The Hamilton Spectator
Mayor sways votes to sign ‘housing pledge’
Province could feel like city gave it ‘black eye’ and jeopardize funding if oath not taken, Horwath says
Hamilton will indeed sign a provincial housing pledge after some city politicians initially rejected it as “political theatre.”
With some tweaks, Mayor Andrea Horwath swayed enough on council Wednesday to take the oath for 47,000 units to be built by 2031.
Horwath acknowledged council’s staunch opposition to a variety of provincial moves on the housing front, including a forced urban expansion and opening the Greenbelt for development.
But rejecting the pledge — “basically thumb our nose at the government” — could create barriers to provincial funding and stymie hoped-for policy changes, she added.
“And what I would really love to be in a position to do is have conversations with the government that doesn’t feel like it’s just been, you know, given a black eye by the City of Hamilton.”
The Progressive Conservative government says the pledge to large and fast-growing municipalities is to help reach a goal of 1.5 million homes in 10 years.
“Our government requires a commitment from our municipal partners to do their part in providing housing for future population growth,” Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steve Clark wrote in a letter to the city.
Clark added the province “intends to use your pledges to monitor and track progress” to help municipalities remove “barriers to housing development.”
The province’s target for Hamilton is 47,000 new homes by 2031 — 11,400 more units than the 35,600 enshrined in the city’s latest official plan.
How Hamilton grows has been the source of considerable political debate, including in November when Clark rejected the city’s proposal to focus 30 years of growth within its urban boundary and instead ordered an expansion into rural areas.
Last week, some councillors balked at the pledge, characterizing it as “political theatre” designed to spin a message of municipal support for the province’s housing moves or, conversely, lay blame on cities if targets aren’t met.
The planning committee voted 6-4 to reject the housing promise, with some councillors expressing concern that a negative response could lead to funding obstacles.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Clark congratulated London, Ont., for “helping lead the way” in becoming one of the first cities to take the pledge, “taking concrete action to get 47,000 homes built locally by 2031.”
The minister used London’s pledge to “promote the government’s harmful and destructive policies right away,” Coun. JohnPaul Danko said Wednesday, noting the city is following it’s “actual” legislated growth target of 35,600 units.
Coun. Cameron Kroetsch, meanwhile, reinforced his view that the pledge was “obvious political theatre,” pointing out the 47,000 units aren’t tied to legislation.
“This has got nothing to do with how much housing we are going to build in the city,” Kroetsch said.
Coun. Alex Wilson aired misgivings about publicly backing the “big-nothing pledge” to preserve sound relations with the province.
“If we’re worried about retribution on other files because of this, that is deeply concerning. That means that we do not live in a democracy,” Wilson said.
But Horwath won enough support through the rephrase “will seek to meet the challenge” of 47,000 units and, at Danko’s urging, making explicit the city’s plans to do that within the former urban boundary and not in the Greenbelt.
Wilson and Kroetsch were the two dissenters in a 12-2 vote to sign the pledge.