McMaster Citylab students address housing issues and climate change
Working with the city through the CityLab Semester in Residence program, students have proposed solutions for affordable housing and the rental marketplace
Hamilton ranks as the third least affordable city in North America to live in and with the escalating cost of living shortages of affordable housing have reached an all-time high. In response, students in McMaster University's CityLab Semester in Residence program have partnered with the City of Hamilton to tackle different aspects of the housing crisis.
The CityLab program is a 15-unit course that allows students from all faculties to apply their skills to real-world issues in Hamilton. In the fall semester, students conducted research and consulted with stakeholders to create proposals for improving transitional housing, affordable housing and affordable home ownership.
Bohmee Kim and Rhea Saini, from the CityLab SIR 2022 fall cohort, presented findings on and recommendations for unlocking municipal land for affordable housing to city council last December.
“Our plan for unlocking municipal land caught the attention of councillors. . .The staff seemed inclined to pull together an inventory of all the municipal lands that currently exist in Hamilton and survey them for potentially building homes on,” said Saini, a fourth year student in the bachelor of health sciences program.
Kim and Saini’s recommendations proposed redeveloping government-owned plots of land into affordable mixed-use housing to address long-term affordability. They pointed to The Station, a 45-unit affordable apartment complex built on top of an active fire station in St. Thomas, as an example of how building on underutilized municipal land could be done effectively.
Another CityLab project aiming to improve Hamilton’s rental marketplace proposed solutions such as stricter enforcement of property standard laws for residential properties around McMaster, and information campaigns to address the public's lack of knowledge about the rental market, tenant rights and responsibilities.
“One of [the group’s] major findings was looking at accountability from both the city and McMaster – looking at lack of supply of students, education and the rental process,” said Saini.
Kim and Saini described their experiences in the CityLab SIR as valuable for gaining hands-on experience in working on community engagement projects.
“CityLab allowed me to work on a project outside the role of the student or academia. Seeing what it would look like to talk to stakeholders made community engagement less of a theoretical exercise and more actually putting it into practice,” said Saini.
They emphasized the value of having autonomy over their project which allowed them to explore their interests to make real-world change.
“As students, when we talk about making change, we gain the soft skills to do it. And so [CityLab] is the place to build that toolkit and gain those skills to make meaningful change in a respectful and collaborative way,” said Kim, a third year student in the arts and science program.
Kim discussed the upcoming 2023 fall semester project that addresses methods for building a climate-resilient future in Hamilton. She pointed to creating plans for affordable housing that is energy-efficient and sustainable as an example of a project that will be developed by students during the semester.
“Climate change is happening now. Taking climate action is not something we can only do through social media. We also have to take concrete actions. And at CityLab, you are working with the city and community partners. It's a real hands-on project to tackle climate change and have an impact on the people in the community,” said Kim.
The SIR program has been effective in addressing the housing crisis in Hamilton. Students in the program have been able to apply their skills to real-world issues and work with community partners to propose practical solutions to create a sustainable and resilient future for Hamilton. Kim and Saini encourage students to subscribe to their student-interest form for updates on SIR application openings and to follow their website and Instagram.