The city’s $90,000,000 investment will help address our housing crisis, but may actually achieve much more.

Over the past few weeks, city council has spent time considering various opportunities to make significant infrastructure investments toward the economic and cultural vitality of our city. It got us thinking: if City Hall is looking to invest $90,000,000 in new transformative infrastructure, what other complex problems could we solve?

Our expertise is at Indwell, developing and operating high-quality affordable housing for people seeking health, wellness, and belonging. Indwell is a Christian charity, and Ontario’s largest developer of supportive affordable housing; we opened two projects this summer, have two under construction here in Hamilton, and five more set to start in the next year. Our team knows how to create business plans for projects that get built.

Working from our most current experience and with the City’s $90,000,000 investment, we can build over 1,000 new deeply affordable homes here in Hamilton. This may sound far-fetched, but it is actually very feasible because this type of investment is a true catalyst — it creates the conditions to leverage other contributions to achieve much greater results. Let us explain…

CMHC calculates every dollar spent on supported housing saves $2.17 in emergency responses.

CMHC’s National Housing Strategy was announced in 2017, with over $55 billion to be invested in new affordable, rental, and community-based housing stock across Canada. Hamilton city council could mobilize approximately $150 million in already-budgeted Co-Investment Program funding to address our local housing crisis. This isn’t fingers-crossed wishful-thinking money, either; it’s achievable if we demonstrate best value for public investments.

Best value is measured by a number of factors, but three key areas are prioritized by CMHC: the depth of affordable rents offered, deep energy efficiency and GHG emission reductions, and superior accessibility. Maximize these metrics and target the needs of seniors, younger workers, people living with disabilities, Indigenous households and other priorities, and this investment is virtually certain. But here is the best part: CMHC’s priorities match the local needs for households most seriously impacted by Hamilton’s growing housing crisis.

The City’s $90,000,000 investment will help address our housing crisis, but actually achieve much more.

Indwell will work with community partners and end chronic homelessness. Imagine the impact on our municipal budget for Emergency Services, Public Health, and every department that is treating the daily personal crises of our most vulnerable residents? Consider the impact on our emergency shelters: they will be freed up to support people in urgent, short-term crisis. It will help us all feel hopeful rather than frustrated, stepping around our neighbours sleeping on sidewalks, in bus shelters, and in parks right across our city. The cost to feeling helpless is existential, not just economic, but CMHC calculates every dollar spent on supported housing saves $2.17 in emergency responses.

We will work with hospital partners to end “hallway healthcare” and return flow to our Emergency Departments by designing supportive housing to meet the needs of the reported hundreds of people currently stuck in local hospital beds. We all benefit from faster access to urgent medical care. And imagine Hamilton leading the province in solving this systemic problem!

The City's $90,000,000 investment will help address our housing crisis, but actually achieve much more.

And we will take meaningful action to address our climate crisis. With buildings responsible for roughly 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, these 1,000 apartments will be built to Passive House standards to use 50 per cent less energy and cut GHG emissions dramatically. We can hit our City’s climate targets now, not wait until 2050.

These are just some of the benefits: considering the 1,500 person-years of construction jobs, developments in neighbourhoods across the city, homes for families working local jobs, and the clean-up of derelict and contaminated sites, the transformative value of this investment keeps growing. As community donors get on board, momentum builds, in turn inspiring other levels of government with the potential synergies of investments like Ontario’s $3.8 billion commitment to mental health and addictions supportive housing.

Like council decided in 1896 to become the Electric City, this council could decide to solve our affordable housing crisis, end chronic homelessness, and address climate change all at once.

Our city council is talking about investing now for the future vitality of our community and economy. Like council decided in 1896 to become the Electric City, this council could decide to solve our affordable housing crisis, end chronic homelessness, and address climate change all at once by investing in civic housing infrastructure. Indeed, there has never been an opportunity for our City’s $90,000,000 to return so many permanent public benefits.

This opinion was originally published in The Hamilton Spectator on October 23, 2019

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Executive Director at Indwell
Director of Projects & Development at Indwell
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