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Hamilton's Housing Crisis: Part 2

Blog/FavouritesAugust 24th 2023
Jason Allen

This is the secondof a two part article on the housing crisis in Hamilton. Check our blogs to read part 1.

While it seems that the landlords have all the power in this arrangement, citizen groups have been pushing back. The tenant advocacy group Hamilton ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has been battling renovictions and predatory landlords since 2018.

This group has been staging protests around the city at apartment buildings where renovictions are underway, at city hall before and during council meetings, and more recently even at real estate offices where some of these landlords work.

Another tool ACORN uses is appealing the eviction notice to the landlord tenant board, which is currently so overwhelmed with cases that it can take up to 5 months to get a hearing. While sometimes the tribunal rules in favour of the tenant, it doesn’t always, and this tactic ends up only delaying the inevitable.

With all of the history, complexity and big finance driving our housing crisis, is there any clear solution?

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It turns out it hasn’t always been this way, and that’s because the tools the government used to use to build affordable rental housing have largely been abandoned. In the 1970s, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (the federal crown corporation that insures many of the mortgages in Canada) regularly financed the construction of affordable housing units.

With the burden of financing the project removed from cities, there was a boom in construction. In the 80s, faced with mounting deficits, the federal government reduced their investment, and in the 90s it stopped altogether. Not much affordable housing has been built since then.

The solution, and likely the only long-term solution, would be for the government to go on an affordable housing building spree. Non-profit groups and even some private organizations have attempted to step in and fill the gap in affordable housing, but there simply isn’t enough charitable money to fix the problem.

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For instance, Indwell, one of the largest providers of affordable housing in Hamilton, has only 1062 units across 5 municipalities in Ontario. With 1500 people homeless in Hamilton alone it’s easy to see why much more substantial investment is needed to address the problem.

The short-term solution may involve legalized encampments and small communities of more permanent structures. Other cities have moved to legalize encampments, or even to offer small ‘tiny home’ solutions – small one room cabins with shared washroom and shower facilities in various places in  Kitchener/Waterloo.

Hamilton continues to wrestle with what to do with encampments. The issue has been on city council’s agenda several times since this council was elected in October of last year, with each time yielding more questions than answers. The city is now in the process of drafting an encampment protocol with extensive public input that is expected to come before council for a decision in August.

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The challenge is that very few homeowners will be happy with an encampment down the road from them or in their local park, and it’s this resistance that has led to a vigorous debate on where such a permanent encampment will be located. There is no consensus on a location.

It’s clear that Hamilton’s housing crisis is not going to be getting better anytime soon, and short of a massive government building project or a sudden crash of the real estate market, encampments may just be here to stay.

The best most of us can do in the meantime is extend compassion to those who are going through some of the worst experiences of their lives. Unhoused people are still our neighbours, and it can be easy to forget that many of us are just a job loss, a car crash, or a legal notice from our landlord away from being in the same situation.