An encampment in front of Hamilton City Hall in early April 2024. Credit: Joey Coleman

Mayor Andrea Horwath has been lobbying the provincial Conservative government for a “new deal” that will enable the City of Hamilton to address social and housing needs in Hamilton, gain additional revenue to address the city’s fiscal challenges, and have more autonomy to implement local measures on a range of issues.

Last week, on a motion by Ward 5 Councillor Matt Francis, Council officially requested a new deal.

Francis moving the motion is interesting because he’s opposed the City’s Vacant Unit Tax and opposed the conversion of the Downtown Stoney Creek parking lots to be used for affordable housing.

Premier Doug Ford stated Ottawa and Toronto were receiving ‘new deals’ because they’ve committed to both measures.

In exchange, those cities received new fiscal tools and the province is uploading their municipal highways. Hamilton wants the province to take over the Red Hill Valley Parkway and the Lincoln Alexander Parkway.

As I noted after the Ottawa announcement, Premier Doug Ford highlighted Ottawa’s commitment to “strengthening the city’s vacant unit tax” and “opening up municipal lands for housing development to support shared housing priorities.”

I asked Francis to explain his positions on these matters when they are conditions for a new deal.

“I don’t oppose a vacant unit tax, I oppose the way that this vacant unit tax is going to be implemented. I thought there was a different way to do it. I don’t think you have to do the mandatory declaration every single year. So I want to make clear that I am not opposed to the VUT. I’m opposed to this current iteration of the VUT,” Francis stated.

On municipal lands for affordable housing, he stated that Stoney Creek is one parking lot, that he supported the motion to surplus the other parking lots put forth in the housing secretariat’s report, and will support further motions if they have the support of their involved ward’s councillor.

It will be interesting to see if Hamilton can get a ‘new deal.’

Related: Toronto’s Vacant Home Tax “Mess”

In the days following my question to Francis, Toronto’s vacant home tax was revealed as an administrative fiasco.

The City of Toronto received tens of thousands of complaints after more than 167,000 property owners received vacancy tax bills or incorrect late declaration penalty fees.

Mayor Olivia Chow apologized, saying, “It is not acceptable the way that we rolled out this program,” and promised, “We’re cleaning up this mess. I apologize.”

Toronto scrambled to overhaul the program. (and waived late fees.)

The root of the problem is that properties’ occupancy status needs to be declared every year. Toronto says around 650,000 of the city’s approximately 800,000 residential tax accounts filed declarations before the deadline.

Toronto council quickly approved changes, including deeming 58,000 properties that made declarations last year, but have not declared this year, to be occupied.

Hamilton City Staff Say Toronto’s Tech Differs, Ottawa Better Comparator

Hamilton’s General Manager of Finance and Corporate Services Mike Zegarac says “technology is a contributing factor” to the problems in Toronto, and Hamilton uses different systems.

During the April 24 council meeting, he stated, “The City of Hamilton uses the same business solution as the City of Ottawa does.”

Council voted 9-6 later in the meeting to approve the Vacant Home Tax implementing bylaw for the 2025 tax year.

Hamilton City Council voted 9-6 to implement a Vacant Home Tax in 2025

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Published: April 28, 2024
Last updated: April 28, 2024
Author: Joey Coleman
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