Council’s Light Rail Transit Sub-Committee held its first meeting since 2017 this morning to receive City staff updates on the project contracts and design updates.
“The LRT project requires approximately 90 full property purchases,” stated City of Hamilton LRT Project Director Abdul Shaikh, in his first presentation to Council since taking on the role earlier this year.
“To date, 60 full properties have been purchased on a willing seller, willing buyer basis. Metrolinx continues to negotiate on a willing seller, willing buyer basis and will rely on expropriation process in future if it is necessary.”
Many of the purchased properties were rental housing units with long-term tenants who’ve been displaced, and now face the burden of paying higher rents and potential homelessness as the rentals along the LRT corridor gentrify.
Members of Hamilton’s ACORN chapters, the Hamilton Community Benefits Network, and Environment Hamilton rallied in front of City Hall before the meeting to call on Council to act immediately to begin implementing inclusionary zoning along the B-Line LRT corridor, and to act to stop the renoviction of tenants from affordable private housing units.
Inclusionary Zoning requires private developers to set aside a percentage of units for residential rental housing at a more affordable rent than average market rent.
Hamilton City Council plans to begin the process of studying Inclusionary Zoning in mid-2023.
“The City of Hamilton will not even look at using an easy tool to address affordability!,” stated Karl Andrus of the Hamilton Community Benefits Network (HCBN) during the 9:30 am rally in front of City Hall.
Andrus says every day delayed means less affordable housing and more displacement. The City was given the ability to implement inclusionary zoning in 2014.
“2023 to begin the review is too late,” he said.
ACORN, HCBN, and Environment Hamilton separately delegated to the LRT committee. Their delegations almost did not happen.
Not enough city councillors were in the video conference meeting to maintain quorum. The meeting recessed for 15 minutes as city staff tried to contact missing councillors to gain quorum to continue the session.
Eventually, failing to make quorum, the City Clerk’s Office changed the definition of “majority” to reduce the number of councillors required for quorum.
A majority means more than 50% of a group in an accurate reading, as 50/50 is an even split. Section 237 of the Municipal Act is commonly referred to as the “50 percent plus 1” rule.
Effective immediately, Hamilton City Council’s new quorum rule is 50%.
The new quorum for the LRT committee is now 4 of 8 members.
Voting records from this portion of the meeting show Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Councillors Jason Farr, Sam Merulla, and Lloyd Ferguson as absent.
Delegations Call for Action on Affordable Housing
Eshan Merali, the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Hamilton Community Benefits Network, delegated to Council asking the City to replace lost affordable housing units, add new units, and lobby Metrolinx to meet with HCBN to begin negotiating community benefits agreements.
HCBN is a coalition of groups, including neighbourhood associations, the Hamilton-Brantford building trades, the Hamilton and District Labour Council, and many non-profits and charities. Metrolinx has not met with nor recognized HCBN, Merali told councillors.
Due to the ongoing Provincial election, as a Government of Ontario agency, Metrolinx did not attend today’s Council meeting and is not taking any substantial actions during the election period.
Merali said immediate action is needed to strategically “replace lost market affordable housing along the corridor.”
“It’s important to note that the Metrolinx needs for the project displaced Around 150 people [were displaced], taking away 61 or more units of deeply affordable market-rate rentals due to long-term occupancy,” he stated.
He added displacement continues “as the market began to buy up undervalued properties along the corridor anticipating LRT development.”
HCBN’s Community Benefits Manager Karl Andrus said developers are “snatching up many traditionally afforded affordable market-rate units for redevelopment or demolition.”
“The affordable housing crisis is skyrocketing since the first announcement of LRT. Rents have almost doubled in the corridor area,” he stated. “the homelessness situation is at a peak. I have never witnessed in my lifetime. There are more tents and countless forming across the city, and they tend to be concentrated near the LRT corridor.”
There were nine delegates during the meeting.
Nann Wants Inclusionary Zoning Studies to Begin This Summer
Responding to the delegations, Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann says Hamilton cannot wait to implement Inclusionary Zoning, saying that it is a “missed opportunity” to not conduct the review as part of the current Official Plan Review regarding urban boundary expansion.
“I would love to hear if there is the possibility of staff being directed to identify whether an accelerated timeline for development of an inclusionary zoning bylaw, which would be applied to the LRT corridor,” Nann stated.
Nann wants the plan to include clear rules requiring minimum affordable housing percentages, including deeply affordable units, and to tell Council what is needed to achieve these goals.
Nann plans to bring a motion to Council’s Planning Committee in the near future.
Ferguson Says Ancaster Residents Will No Go Downtown
Ward 12 Councillor Lloyd Ferguson is concerned about how vehicle drivers will move between Downtown Hamilton and Highway 403 once the LRT is built.
Ferguson wants to see a large commuter parking lot built near the Longwood Road station. Staff say there is no plan for a lot, which staff say is not planned. There is no land available.
“No major parking structure currently being planned at the end of the line,” said Hamilton’s Director of Transportation Planning and Parking Brian Hollingworth.
Hollingworth said the City plans to encourage people to use HSR public transit buses to connect to the LRT.
“That’s not a very good, but it’s not practical. People won’t do it,” Ferguson responded. “They just won’t come downtown.”
“If we go ahead with the twinning or two-way traffic on Main, you might have one lane westbound on Main. But it will have to end before you get to Dundurn because of the ramps coming out and 403 from the east,” Ferguson added.
“I just think you’re creating a monstrous problem.”
LRT Design Can Change – Pedestrian improvements on Longwood, Cycling on Main West, and Maybe the Bay Street Stop?
Director Shaikh says the LRT Office is reviewing design plans along Main West between McMaster University and Longwood Road to consider a protected bicycle track.
“We will also be looking at enhancing the cycling connectivity with existing and unplanned facilities,” he stated.
Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson says the Longwood Road bridge over Highway 403 needs to be made pedestrian and cyclist safe.
The bridge provides “at present a small sliver of a sidewalk that is not hospitable to safe pedestrian travel, particularly in the winter,” Wilson stated.
Wilson wants the new bridge to include “a secure protected bike lane and a wider sidewalk,” especially with nearby Westdale Secondary School.
It “is important to parents, and to all users,” she added.
With the design of the LRT being updated, Hamilton City Council can reconsider its decision not to include a stop at Bay Street as part of the route.
There are no future meetings yet scheduled for the LRT sub-committee.
Council adjourns for the municipal election in early September.