Don’t worry, Hamilton’s growth is coming
But affordable and subsidized housing need to become priorities at City Hall
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.