In order to protect and grow the land uses that residents value for our downtown, we have to set space aside now before it is gobbled up by profiteers with little appreciation for our shared vision for Hamilton.
By Allison Maxted and Michael Borrelli
Published March 28, 2014
As civically-engaged Hamiltonians, we know that many regular Raise the Hammer readers go about their daily lives in this city noting the numerous urban features screaming for re-use, better use, or total redevelopment.
In our neighbourhoods we can think of disused plots land, or the odd empty house, its absentee landlord ignoring the tax bill and property maintenance for years in the hope to one day to flip it for a profit.
There is little demand for these properties - the economics that make rundown semis in Toronto sell for half a million are not yet possible here - but we're seeing it start as refugees from the GTA's buoyant housing market find areas around downtown Hamilton a lot like the urban 'hoods they're used to (and at half the cost).
Because we're so close to Toronto, we have an idea what redevelopment and gentrification is going to look like here. This fairly predictable influx of people and capital will help transform the city, but it's also an impetus for Hamiltonians to protect the character of our core and to build the mixed density, walkable, welcoming and well-serviced neighbourhoods we desire for downtown.
In short, it's time for a Community Land Trust in Hamilton.
Hamilton Community Land Trust
A CLT is a non-profit corporation that owns land in the name of citizens and leases it back to social-purpose organizations and individuals in order to help meet needs that are decided by the community. For example: green space, community gardens, parkland and affordable housing.
A CLT can also reduce the red tape that groups have to deal with when accessing shared community assets like community centres or sports fields.
Land trusts are not alien to Hamilton. Our local Naturalists Club runs the Head-of-the-Lake Land Trust and protects naturalized areas along the bay, and groups like the Robert Land Community Association own and operate significant assets such as community centres for the benefit of their local community.
Far from duplicating the government's work on important social goods like parks and social housing, a Hamilton Community Land Trust would partner with groups aiming to compliment the these efforts while potentially shielding them from ongoing costs and liabilities.
Run on a sustainable model, a CLT could bring together a mix of uses for properties so that entrepreneurial pursuits on the land can help subsidize mutually beneficial community uses - think urban farming next to recreational gardening using above-ground beds on old industrial sites.
We'd love to be able to write that the number of possibilities in a city like ours is only limited by our imagination, but of course, it's truly limited by our access to resources. A walk in Toronto's concrete jungle reveals the victory of economics over quality of life - virtually every square foot built up to dizzying, profitable heights (with rents to match).
In order to protect and grow the land uses that residents value for our downtown, we have to set space aside now before it is gobbled up by speculators and profiteers with no connection to our communities and little appreciation for our shared vision for Hamilton.
That's why earlier this year the Beasley Neighbourhood Association put out a call for volunteers to try launching a CLT in downtown Hamilton. With the help of more than 20 committed citizens donating time, money and professional expertise, we now have something we are ready to discuss with our fellow citizens.
On April 2, HCLT volunteers will be presenting our preliminary observations and ideas to a group of over 120 Hamiltonians, and then holding facilitated breakout tables to get their input.
We want to highlight a few ideas for potential projects where, with the right partners and donors, we can find better uses for downtown land, and protect those uses far into the future.
We also want to pick residents' brains about the other kinds of projects a CLT should be oriented toward, and get their insight on the organization's proposed structure and objectives.
And lastly, we want to connect with those people interested in pursuing this project further.
By the summer we hope to be incorporated, and will have spent half a year making presentations to community groups, agencies and local decision-makers, so the structure will be in place to help a land trust get off the ground.
We're always looking for more engaged Hamiltonians willing to donate some time, money or skills to help build this pilot, but to succeed, we will also need the public support of Hamiltonians.
We hope the launch will be our first step in building a relationship with residents, and our committed and growing group of volunteers hopes to earn your support to pursue a Community Land Trust in our city.
We apologize, but interest in this event was much greater than anticipated and we've already filled the room at LIUNA (and extended our volunteers as far as they can go), but if you'd like to be on the waiting list, RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All materials presented at the event will be available at the soon-to-be-launched hamiltonclt.org, too.
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