Hamilton is currently in a state of change. Since property costs are relatively low compared to neighbouring cities, developers and entrepreneurs have been looking to Hamilton to open trendy cafes and restaurants or to build luxury condos. As positive as this kind of prosperity can be for the city, there is a grim reality behind the shiny facades.
The cost of buying a home in Hamilton has spiked over 88.3 per cent over the past ten years. With that, the city has seen the cost of rental units shoot up more than any other city within Ontario in this past year alone, making it difficult to find adequate housing for those in need.
One of the factors to the rental surge, besides the continued gentrification, is a drop in vacancy rates. From 2013 to 2015, vacancy rates fell to 1.8 per cent from 3.4 per cent, forcing rental costs to skyrocket and lowering the means for affordable housing projects that are in high demand across the city.
The spike of the cost of living in Hamilton and the lack of affordable housing projects, including emergency homeless shelters or women’s shelters, see more people and families being put onto waiting lists for subsidized housing, and more people in emergency shelters staying longer with nowhere to go. Today, approximately 5,700 households in Hamilton are on a waiting list for subsidized housing.
One community in particular has been facing the effects of this resurgence for years. The Beasley neighbourhood is located in central downtown and bound by four major streets that have arguably seen the most gentrification in the city, including James St N and Main St W. In a 2012 report published by the city’s Social Planning and Research council, it was noted that poverty rates in Beasley are three times higher than the average for the city, with nearly six in ten residents living below the poverty line.
“What does affordable housing mean to Hamilton? It means that we as a city are able to continue on with this value we have, which is that if you live here, you’re part of the community,” said Matt Thomson, a Beasley neighbourhood resident. “The city is not about creating wealth strictly through the speculation of housing, but rather everyone should have the chance to participate, and when you have to move far away from where you’re grounded, that’s not what we’re about.”
A 2012 report from the McMaster-Community Poverty Initiative found a 21-year gap in life expectancy between residents of the poorest neighbourhood and those of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Hamilton. Sara Mayo, a social planner at the Social Planning and Research Council, noted that investing in affordable housing would mean massive improvement for people’s health.
“The sort of low-level chronic stress that comes from things like not knowing if your landlord is going to kick you out or not knowing how you’re going to make next month’s rent has shown to be very harmful to people’s health,” said Mayo. “One high-stress event is something you can bounce back from and something that your body can take, but that low-level chronic stress is something that has really big impacts on people’s brains and on their physical health.”
The provincial government currently has a long-term affordable housing strategy in place that was updated in March. The plan sees $178 million of investment in affordable housing projects, specifically for survivors of domestic abuse, supportive households and homelessness initiatives over the course of the next three years.
“[Fixing the issue is] a complex question that often has very simple answers. You invest in affordable housing,” noted Thomson. “What that looks like is going to depend on what you’re expecting your outcome to be, but it’s about building units, and it’s about fixing the units that we have, and it’s about enabling and equipping people with really cool tools to try out new ways of keeping housing affordable, so that people can then work towards the bigger and better things in their lives.”