Who is Ward 1? A review of Ward 1's character before the municipal election ramps up

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In the coming months, the city of Hamilton will see another election, this time to vote in the new city council. Ward 1, the ward in which McMaster University and many of its students reside, is known for having a relatively high voter turnout; during the 2014 election, Ward 1’s voter turnout was 40.7 per cent, while Hamilton’s overall turnout sat at 34 per cent. But a lot can change in four years, and the city keeps on changing. Here’s a look at the major changes.

Ward 1 stretches from Osler Drive at its western border to Queen Street to its east. It contains popular student neighbourhoods such as Westdale and Ainslie Wood in addition to well-known streets like Locke Street. Currently, Aidan Johnson is Ward 1’s city councillor after taking on the role from Brian McHattie back in 2014. 

The last time census data was taken for each individual ward was in 2011 and 2006, collected and presented by the city of Hamilton. Over those five years, numbers have fluctuated but the same narrative arises again; a ward full of well-educated people paying too much for rent.

 2006

In 2006, Ward 1’s population was 34,409. Recently landed immigrants made up 5.7 per cent of the population, which contrasted Hamilton’s 3.3 per cent in 2006. 36.3 per cent of Ward 1 residents held some form of post-secondary education, a much higher percentage than Hamilton’s overall 18.8 per cent. The unemployment rate for Ward 1 sat at 7 per cent, slightly higher than Hamilton’s 6.5 per cent.

At the time, 45.7 per cent of Ward 1 residents were renters, with 45 per cent spending over 30 per cent of their income on housing. Only 31.7 per cent of all Hamiltonians rented during 2006. At this point, McHattie had been Ward 1 councillor for three years, and would continue to hold that role until 2014.

2011

The most recent data, as reported by the city of Hamilton, paints a similar picture filled with change and uncertainty. As of 2011, Ward 1’s reported population sat at 29,764. It also appears that Ward 1 had remained a relatively popular destination for recently landed immigrants, with the proportion of recent immigrants in Ward 1 slightly higher than the proportion throughout all of Hamilton, sitting at 5.8 per cent and 2.9 per cent, respectively.

Just over half of all residents have attended a post-secondary institution, with 50.9 per cent of residents holding some sort of degree. The unemployment rate for Ward 1 sat at 9.6 per cent, while Hamilton’s overall rate was 8.7 per cent.

This additional education still does not guarantee housing tenure, though; 47.5 per cent of residents are tenants, and 46.6 per cent of tenants report that they spend over 30 per cent of their income on housing. Ward 1 has also has a higher proportion than renters, with Hamilton’s overall percentage sitting at 31.6 per cent, with an overall 42.8 per cent of renters spending over 30 per cent of their income on housing.

By 2011, McHattie had been Ward 1 councillor for eight years. 

What It Means

A brief survey of Ward 1 statistics points to a clear story that has been consistent for the last decade or so; Ward 1 residents are well-educated, but lack secure housing.According to the Wellesley Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Toronto, anyone spending over 30 per cent of their income on rent may be considered at risk, meaning that a significant number of Hamiltonians in Ward 1 live in precarious housing.

According to research released in Nov. 2017 by Rentseeker, a real estate website, the average rent price for a two-bedroom apartment in Hamilton sits at $1,103. In comparison to other cities in the Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton is one of the cheaper options, with cities like Burlington and Mississauga sitting at $1,366 and $1,333, respectively.

To add to the overarching issue of affordable housing, research released by the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton in June 2018 also discovered an increase in evictions occurring in Hamilton.

The SPRC argues that a lack of rental protection is the cause of such high eviction rates, pointing to Quebec City and its low eviction rates as the model for Hamilton to follow. The SPRC argues that in order to stabilize rental prices in Hamilton, policies must be enacted that allow tenants to know how much their units previously cost before signing a lease, and financial barriers such as expecting the first and last month’s rent must be taken away.

The SPRC argued that Quebec City and Hamilton share enough similarities, such as similarly proportioned growth, to qualify for comparison.

As of now, only two candidates have registered to run in the Ward 1 municipal election: the incumbent Aidan Johnson and McMaster graduate Sophie Geffros. The official nomination period will not end until July 27, meaning candidates have nearly two months to make their candidacy official.

While it’s unclear what these two candidates plan to advocate for, common themes have arisen through even the briefest of looks at census data, pointing to affordable housing issues, questions about unemployment or underemployment and other issues that affect students.

Whether McMaster students vote depends on many factors, but as of now, precedence does not lend itself to suggesting McMaster students will vote en masse: the last McMaster Students Union election saw a voter turnout of 28 per cent. But overall, the Ward 1 election holds one of the higher voter turnouts in the city.

Statistics have their limitations and can’t tell you everything about a race and candidates may decide to focus on issues other than the ones listed above. Since census data for Ward 1 is not available, it is unclear how Ward 1 fared while Johnson was city councilor, but likely will not be out before the municipal election is over. With that said, it still looks like it will be an interesting race.

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