Hamilton City Councillor Matt Francis in December 2023. Credit: Joey Coleman

Ward 5 City Councillor Matt Francis and Ward 5 & 10 Trustee Todd White want to explore a land “license” agreement or “collaborative joint use agreement” to enable a no-cost transfer of school board lands to the city for affordable seniors’ housing beside Lake Avenue School.

They hope to avoid triggering provincial regulations requiring fair-market value transactions for selling and leasing school board lands.

The housing proposal is tied to the planned expansion of the Dominic Agostino Riverdale Recreation Centre, which neighbours the school.

First proposed in 2015, the idea did not proceed because Ontario’s Education Act regulations require school boards to collect fair-market value when selling land or leasing for non-educational purposes.

Following opposition to affordable housing on municipal parking lots in Downtown Stoney Creek, the proposal is back at the forefront.

Riverdale Plan is an Educational Community Hub, Not Just Housing: White

Trustee White says this is based on a misunderstanding of the plan being only about housing.

“The other important piece that gets lost in some of these discussions is important and that is that it’s not simply affordable housing on school board land,” White stated. “The first two floors of the building were designated for community services.”

“Most notably, for the school board’s interest, there was a child and family literacy center, a food bank, a community kitchen and health services,” White continued. “It was those services on the first two floors of the building that made this not just an affordable housing project, but a hub project that could marry the mandates of both the School Board and the City.”

“The premise from the discussions in 2015 is that it wasn’t going to be a severance sale; it wouldn’t be monetary, it be a neutral land cost for the city, and there would be absolutely no cost to the board,” White stated.

HWDSB Staff Believe Fair Market Value Must Be Met

HWDSB Senior Manager, Facility Services David Anderson, says the Board staff believes a fair-market-value lease is required for housing use.

“Previously, when we were engaged by the city, we were under 444/98 regulations. The ministry has since enacted the 374/23 regulation for the disposal of property under that regulation,” Anderson stated. “Staff believe that a lease would still require fair market value.”

Anderson says Board staff will “have conversations and bring back some clarity around what our options would be for a long-term license agreement versus a lease agreement.”

Education Act “Silent” on Land Licenses: White

White says the Education Act is “silent” on land licenses, and this could be a way to move the project forward.

“The other piece to properly dispel is the idea that the Education Act does not allow affordable housing on board property … the Education Act is silent,” White stated. “There’s nothing explicit about affordable housing, on school board property, there’s some other language in terms of mandate and use … there’s nothing in the Education Act that would have to be changed in order to make a project like this work.”

Project Needs No Cost Land to Success: Francis

Councillor Francis says a land-use agreement is needed to make the project viable.

“The original discussion was to facilitate a land use agreement, whether that’s a $1 for 50-year term,” he stated. “A sever and sell option doesn’t advantage the city in the affordable housing file, the city can go out and purchase any land at market value.”

2026 Recreation Centre Expansion is the Opportunity

Francis says the Dominic Agostino expansion will be included in the City’s 2026 budget.

This is the “opportunity to work collaboratively to get this going forward” and take advantage of the cost efficiencies to create the hub and housing,” he says.

After 30 minutes of discussion, city councillors and school board trustees on the committee agreed to return to their respective governing bodies and direct their staff to explore the feasibility of a land “license” or joint-use agreement.

Francis and White hope to have a plan this fall to enable project planning in time for 2026.

The full video of the May 27, 2024, City of Hamilton Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Liaison Committee meeting is on YouTube.

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Published: June 2, 2024
Last updated: June 2, 2024
Author: Joey Coleman
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