It is virtually impossible to ignore that there is a housing crisis happening around us, not just in Hamilton but across the country. Housing, long established as a basic human right by international human rights law, acknowledges everyone’s right to adequate housing. Yet housing has never been more commodified than it is today. Lack of affordability, lack of supply, and discrimination are some of the common issues that renters are facing today, and without systemic change the condition will only worsen.
With these issues in mind, Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS) recently convened the Hamilton Housing Summit, which was held at JHamilton in November. The event, which was well-attended and highly engaging, included a panel discussion by Amanda Ciardullo from the City of Hamilton Access to Housing, Courtney Levesque from the Hamilton Housing Help Centre and Julia Kollek, founder of the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters, all of whom shared their perspectives and insights on the current housing crisis in Hamilton. Lack of supply to match demand, long wait lists for subsidized housing and increased homelessness were at the forefront of the discussion, the panelists highlighted the issues at hand and our moderator Dina Honig fielded meaningful questions from the audience.
In the spring of 2022, Oxford Economics placed Hamilton among the top five least affordable cities in North America, and the third most expensive city in Canada in terms of housing costs, and Hamilton’s housing crisis is expected to worsen in the coming years. Skyrocketing rents are causing more and more Hamiltonians to fall through the cracks. The Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC) recently found that the growth in renters in Hamilton continues to outpace the growth in homeowners of the city. Based on the latest census data from Statistics Canada, the report showed that between 2016 and 2021, the number of renting households in the city shot up by 11.5 per cent. Across Canada, more than 44 per cent of Canadians are spending more than a third of their income on rent.
Currently, the City of Hamilton rent-geared-to-income waitlist has approximately 5,000 people and a five to seven year wait list. Furthermore, if you do not accept the single option presented to you, you are removed from the list and must begin the signup process again. The lack of affordable housing forces many families into precarious housing situations. Some have no choice but to remain in unsafe home situations, while others move into hotels and emergency shelters.
Increased supply of affordable housing is essential in order to reduce the wait times for subsidized housing, and policy changes are essential to increase investment into social housing solutions. Hamilton Housing Help Centre works diligently to support clients struggling to find adequate housing through assistance programs including one-on-one casework to find appropriate rental options, financial support for first/last months’ rent and utilities costs, mediating landlord disputes, and numerous other support programs to both renters and landlords.
The housing summit also highlighted an important and innovative initiative being led by Julia Kollek, founder of the Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS), a grassroots non-profit that aims to ease the homelessness crisis in Hamilton. Kollek spoke about the growing homelessness issue in Hamilton and how the tiny shelter project can fill this gap on behalf of displaced residents. There are currently approximately 1,543 people experiencing homelessness in Hamilton, and only 509 emergency shelter beds. Whether they are living in shelters or outdoors, our homeless community members experience dangerous living conditions and lowered life expectancies. The HATS project is solely funded by donations and grants, and presents an innovative solution that provides dignity and independence to the homeless.
Housing is an issue that impacts us all and one that we at HJFS have been hearing more about from our clients who struggle to afford their rent, buy food and meet basic needs. Much like food insecurity, lack of affordable housing can be alleviated with a basic income floor as witnessed during the pandemic. Food bank use did drop during the pandemic with the introduction of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), but those living on social assistance continue to struggle to meet their basic monthly expenses.
For those facing housing and food insecurity in the Jewish community, there are additional challenges, in that the cost of kosher food is significantly more expensive. The concept of taking care of one another is paramount in Judaism as expressed in the Talmudic precept that a community must provide for all of its members’ spiritual and physical needs. This fundamental right should never have to be compromised. This is why your support of the work we do at Jewish Family Services is truly appreciated and impactful, because it sustains our Kosher Food Bank, poverty reduction strategies, financial assistance, employment counselling, and mental health services.
The HJFS Housing Summit was just the beginning of a larger conversation we must continue to have about steps we can take to address the housing crisis. We can be advocates to support policy changes at all three levels of government. Solutions include increasing availability of affordable housing units, changing tax policies to encourage the private sector to build and operate rental housing, and providing input on urban planning. We can be advocates by demanding systemic change to ensure that something as basic a human right as housing in Canada is available to all.
We thank you for your support and invite you to come by HJFS for a visit or get involved in the work we are doing, whether by donating or volunteering with us. To learn more, please visit hamiltonjfs.ca or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Heather McLean is the executive director of Hamilton Jewish Family Services