour­hoods and fol­low the de­vel­op­ment pat­terns be­tween the 2011 and 2016 cen­suses.

Fo­cus­ing on down­town and sur­round­ing neigh­bour­hoods, it’s hard to imag­ine a time in the past six years where there was no new con­struc­tion hap­pen­ing. How­ever, few of these have been high-den­sity res­i­den­tial projects.

The two City Square build­ings in the Du­rand neigh­bour­hood may be the largest of the few com­pleted and oc­cu­pied. With­out new con­struc­tion in the old city, new­com­ers must be re­plac­ing other Hamil­to­ni­ans. For the pop­u­la­tion to swell, higher den­sity de­vel­op­ment is needed.

So where are these new Hamil­to­ni­ans liv­ing? It is pos­si­ble that some are mov­ing to the suburbs, but it is also likely that Hamil­to­ni­ans liv­ing in the old lower city took ad­van­tage of the real es­tate boom to sell their prop­er­ties and move on. Young peo­ple have flooded into Hamil­ton’s hip neigh­bour­hoods — Locke, James, Ot­tawa streets and oth­ers — to set up busi­nesses and take ad­van­tage of the cre­ative cul­ture.

These new Hamil­to­ni­ans — con­tribut­ing to the ur­ban re­nais­sance — helped drive up hous­ing prices 33 per cent in Hamil­ton Cen­tre be­tween May 2014 and May 2015. It’s easy to imag­ine that baby boomers are tak­ing their real es­tate wind­fall and pur­chas­ing re­tire­ment homes and con­dos in less ex­pen­sive mar­kets.

This re­nais­sance has also con­trib­uted to in­creased rental costs across the city. The Hamil­ton Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion re­ported in 2015 that 43 per cent of renters were spend­ing more than 30 per cent of their in­come on rent. That num­ber has surely in­creased.

Look­ing around cen­tral Hamil­ton, you’ll see res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ments ev­ery­where: The Con­naught, All Saints on Queen Street, the re­cently com­pleted for­mer Fed­eral Build­ing at Main and Caro­line, and the Res­i­dences at Ac­cla­ma­tion, to name a few. Hamil­ton Cen­tre, in the com­ing years, is des­tined to be­come much denser. New high- and mid-den­sity res­i­den­tial build­ings are a boon for the city. But the new de­vel­op­ments will also con­trib­ute to in­creased rent and hous­ing costs that will, in some cases, have a neg­a­tive ef­fect on cur­rent res­i­dents.

The Spectator re­cently re­ported on an “ex­treme” case of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, leav­ing a dis­abled tenant dis­placed by a pro­posed condo de­vel­op­ment. This is a ter­ri­bly sad story and one that will likely hap­pen more of­ten if the city does not do more to house its most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents. We must also fo­cus on the less ex­treme cases; this con­tin­ued re­nais­sance will only neg­a­tively af­fect ac­cess to af­ford­able hous­ing. Hamil­ton’s prices are go­ing up, but are wages fol­low­ing?

Young peo­ple — new­com­ers and na­tives — driving the de­sire to live in Hamil­ton, are es­sen­tial for the con­tin­ued re­vi­tal­iza­tion. They are also vul­ner­a­ble to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. As newly hot neigh­bour­hoods get more and more ex­pen­sive, they be­come less ap­peal­ing to the cur­rent res­i­dents. Re­vi­tal­iza­tion in the James Street North area is a clear ex­am­ple of res­i­dents — who con­trib­uted to for the pop­u­lar­ity of the area — be­ing priced out of that mar­ket. Af­ford­able hous­ing is nec­es­sary to re­tain these young res­i­dents.

We must con­tinue to drive growth in this city. More ur­ban res­i­dents means a larger down­town tax base and more in­cen­tive for busi­nesses and in­vest­ment.

We must also en­sure the city is in­clu­sive to all res­i­dents: new­com­ers and long­time cit­i­zens. One way is to of­fer in­cen­tives to in­clude a per­cent­age of af­ford­able units in new de­vel­op­ments. Af­ford­able hous­ing and sub­si­dized hous­ing must be pri­or­i­ties now and in the fu­ture.

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