The Hamilton Spectator

The broken status quo on housing


Considerin­g the state of Hamilton’s affordable housing crisis, it’s easy and understand­able to be pessimisti­c.

On the negative side of the ledger, the city is hemorrhagi­ng affordable housing units, as explained by Spec journalist Teviah Moro in a March 15 story.

According to expert analysis, the Hamilton census reporting area, which includes Grimsby and Burlington, has lost nearly 16,000 affordable units since 2011. That amounts to a net loss of 29 units for every new unit created. Our affordable housing bucket has a raging leak with only a relative trickle being added to replenish what is being lost in the private sector market.

Then there’s the cost of renting, as reported by The Spec’s Fallon Hewitt. Her March 16 report notes in the month of February, tenants saw average rents spike by15 per cent over the same period last year. New one-bedroom units now cost an average of $1,828 per month. This, of course, pushes more and more tenants out of the full-price rental market and into the more affordable sector, where the supply is shrinking when it needs to grow.

Meanwhile, applicatio­ns to evict tenants to allow for rental units to be renovated continue to trend higher. There were 103 of those in Hamilton last year, as compared to 60 the year before, 33 in 2020 and 21 in 2019. And that’s only the renovictio­n disputes that come before the Landlord and Tenant Board. There are many others where the landlord pays tenants to leave or where tenants accept the eviction because they don’t know they have a choice, which is to appeal to the LTB, and wait months and months for a resolution.

Aside from the matter of ethical treatment of tenants and fairness, renovictio­ns also take units off the market, for an extended period, at a time of extreme supply shortage.

It’s not a pretty picture, and it is urgent, which is why Hamilton City Hall is appropriat­ely active. It is working with housing experts to draft a strategy, which includes launching a multi-sector housing “secretaria­t” to guide and advise city policy. The city is also working on a $4-million-a-year fund to push non-profit housing developmen­t. Critics and allies alike point out that is a drop in the housing bucket, but it’s something.

Part of the problem is that while city hall can push some housing levers, the biggest and most powerful are beyond local control. And at the same time as the crisis is getting measurably worse, investment from senior levels of government is dwindling.

The provincial government, in particular, could be doing a lot more. An example can be found in British Columbia, where the government there is launching a $500-million Rental Protection Fund.

As Premier David Eby explains: “This fund will allow non-profits to secure older rental buildings and protect vulnerable renters from speculator­s who can drive up rents and evict tenants who have lived there for years. Instead, community non-profits will now be able to work with tenants to make improvemen­ts or expand to house more people, and at the same time protect affordable housing.”

This measure, or something like it, would get at a large and growing problem — older rental housing is being bought by speculator­s and corporate interests such as real-estate investment trusts. Typically, they redevelop the properties, evicting tenants in the process to make larger profits.

The B.C. government intends for the Rental Protection Fund to provide one-time capital grants to non-profit housing providers to be used to purchase rental and co-op buildings, working with tenants and owners to upgrade them while protecting the occupants in the process.

Could Ontario’s government do something similar? It could, if it was genuinely concerned about the welfare of vulnerable renters in an increasing­ly harsh and unsustaina­ble market, with Hamilton among the worst.

Sadly, that’s a big “if.”

Part of the problem is that while city hall can push some housing levers, the biggest and most powerful are beyond local control

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