By: Rob Hardy
There has been growing interest during the past decade in redefining Hamilton to attract investors and make it a great place to live. Rising housing prices in Toronto have led some people to believe that Hamilton is a good alternative. This may be the case for certain home buyers, but many have begun spilling into the city to escape the GTA’s cost of living rather than being attracted by the relative value.
For those who don’t know, the Hamilton Spectator recently reported that the Hamilton-Burlington real estate market underwent a 19.8 per cent price jump over the past year, marking the biggest gains in the entire country. The numbers in just Hamilton are even higher at 23 per cent with another 13 per cent increase expected the following year. Given this, what are the implications of house prices going up by a predicted $58,000 in the next year?
Hamilton, being so much smaller than Toronto, was previously purported to be a smart location to settle down for McMaster students about to graduate and look for their first job. Now that its cost of living is quickly catching up, this narrative no longer applies. Despite that, downtown Hamilton is still dwarfed many times over compared with Toronto in terms of size, available services and things to do.
West Harbour Go Transit service and light rail transit are cited as two reasons for this inflation but neither is running yet, and LRT is still in some danger of being scrapped given the persistent opposition. For those without a car, commuting from Hamilton to Toronto on public transit can take up to two hours each way unless you live right by the Hunter Street Go station or work close to Union Station. Otherwise, longer treks on the HSR and further connections on the TTC easily lengthen your commute.
But this problem is really about something so much larger than what is going on in this region. Canada has become a prohibitively expensive nation to live in for at least the past 10 years. The basic need of a home has been allowed to become a market for people to invest in and make money. The result of the market recently has created a two-tier system where a privileged group is allowed to exploit those who cannot afford to become homeowners. While some get rich, the rest, unable to realistically match housing increases with stagnant wages, have been set up to fail.
When my parents, as recent immigrants, bought a home by Gage Park in 1972, it cost $19,500 for a three-storey house with a basement. But the key point is that back then it only took a few years to pay off a mortgage. In today’s world, newly arrived immigrants would find a very different country, one where mortgages can take half your life to pay off. Homeownership has gone from offering security to being a long sentence of debt servitude.
This is the difference between what something should cost and what is actually charged. Canada, being the second largest country in the world with one of the lowest population densities on the planet, has vast tracts of land on which to build communities even if we exclude our territories to the north. We have so many resources at our disposal, yet it is clear that we lack the political will to make sure that all people have decent, affordable housing. Instead, we encourage lifestyles that urge us to make large purchases so that these can be taxed with fees and surcharges. Frugal and minimalist living is not a Canadian concept.
Regardless of differing opinions about how we have gotten to this point, it should be clear that this has become an unsustainable way of life. Something is wrong when students with multiple degrees are feeling anxiety about where they will live. Concerns about whether they will ever be able to afford a decent house, how much it will cost them and the stress surrounding societal status based on economic success and failure is depressing. And all this comes with a ticking clock: wait too long and it may become impossible to realize that dream of homeownership.