Tiny Shelters Shelved Again
Council’s Emergency and Community Services Committee voted 5-0 to send the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) project back to restart its site selection committee in what was an at times tense meeting Thursday afternoon.
Back in December, at the request of Ward 3’s Nrinder Nann, Council turned down 647 Barton Street as a site following community opposition.
HATS was instructed to work with City staff to find a more suitable site.
Council wants the political cover of staff recommending a site.
Staff do not want to make what is effectively a political decision – there is no ‘perfect’ site.
HATS came back last week with three proposed sites: Cathedral Park (the park beside Highway 403), the Barton/Tiffany lands, and a strip of land on Lloyd Avenue near Barton Street East and Gage Avenue North.
Underlying it all, the unspoken reality the HATS three-year “pilot” will become a permanent part of Hamilton’s housing continuum.
Thus far, Waterloo’s similar tiny homes project has only transitioned two residents to permanent housing. There is not enough rent-geared-to-income housing to move people into.
Maureen Wilson expressed concerns about the displacement of individuals presently encamped around Cathedral Park. HATS states they need exclusive use of an area for tiny shelter residents to be able to succeed in transitioning out of challenges which lead to their being unhoused.
“Displacing one community for another, I don’t think is [HATS] objective.”
Wilson noted that $100,000, which is what HATS is requesting from the City, “can prevent 55 families or 25 couples at risk from entering the stream of homelessness … we can secure housing to ensure they’re not in a precarious position for 90 singles … we could do direct $100,000 to indigenous service providers as part of our commitment to truth and reconciliation … I would prefer if we have a surplus of $100,000 that it could be provided to ensure that 55 families don’t enter into that pathway of homelessness” [YouTube Link]
Ward 2’s Cameron Kroestch said he only learned of the potential for Barton/Tiffany at Thursday’s council meeting. “It’s complete surprise to me in this moment that the preferred site is on the Barton Tiffany lands.”
“This is a super residential neighbourhood,” Kroestch stated that people need to be consulted to get their views having HATS in their neighbourhood.
The vote to restart the process was carried 5-0 with Maureen Wilson (W1), Kroestch (W2), Jackson (W6), Clark (W9), and Alex Wilson (W13) voting in favour. Nann (W3) and Hwang (W4) were absent for the vote.
GM of Planning and Economic Development Jason Thorne says the work of reviewing potential sites “
is going to take a number of months to do.”
“I think for HATS unfortunately, the delegation today really was, in my humble opinion, a waste of their time,” noted Ward 6’s Tom Jackson.
The following Councillors took to Twitter Friday to make statements regarding their positions and vote on Thursday.
Maureen Wilson thread: Says she supports HATS, “I’m looking to staff for a firm, recommendation on an optimal location to depoliticize site selection process” and is seeking consultation before deciding upon a location.
Cameron Kroestch thread: Says he wanted the Sir John A MacDonald secondary school site and now wishes there to be public consultation of Barton / Tiffany neighbours.
Alex Wilson tweet: “I was + am comfortable with endorsing the project with funding conditional on the location + operational components being resolved. ”
Public comments can be sent prior to 12 noon on Tuesday to be placed on Wednesday’s Council agenda when all 16 council members must decide on the HATS project. Submissions by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Board of Health Reform
The new Council decided to proceed towards creating an independent Board of Health with a mix of elected officials, community members, and regulated health professionals.
There was not vote at BoH, instead an agreement to wordsmith a motion for this week’s Council ratification meeting.
Toronto and Ottawa‘s Boards consist of a mix of council members and non-political members drawn from health professions and the community. The advantage of a professional board of health is the members bring a wider range of experience.
The concern of past Hamilton Councils was the loss of control over public health decisions and the ability of an independent Board of Health to take positions which differ from the elected Council on budgetary decisions and public health approvals such as safe injection/consumption sites.
Elected Council will be able to vote against a Board of Health budget submission, however, the politics of such a spat would be messy.
Council agreed to a two-phased approach.
The creation of an “advisory” body until the City of Hamilton Act is amended by the Legislative Assembly of Ontario to create an independent Board of Health.
[The Legislative Assembly returns on Feb 23. It’s summer recess is scheduled to begin no later than June 5]
To my ear, the “advisory” body’s members will become the Board of Health.
Ward 6’s Tom Jackson is opposed.
“We were elected by the community of 580,000 people in this city to serve for the next four years and do our best to make deliberations over the $2-billion Corporation of this City,” Jackson stated. “So I’m just fundamentally opposed for that reason, I just would feel it as a form of abdicating my responsibility.”
In a 10-2 Planning Committee vote, Council voted to restrict short-term rentals to the owner’s principal residence with no cap on the number of days it can be rented out.
There will be licensing and inspection fees. The short-term rental can be within a secondary dwelling units.
Conversion of an income property into a short-term rental will be prohibited.
There were over a dozen delegates on this issue, nearly all operate Airbnbs for income.
Many stated they do not want regular tenants because they do not want to deal with the backlogged Landlord Tenant Board.
The Board is a disaster for both tenants and renters – with massive delays that allow bad tenants and bad renters able to abuse the system.
The City will hire 2.25FTE by-law enforcement staff.
If the 10 votes in favour do not change their position, the new bylaw will be ratified this coming Wednesday.
A letter writing campaign is underway by Airbnb hosts asking Council to not impose any local regulations. Submissions to Council are accepted until 12 noon Tuesday, by email email@example.com.
University of Toronto Master of Science in Planning student Emily Power provided an excellent presentation of her research into short-term rentals in Hamilton. Watch starting here YouTube Link.
Council’s Wednesday GIC meeting heard from delegations opposed to the City’s encampment enforcement protocol.
However, due to time constrains (the meeting adjourned at 8:38pm, having begun at 9:30 am), Council’s debate and decision is deferred until the February 1st GIC meeting.
Council will vote on a mix of enforcement measures and outreach options to respond to encampments. They include making permanent the CIty’s encampment response group at a cost of $1.3-million annually.
This includes hiring a 5.5 outreach staff, adding two police officers to the Hamilton Police to “support the co-ordination of encampment response efforts across the community, two by-law officers, and adding $200,000 to the City’s waste collection budget.
During the discussions this week, the idea of a “hands-off” approach to encampments which are not generating complaints was talked about.
Council voted that any further delegations on this report will be written.
Can Hamilton Declare a State of Emergency re: Opioid Deaths / Overdoses
During Council’s emergency operations training, Ward 9’s Brad Clark asked if the City can declare a State of Emergency to access provincial and federal funding to respond to the crisis of opioid deaths and overdoses.
“I’m trying to understand what would the thresholds be for us to declare an emergency for overdose, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of overdoses in the city. And sadly, and an unprecedented number of overdose deaths. And so I’m trying to understand what is the thresholds that we would use in order for the city to call an essence of state of emergency due to overdoses?”
“If I understand provincial legislation, if we declare a state of emergency, it opens up some funding opportunities. So when I’m looking at this issue with regards to substance abuse, or hitting some really high numbers. And I’m wondering if if the declaration of a state of emergency over substance abuse and overdoses, specifically, whether or not it would open up the funding for us to help more people, because it’s not just the downtown Hamilton issue. It’s citywide, and oh, these are happening everywhere.”
Council voted unanimously to have staff research options.
Cold Alerts and Cold Weather Response
Council discussed the City’s public health Cold Weather Alert system and then separately the Community Service cold weather measures for emergency shelters.
Hamilton’s senior-most staff decided on Christmas Eve to declare -12C with -23 windchill to be warm enough to cancel a Cold Alert and close the City’s only warming centre which is run by a charity, the HUB.
The Hamilton Community Benefits Network stepped in to fund the HUB for Christmas Eve, with crowdfunding keeping it open for two more nights before a public outcry forced City Hall to commit to funding warming centres until March 31st.
At Board of Health, Council voted to review the Public Health Cold Alert threshold.
Ward 15’s Ted McMeekin suggested “zero [degrees] may be a good start and maybe the number of warming centres increase as the temperature drops.” .
At Thursday’s Emergency and Community Services meeting councillors voted to add $300,000 to the warming centres budget to ensure between now and March 31st, that warming centres are always available.
A review of the City’s non-Public Health Winter Response Strategy will be completed and presented to Council in a few months.
Moving Forward on Active Transportation Infrastructure
Council wrapped up the 2023 capital budget debate Friday with one final motion – staff are to report back on the cost of additional staffing to accelerate the City’s active transportation infrastructure.
The motion followed a debate on adding $500,000 to the 2023 budget to hire more engineers, staff, and other resources to accelerate the planning and implementation of bike lanes, tracks, and mixed-use trails across the region.
“I support, so thoroughly, the cycling network that needs to come and so many people ride bikes in rural areas, and they are a danger,” stated Ward 11’s Mark Tadeson.
Ward 10’s Jeff Beattie said the City needs to do better than a “piecemeal approach to some of the implementation of active transportation across the city.”
Ward 1’s Maureen Wilson says implementing good active infrastructure and transit will help decrease the cost of living by enabling families to move around the city without having to purchase a second vehicle.
The vote was unanimous.
The report will come to Council after the close of the 2023 budget. Funding to hire staff and create plans will come out of reserves or other sources, with projects being brought forth to the 2024 capital budget process.
Jamesville Appeal Closed Session
Council went into closed session for a briefing on Canada National’s Ontario Land Tribunal appeal against the redevelopment of the Jamesville Site.
[TPR story on appeal here: CN’s Jamesville Appeal Very Similar to Port Appeals of Pier 8 Plan]
Council will release a statement after this Wednesday’s Council ratification meeting.
CN’s appeal letter indicates they believe the City failed to meet the planning and environmental requirements to ensure compatibility with CN’s operations.
“Sensitive uses should not be permitted within 300 metres of rail yards, as rail yards have an area of influence of 1,000 metres where negative impacts can occur on the proposed use,” writes CN’s legal counsel Katarzyna Silwa of Dentons Canada LLP.
“CN’s reasons for the appeal are centred on concerns of safety, odour, vibration, noise and whether the proposed sensitive land uses are appropriate for the Lands. CN was not opposed to the approval of OPA 249 and ZBLA 22-220 provided that the impact of the adjacent rail operations were accounted for and mitigated, as required.”
I detail in the TPR story how the City settled with Bunge Canada and Parrish & Heimbecker Ltd regarding Pier 8 – the industries stated similar concerns in their appeals.
Postscript: Journalist and North End Resident Kathy Renwald is covering the story as well. Renwald’s work is always insightful. Follow her on Twitter @KathyRenwald.
1% Residential Vacant Property Tax Moves Ahead
The City is moving forward with implementing a vacant property tax. The 1% levy will be charged upon “eligible property that has been vacant for more than 183 days in the previous calendar year”
City staff estimate there are “City has approximately 1,135 unoccupied residential properties” that will pay the tax with revenue expected to be $4.3-million in the first year.
The City will hire 12 staff to enforce the bylaw. Any surpluses will go into an affordable housing reserve fund.
Climate Change Advisory Committee Approved
Council approved the 15 to 20 member committee with a mix of academics, agricultural, community, Indigenous peoples, business/industry, health care professionals, and youth.
Additionally, the committee will strive to have 50% gender diversity and 30% representation from equity seeking groups.
Stormwater Rate Review
Council is moving forward towards implementing a user-pay stormwater rate. Presently, property owners pay a stormwater rate based upon the amount of water they use, not the amount of water which they send into Hamilton’s overtaxed sewer and stormwater systems.
This means parking lots pay next to nothing while a family home subsidizes the system.
City staff are to provide an implementation plan this spring, with the fee coming into effect no later than January 2025.
Mayor’s Task Force on Transparency, Access, and Accountability
The Mayor’s election promise is being fulfilled with Council approving a “diverse Mayor’s Task Force on Transparency, Access and Accountability to be tasked with undertaking a comprehensive review of public concerns regarding access, transparency, and accountability at City Hall.”
The Task Force will have co-chairs.
In so regards, it shares similarities with Shape Burlington from a decade ago. The result of a complete loss of trust by the local government.
The Task Force members will be chosen by the Mayor. The group is expected to meet regularly and report often during its one year mandate.
In The Next Newsletter
A look at this Council cycle’s audit reports, a land deal, a staff change, and school commute safety.