Hamilton Spectator: Ward 5 election issues

Posted September 27, 2018

There is a towering affordable housing problem in Ward 5.
Hamilton's low-income rental crisis is a city-wide challenge thanks to skyrocketing property values and a corresponding development boom. But rents are spiking faster in the east end, according to city statistics, which show tenants paid an average of $1,009 a month last year compared to $724 in 2012.
Increasingly, tenants in aging Ward 5 highrises and townhouse complexes are banding together to fight rent hikes and a perceived effort to push out low-income tenants.
A lot of advocacy has been aimed at the provincial government, which sets annual maximum rent increase at 1.8 per cent — but also allows higher hikes for renovations to deal with structural or safety problems.
But there is a role for the city, too, said Linda Habibi, a resident in one of four buildings in the Stoney Creek Towers complex in Riverdale, an impoverished neighbourhood home to many new immigrants.
"There has to be a way for them to step up — not just building government housing, but ensuring tenants in existing (private) buildings have safe, affordable places to live," said Habibi, who is part of a five-month-old rent strike alongside dozens of other tenants in the Stoney Creek Towers.
The tenants are calling on owner InterRent and property manager CLV to back down on an above-average rent hike proposal and deal with tenant complaints about everything from wonky elevators to mould to pests. The company has said the buildings were in rough shape when purchased in 2015 and the rent increases help pay for needed fixes.
A municipal council can't stop landlords from hiking rents.
But it can do more to crack down on property standards complaints, argues Hamilton ACORN, a local group advocating for tenant rights that recently led a so-called "slumlord" tour of rental buildings. It could also license landlords — an always-touchy topic that is up for debate yet again.
The city can also set planning rules to deter or control the conversion of rental apartment to condominiums, another trend in Hamilton real estate that worries housing advocates like Habibi.
She also suggested the city can use new planning tools to insist on "actual affordable" units in new towers anticipated in the ward — particularly around the new east end GO Station on Centennial Parkway.
Last term, council added ants to a list of enforceable pest complaints based on property standards complaints to the Ward 5 councillor. There is also a unique proposal to add affordable seniors housing as part of school and community centre renovation in Riverdale.
There are three people vying to be Ward 5 councillor. If you're voting in the ward — which now includes downtown Stoney Creek — here are some other key issues to ask your candidate about:
Stoney Creek infrastructure
Thanks to tribunal-imposed new ward boundaries, old Stoney Creek downtown is now part of Ward 5. But a new council must struggle with how to dole out special infrastructure dollars previously available only to the old city. Will there be special sidewalk cash for one part of Ward 5 — but not in old Stoney Creek?
Beach strip flooding
Hamilton's unique beach community has a history of flooding when Lake Ontario levels are high. But that isn't necessarily common knowledge for the flood of new homeowners moving in from the GTA. High water levels in 2017 spurred plenty of complaints. Should the city add new protective infrastructure?
Red Hill safety
The city is planning to repave the Red Hill Valley Parkway in the coming years, a move that might put to rest questions about whether the roadway is more slippery than normal. But expect residents to continue to push for more safety measures on a roadway plagued by speeding and serious collisions. A new traffic safety report with parkway statistics is expected soon — but not until after the election.
Ward 5 fast facts
Population: 41,855
Estimated eligible voters: 34,370
Notable boundary changes: Loses Rosedale neighbourhood, gains part of old Stoney Creek to Grays Road
Ward features: Bordered by Red Hill Valley, includes Eastgate Square, beach strip, Confederation Park and downtown Stoney Creek
Article by Matthew Van Dongen for the Hamilton Spectator