Mayor lays out $50M plan to curb poverty in Hamilton

Submitted by Tamarack on April 22, 2016 - 3:47am

Community Animator's Note: This article by Matthew Van Dongen was posted to the Hamilton Spectator website on April 21, 2016. It has been re-posted with permission from the author.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger is proposing the city spend an "unprecedented" $50 million on social housing and poverty reduction over 10 years.

Councillors were generally positive about the intent of the pitch, which they will formally debate at a May 4 meeting. But some expressed concern about approving such a big investment — which would tap new hydro merger dividends and the Hamilton Future Fund — with so few details available about how the cash would actually be spent.

Specifically, the pitch would see the city annually dedicate $3 million of expected new dividends from the contentious Horizon Utilities merger toward a yet-to-be-created poverty reduction plan.

Another $20 million for social housing would be found by slowing the annual repayment of existing city loans from the Future Fund — such as the tens of millions owed for the new stadium and past West Harbour land purchases. Right now, the city pays back about $8 million a year.

Eisenberger said he believes the local cash commitment for poverty would be unprecedented, but also seed money for a far larger effort.

"The key for me is to be sure we leverage these dollars with our federal, provincial and community partners," he said, noting both the provincial and federal governments have committed to new help for social housing and homelessness. He argued Hamilton would have an "advantage" by saying "here and now, this is what we're willing to put on the table."

The mayor, who campaigned on the creation of a poverty reduction plan, asks staff in his motion to start working on a 10-year strategy that includes concrete measurements of outcomes. But Eisenberger added he didn't want to presuppose the best way to use the cash, noting he wants to create a community stakeholder body to guide spending.

"There are a lot of people working in this space; I want them all to come together."

Consider Tom Cooper in. "It's a huge investment. Were very excited about it," said the director of the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

Cooper, who travelled with Eisenberger to a recent Edmonton conference on what municipal leaders can do about poverty, said the cash commitment could be particularly important to local efforts to combat homelessness.

"Helping people access housing and hold on to their housing is critical and it's an area that we (municipally) can help," he said.

He added the money could also help with the city's ongoing commitment to implementing resident-led improvement plans in neighbourhoods struggling with poverty. "In many cases, these neighbourhoods are ready to go and just waiting (for resources)," he said.

Coun. Chad Collins is seconding the mayor's motion. The chair of the board of the city's social housing agency said the money would put a dent in the city's list of 5,600 families or individuals waiting for an affordable place to live.

"Affordable housing providers are in a crisis situation," he said, pointing to CityHousing Hamilton's growing list of damaged, vacant units and $8-million-plus annual capital spending deficit.

"The proposed investment (would) immediately address vacant units at CHH, and provide other housing providers some funding certainty over the next several years to improve the quality of the units they manage."

Coun. Donna Skelly said there's no question social housing and poverty are "huge issues" for the city.

"But I don't think it's necessarily prudent to ask for millions and millions of dollars without a better indication of how that money will be spent," she said. "I will have some questions."

Coun. Terry Whitehead said he's a fan of the plan to invest in social housing, but added he would love to see more of the expected hydro dividends dedicated to the city's infrastructure deficit, as well.

Coun. Judi Partridge, who also sits on the Future Fund board, said the proposal "is certainly worth exploring."

"These are priority issues for our city and we need to find some innovative ways to address them," she said.


Link to original article: http://m.thespec.com/news-story/6505303-mayor-fred-eisenberger-s-50-million-plan-to-reduce-poverty-in-hamilton

Email the author: mvandongen[at]thespec.com

@MattattheSpec