Maureen Leyland & Norma Ducau
In 2005, a rallying cry came forth: Let’s make Hamilton “the best place to raise a child.” This declaration was the response of the City of Hamilton to the shameful depths of poverty existing in the city. Many worthy initiatives were undertaken.
Sadly, the level of poverty remains the same. Twenty per cent of Hamiltonians (96,000 people) remain at or below the poverty line; one in four children live in poverty; 25,000 Hamiltonians who maintain employment by working part time or full time find it impossible to raise themselves and their families out of poverty.
Given this reality, it’s incredible the poverty problem is overshadowed by the stadium debacle while city council and others engage in frenzied activity to choose a site for a Pan Am stadium which meets the demands of business sports investors.
This contradiction in the city’s priorities also becomes evident when we examine the city’s allocation of tax dollars by using 80 per cent of the federal fuel tax rebate on road construction, and another $30.7 million to renovate City Hall. City councillors made a shameful decision to use the recently uploaded social services savings to repair potholes and curbs in their wards. Now, the City prepares to raid the coffers of Hamilton’s Future Fund by contributing $60 million to build a football stadium.
Representatives of respected organizations such as the 25in5 Network (Hamilton) and the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction formed the Common Campaign Coalition to make poverty reduction a top priority issue during the election. The coalition has developed three demands for those seeking a seat on Hamilton council — demands that will put the spotlight on poverty concerns and put Hamilton back on the path to make our city “the best place to raise a child.” These three demands are to make Hamilton a living wage community and provide assistance for rental housing and accessible, affordable public transit.
Three principles guided the choice of these demands:
1. Children are poor because their parents are poor;
2. Poverty reduction strategies must enable people living in poverty to leverage themselves and their families out of poverty;
3. City council can implement these strategies in the four-year term of its mandate.
A living wage means people working full time earn enough money to provide for their basic necessities, such as food, shelter, clothing, child care, medical needs and transportation.
• The coalition calls on the next city council to commit to making Hamilton a Living Wage Community and to develop an implementation plan by the end of its term, ensuring that all city employees and contract workers are paid a living wage.
There is a grave lack of affordable housing in Hamilton. The accepted rate for rent is 30 per cent of monthly income. Low-income citizens pay up to 50 per cent on shelter.
As of March 2010, there are more than 5,000 people on a wait list to obtain social housing. The Hamilton Housing Allowance and the Rent Supplement (HA/RS) provides financial relief for families paying market rents while they wait to obtain social housing. Surprise! Surprise! There is a wait list of 840 people seeking these subsidies.
• The coalition calls on the new Hamilton council to provide an immediate $1 million to meet the needs of households on the wait list for rent supplements, and $3.5 million permanent funding to sustain the HA/RS by 2013.
Affordable, accessible public transit is a vital component in the action plans to reduce poverty. Most people in low-income situations are dependent on public transit. It connects them to places of employment, shopping, participating in community events, visits to friends and relatives. And, of course, it connects us all with each other. It is a proven fact that good public transit contributes to a vibrant and inclusive community.
Unfortunately, the public transit system is woefully underfunded and service is dreadfully inadequate. For the last three years, the city has increased fares in order to accommodate the shortfall. However, every time fares increase, it impacts poor people more severely, ridership declines and gas emissions go up as more people drive their vehicles.
Since 2008, a half-price adult transit pass has been offered to low-income people who are employed. The program ends next year with no commitment to continue it.
• The coalition calls on council to freeze fares for three years, to make permanent funding for the adult transit pass and allocate 50 per cent of the Federal Fuel Tax Fund to improve public transit.
The Canadian Federation of University Women (Hamilton) wholeheartedly endorses the goals and demands of the Common Campaign Coalition. We urge the voters in Hamilton to ask all candidates to endorse this platform and vote for those who do.
Let’s put Hamilton back on track to make our city “the best place to raise a child.”