The Hamilton Spectator - 2021-10-14




Teviah Moro is a Hamilton-based reporter at The Spectator. Reach him via email:

A new survey commissioned by associations representing developers and realtors has found 38 per cent of Hamilton respondents support expanding the city’s urban boundary to handle growth in coming years. That’s more than the 32 per cent who told Nanos Research they preferred to freeze the existing boundary amid provincial projections of 236,000 new residents over the next 30 years. The survey also found 22 per cent want to slow down growth in Hamilton altogether while another eight per cent weren’t sure. The results are a stark contrast to a city-wide mail-out survey this past summer that showed 90 per cent — or 16,636 of 18,397 respondents — want to freeze the urban boundary and not pave over rural land for residential development. “This is a complex public policy issue. It’s not a slam dunk,” chief data scientist Nik Nanos said in an interview Wednesday after the release of his firm’s survey, which involved 700 residents interviewed by phone and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Nanos noted 80 per cent of respondents couldn’t recall the earlier city survey that was delivered to 215,822 homes, which should “give pause” to how effectively it was administered. The West End Homebuilders’ Association (WEHBA), Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) and the Realtors Association of Hamilton-Burlington (RAHB) commissioned the Nanos survey. It adds another twist to the boundary debate that has unfolded over the past several months and comes just weeks ahead of a key council decision on whether to expand or freeze the city’s urban footprint. The Ontario government has told municipalities to update their official plans by July 2022 to reflect the provincial growth target which, in Hamilton’s case, predicts the city’s population will hit 820,000 by 2051. City planners have recommended an urban boundary expansion of 1,340 hectares (roughly 3,300 acres) into rural Elfrida and Glanbrook to meet the provincial growth target and satisfy policy. That recommendation, informed by a consultant’s analysis, is based on the province’s market-based approach to land-need assessment, which examines expected demand for different types of housing densities, from apartments to single-family homes. But local organizers have responded with a campaign aimed at convincing city councillors to reject an urban expansion they argue plays into the interests of profit-motivated developers at the cost of agricultural land. Stop Sprawl HamOnt — which encouraged people select the no-expansion option in the city survey — also contends increasing the urban area will also jack up the municipality’s infrastructure costs and fuel carbon emissions amid a climate emergency. On Wednesday, the group called the Nanos survey “yet another example of the development industry trying to subvert democracy by undermining the official city survey, which had over 18,000 responses and resulted in over 90 per cent saying they wanted a firm urban boundary.” “We want councillors to respect the democratic decision made by Hamiltonians, not the wishes of the developers,” member Michelle Tom said on behalf of Stop Sprawl HamOnt. But developers with parcels in potential expansion areas have contended a frozen urban boundary is an unrealistic scenario that will clash with provincial policy, drive up prices and push would-be buyers of single-family homes in Hamilton to search elsewhere. New housing supply “of all types” hasn’t kept up with accelerating population growth in Hamilton, resulting in “significant price increases,” Mike Collins-Williams, CEO of the WEHBA, said in a press release announcing the Nanos survey results. “In order to tackle the housing crisis, we need to ensure that we have balanced solutions to deliver new supply, both through intensification and a small expansion to the urban footprint of the City of Hamilton.” The Nanos survey also found 76 per cent of respondents would consider moving to a nearby community if they couldn’t find their preferred type of housing for a price they could afford. “So what this speaks to me is that if the city gets this wrong, it could have a materially negative impact on the community in Hamilton because people will just vote with their feet,” Nanos said. The survey’s boundary question, however, didn’t mention farmland or the climate crisis as attendant issues frequently raised during the local debate. Those are “very valid points,” Nanos said, but added an argument could be made that “any question was left out.” “If I had stacked up paying the rent and paying the mortgage against farmland and the environment,” he said, “I think you probably would have been criticizing me for making an unfair comparison.” The survey “clearly shows that in order to ensure housing is available and affordable in our city, Hamiltonians need — and want — to have more housing choices, not less, even if that means a slight modification to our urban boundary,” Donna Bacher, RAHB president, said in the release. But via Twitter, Coun. JohnPaul Danko suggested he wasn’t swayed by the Nanos survey, calling it a “clear example of how the development industry is able to buy public policy.” The Mountain councillor added “of course” home affordability is a concern for Hamilton residents. “This is a result of 20 years of record low interest rates, lack of market choice, a broken bidding system (and) real estate investment.”


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