We Need Housing Justice Now
From the Nest, Issue 13
by Katie King
Earlier this month, I delegated in front of Hamilton City Council during the 2022 public budget delegations. In my delegation, I was trying to reiterate the need for an implementation of a Just Recovery with a specific focus on re-investment in housing.
Cut off at 5 minutes exactly, I left the virtual meeting feeling discouraged, disheartened, and, honestly, a bit sick to my stomach. There were so many well-researched, honest, give-you-shivers delegations stressing the need for affordable housing — yet there were only a handful of questions from Councillors.
A few of the strongest and most comprehensive delegations were from young community members doing front line work with people experiencing houselessness. They were received with silence. When will the City listen to what we are telling them? We need housing justice now.
Hamilton community members have been articulating their concerns around the lack of affordable housing for many years now.
This January, The Hamilton Spectator published an article entitled, “One-bedroom units costing an average of $1,549 a month in Hamilton.” It was all over social media with groans, and “greats” and “yeah, we know[s]”. In early February, CBC Hamilton reported that the average Hamilton home price surpassed $1 million.
Just last week, steps away from my home, people residing in Gage Park were given an eviction notice by the City of Hamilton. The City did not provide any safe living alternatives, stating that there was nothing they could do. Hamilton is not liveable. We need stable, high-quality, safe, and affordable housing to residents of all income levels, yet the 2022 budget does not reflect this need.
The City has access to a wide network of experienced organizations that are willing to help them through this crisis.
For example, the Just Recovery coalition has identified Hamilton’s major needs and provided city council with 152 policy recommendations to implement both during and after the pandemic. The “Housing as a Human Right” and “Disability Justice” sections of their Policy Paper gave housing-specific policy recommendations such as –
- Recommendation #39 – “Advocate with the province for rent relief support specific for people on social assistance”
- Recommendation #40 – “Assess how many accessible, temporary indoor housing options are available to unhoused people in Hamilton who cannot use stairs and/or have other physical disabilities”
- Recommendation #41 – “Create and maintain a list of accessible housing units existing in Hamilton, making it easier for disabled people to move in when needed”
These are changes the City can make right now and, quite frankly, they should have already. Last year, at the 2021 budget public delegations, several dozen community members showed up calling for implementation of the Just Recovery policy recommendations.
Many also simultaneously called for the re-investment of surplus Hamilton Police Service (HPS) funds to be redirected to affordable housing — a demand that was brought to the City by the Defund HPS coalition in Winter 2020. Without much surprise, neither of these asks were implemented.
Policing does not need more funding, but our municipal government is trying to convince us otherwise. Policing can expect a 3% increase by 2024. That’s means that its 2024 budget will be $193 million dollars. Policing needs our attention, but not in this way. It needs our attention in the way where we reallocate their funds towards the community and disarm them immediately.
Dissimilar to the HPS’s lofty situation, the City Enrichment Fund (municipal investment in a wide range of programs that support the city, including community services) is slated for a 0% increase in the next two years, remaining stagnant at just over $6 million dollars.
This makes little sense as community groups are doing the bulk of the work that the City has failed to do. For example, Refuge Newcomer Health and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion have been providing equitable and barrier-free COVID-19 vaccination clinics; and Keeping Six and the Hamilton Encampment Support Network have been providing supplies and ongoing support to people living in encampments.
Climate justice is often on my mind when I think about housing in Hamilton. So far, in Hamilton we have experienced extreme weather events like, heatwaves, heavy rains, freezing rain, high winds, flooding, and unpredictable freeze and thaw.
Housing insecurity will inevitably only get worse due to extreme climate-related (and other) events. Living downtown, in the lower city and beneath the escarpment, I worry about the potential for heavier flooding than on the mountain. The need to secure affordable (or free) housing solutions has never been so important.
In a climate justice research study conducted in southern Seattle entitled “Our People, Our Planet, Our Power,” researchers gathered community members into groups where they shared their thoughts, feelings, and opinions on climate change.
The groups linked housing to climate resilience, explaining how the displacement of households is not just a physical experience but also an emotional experience because of the “erosion of cultural anchors like community centres, culturally relevant businesses, faith institutions, and service providers”.
They expanded on this, explaining how “…when communities lose these anchors or have to leave them behind as they disperse to the suburbs, we lose critical social cohesion to deal with all threats, including climate change.”
Housing justice keeps communities stable and interconnected, acting as a “haven” from climate change. We need to start building climate resilience now, and we must take a human-centred urban policy approach, giving the lead to the people who’ve been most impacted.
Hamilton has already secured the first crucial step towards building climate resiliency in November 2021 – a firm urban boundary; again, secured by several community groups and City Council (though their vote was the final step).
This brings us to what we must do next, for lack of better words – we need to go hard on housing.
We need to ramp up creative, sustainable, affordable, free, mixed housing solutions and get everyone housed as soon as possible. Ideally, the third step — to develop and maintain community amenities and cultural anchors — would occur simultaneously.
If climate change did not exist, housing would still be the number one need in Hamilton. No one should be getting evicted from anywhere, whether it be a tent or a building, without alternative housing options. Housing justice needs to happen.
I feel that it will, not because of our current City Council, but because of the many community members who will not stop fighting for a safer, more livable city. I know I won’t.
The aim of this article is to amplify what I have learned from people in the community doing housing advocacy work. If you are able to do so, please follow and volunteer your time or donate to the following groups –
Hamilton ACORN – Instagram, Twitter
Keeping Six – Twitter
Hamilton Encampment Support Network – Instagram, Twitter
Katie King lives in Ward 3 and is a retired, for now, tree planter, farmer, and letter carrier