Hamilton Spectator: City moves to expedite affordable-housing tool along Hamilton LRT route

Posted May 18, 2022

An advocate for affordable housing units along Hamilton’s future LRT route is hopeful a tweak to the city’s official plan will expedite a tool to ensure they’re included amid a flurry of private investment.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that it will move that time frame forward a little bit,” says Karl Andrus, who leads the Hamilton Community Benefits Network.

Inclusionary zoning is a tool under provincial legislation that municipalities can use to oblige private developers to include affordable units near major transit stations.

In Hamilton, that would apply to the 17 LRT stops along the future McMaster-to-Eastgate line and existing GO stations.

The benefits network and other advocacy groups, including Hamilton ACORN and Environment Hamilton, have urged the city to speed up its studies on the provision as private developers quickly snap up properties along the route.

On Tuesday, a day after a rally outside city hall, councillors told planners to identify the “conceptual locations” for Hamilton’s major transit areas and note an “intent” to enshrine inclusionary zoning in Hamilton’s official plan.

That sounds bureaucratic, but it’s a significant step the city hadn’t considered starting until the second quarter of 2023, Andrus said. “I don’t know why it wasn’t done earlier.”

The city must submit its revised official plan — a long-term blueprint for growth that reflects a decision to freeze Hamilton’s urban boundary — by July to the province for review.

After the Progressive Conservatives took power in 2018, they limited inclusionary zoning, introduced by the previous Liberal government, to major transit station areas.

Then, in December 2019, the province abruptly cancelled Hamilton’s LRT project, which also halted local policy work on the tool, city staff say.

When the province withdrew funding for the project, the city lost the opportunity to create a framework for inclusionary zoning, chief planner Steve Robichaud said Tuesday. “We sort of had to put a pause on that work.”

That changed last May, when the provincial and federal governments agreed to provide $1.7 billion in capital funding apiece for a revived $3.4-billion project.

To bring inclusionary zoning to fruition, the city needs to conduct analytical studies, including into what types of buildings would be eligible and what the market “can afford and sustain,” noted Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development.

A third-party consultant is also required to review studies into a wide range of factors, including demographics, household incomes, housing supply, and average market prices and rents.

Coun. Maureen Wilson said she appreciates the need for “thorough and defendable methodology,” but added, “we are kind of in a race against time” with private investment pouring in along the route.

Thorne said the city intends to have a policy in place “well before” the line is constructed. Major work isn’t expected until 2024.

Anti-poverty advocates are anxious to ensure affordability along the Main-King-Queenston corridor amid rising rents and tenants already displaced along the route.

Provincial transit agency Metrolinx, which is leading the project alongside the Ministry of Transportation, has bought and vacated 60 buildings for the line’s construction.

Meanwhile, the city hopes to strike a working group — with the provincial and federal representatives — to secure land along the corridor for affordable housing and other community uses.

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Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator

 

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