The Hamilton Spectator
City can build enough homes outside Greenbelt, report says
Planning experts both in and outside the city now say there is plenty of room to meet provincial homebuilding targets without touching land controversially carved out of Hamilton’s Greenbelt.
So far, no developer in Hamilton has publicly applied to do so.
In the face of widespread opposition last December, the Tory government pulled 2,995 hectares of land out of the Greenbelt — including 567 hectares in Hamilton — to allow fast-tracked home-building it argued is needed to fight a housing crisis.
But a new report by veteran municipal planner Kevin Eby suggests there is room to build nearly double the 47,000-unit target for Hamilton by 2031 — without using either Greenbelt land or even farmland newly included in the city’s urban boundary by provincial fiat.
Eby’s report, done for an alliance of advocacy groups that includes Environment Hamilton and ACORN tenant rights group, further suggests intensification within existing urban areas is a better bet for growth than more “low-density dwellings in car-dependent greenfields.”
“Simply providing (private developers) with more urban designated land in the vain hope that somehow this will result in more and cheaper homes being built faster is not a realistic solution,” reads the report for the Alliance for a Livable Ontario.
A spokesperson for Housing Minister Steve Clark dismissed the report as based on a “particular antihousing and anti-growth ideology, rather than fact,” and reiterated the government’s belief that newly opened Greenbelt lands would fasttrack construction of 50,000 homes. But it remains unclear how quickly homes can be built in the unserviced Greenbelt near Ancaster and Mount Hope.
The province has said the lands will be returned to protected status if developers do not begin construction by 2025 or achieve “significant progress on approvals” by the end of this year.
Hamilton planners told The Spectator last week no developer has applied to move those rural lands into the urban boundary — a necessity for development — let alone approached the city about secondary plans or servicing strategies. Typically, those sort of planning studies and amendments can take months or even years.
The province did not answer Spectator questions about whether Clark would use a minister’s zoning order or some other legislative mechanism to quickly add the Greenbelt lands into Hamilton’s urban boundary.
The Eby report conclusions also echo the beliefs of Hamilton planners and council, which recently pledged to try to meet the province’s new housing growth targets of 47,000 new units by 2031 via intensification in existing urban areas.
That kind of intensification is already becoming a “noticeable trend,” said the city’s top planner Jason Thorne, who posted a chart online showing a record number of building permits — around 3,700 — for residential units in 2022. Notably, around 70 per cent of those housing starts were units in multi-residential projects.
“A decade ago, that multi-residential number was closer to 10 per cent,” he said in an interview.
Thorne said the numbers suggest higher-density development “is a very real trend.”
“It suggests we’re using land more efficiently … and it suggests we can accommodate future growth on less land than may have been the case 20 years ago.”
While there are no public plans for Hamilton’s Greenbelt lands yet, Thorne said his department will be bringing a report to council later in March outlining options for dealing with the government-imposed urban boundary expansion into rural areas like Elfrida.