Hamilton’s tiny homes project still has no home.

Hamilton Spectator January 21 2023

Hamilton’s would-be tiny homes project can’t seem to find a home.

The Hamilton Alliance for Tiny Shelters (HATS) hopes to create a village of small, heated cabins with communal washrooms and kitchens to provide transitional housing for residents living on the street.

The grassroots alliance first eyed the former Sir John A. Macdonald school as a site but ran into political and timing obstacles. Later, it reached a deal for a private parking lot on Barton Street East — but council deferred a decision on a $100,000 grant request last December and asked for a study of public sites instead.

The HATS group switched gears and presented councillors with three preferred city-owned sites Thursday and renewed the grant request — but it was deferred again, on the advice of city staff.

“We still don’t have a spot … (so) if there are private citizens or faith groups willing to offer up land, we would love to hear from them,” said Tom Cooper, a HATS board member who also heads Hamilton’s poverty roundtable.

“Our group, our supporters are becoming increasingly frustrated… We had hoped to have (cabins) up and running this winter, but it doesn’t look like that will happen now,” he said in an interview.

City staffers told the emergency and community services committee Thursday they need more time to evaluate potential public properties and warned it could take “months” to do so properly.

Some councillors also appeared surprised by the short list of preferred sites, which included Cathedral dog park on King Street West, a strip of land near the former glass plant at Lloyd Street and Gage Avenue, and the Barton-Tiffany lands near a planned film hub.

Ward 1 Coun. Maureen Wilson asked if HATS had talked to residents around any of the sites — but group leaders replied they wanted council to weigh in with preferences first. Wilson argued the city cannot endorse a project site without first consulting area residents. “We have an obligation to do so,” she said, echoing arguments from several councillors at the meeting.

Without further study, city staffers said they were also unable to answers questions about whether land contamination is a problem or how private and public-use areas would be separated.

Downtown Councillor Cameron Kroetsch said he was hearing about a preference for the Barton-Tiffany lands for the first time. He also admitted he had assumed the Sir John A. Macdonald site — around which public consultation has previously been done — was still a possibility.

“I kind of expected today we were going to have that conversation and be like, OK… it’s happening (at SJAM),” he said.

Without that option on the table, Kroetsch reiterated he thought it was important for city staff to impartially weigh in on prospective sites rather than engaging in the “political nonsense” of individual councillors picking and choosing.

Cooper said HATS originally hoped to set up at the York Boulevard school site, but the possibility of building demolition as early as this year rules out the property for a hoped-for three year pilot.

The alliance has also given up on the Barton parking lot in the face of “neighbourhood pushback” and a small size that would not allow expansion from 10 cabins to 20 over time.

A frustrated Cooper said he understands the need for consultation on the eventual project property. But he argued it “doesn’t make sense” to ask a volunteer group to arrange public consultation for “multiple sites” — the group looked at 19 in total — before seeking direction and funding from the city.

HATS has already raised more than $300,000 from hundreds of donors and has support services lined up from various partners, including Wesley Urban Ministries. The group is seeking $100,000 a year from council for three years.

Other councillors Thursday also lamented the “bureaucratic” delays in moving forward. “We’re actually nowhere closer to making a decision on this,” said Ward 4 Councillor Tammy Hwang.

Planning staff are expected to give a verbal update on the study of potential public sites next month.