‘Innovative’ idea to battle housing crisis
Cambridge councillor Scott Hamilton looks at building above city-owned parking lots
Scott Hamilton thinks it’s time to put “concrete wastelands” to good use.
The Ward 7 councillor will bring a motion to city council for discussion Dec. 19 asking staff to investigate the possibility of building affordable housing above city-owned parking lots, as well as work with the region to determine if the project would fall under its Affordable Housing Plan to develop up to 500 new homes per year,
Also staff would speak to the region about the possibility of finding funding for a prototype or pilot project, and determine if there are any current potential housing providers to carry out the plan.
The proposal isn’t entirely unique, Hamilton said, as there is an apartment building adjacent to Forbes Park in Hespeler and a new building at the corner of St. Andrews Street and George Street that has housing over an above-ground parking lot.
This initiative, however, would be the first with existing lots.
“We’re in a crisis. If we want to change things, we have to think differently, be innovative, and try new things,” Hamilton said, citing 8,000 people on the seven-year wait list for housing in Waterloo Region, including 6,500 families and 1,500 Cambridge residents.
Hamilton said of all the roadblocks being put up stalling housing builds — lack of materials, and global and local supply issues — one of the most difficult to overcome is finding viable land.
“This is where the city can play a part. Even though affordable housing is under the jurisdiction of the region and depends on the province and the federal government for funding, the city can make land available to the region, non-profit organizations, and developers to build homes,” he said.
“Why not keep most of the parking spaces, but build structures above them that serve a tremendous public good? Getting more people living in affordable units, closer to city cores, helps everyone.”
Hamilton believes the city could rent the land to a non-profit developer for $1 a year for 50 years, which would then keep the land under city-ownership and eliminate the need for a developer to purchase a property in the downtown core at an exorbitant cost. The money saved could be an incentive for the housing build.
Hamilton cited a United Way study released Nov. 13, noting the best way to start building more housing is for all levels of government to give “assets” or land for housing.
“A municipal parking lot is just such as asset, and although they serve an essential purpose, most are empty for the majority of the week, only filling up once or twice a day at peak periods,” Hamilton said, though he acknowledged lots in the city that are normally full likely wouldn’t be a good fit for housing.
“Does it make sense to have large, prime urban plots of land empty and barren 85 per cent of the time? Let's keep the majority of the spaces and make better use of the area above the lot by putting something there that helps residents and local businesses.”
Discussing possibly security issues with housing residents going to the parking area at night, Hamilton said the way to reduce crime is to increase density and have more people walking around in the evening.
“If you have people walking to shops, restaurants and entertainment, there's no ghost town vibe anymore, and you're not going to get rocks through windows, because people would be around to see these acts,” he said.
He added, esthetically speaking, the buildings could be made to be more than a cookie cutter design and would vastly improve sightlines
Finding viable land has been a challenge
in the core areas.
“No one ever said, ‘Let's put this parking lot on a postcard and draw tourists here.’ I am hoping the prototype design can feature things like gardens and green roofs that would not only provide housing but enhance the look and feel of the space. Let's explore how to maximize these key spaces.”
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