Photo by Kyle West

By: Tanvi Pathak

In March, McMaster Students Union is slated to release its second annual municipal budget submission to Hamilton city council.

According to Shemar Hackett, the MSU associate vice president (Municipal Affairs), the budget submission will prioritize transit, student housing, student employment, bylaws and enforcement and lighting.

After consulting students and reviewing data from The Your City survey, the MSU decided these key areas were ones that stood out as issues that needed immediate attention.

The committee’s decision to focus on these areas is also linked to the rising demand for off-campus housing.

According to Andrew Parashis, a property manager at Spotted Properties, the largest property management in the McMaster community, demand for student housing has soared in recent years.

Parashis notes that with the increase of local and international students attending McMaster, the waiting list for students seeking accommodations through Spotted Properties has tripled in the last year alone.

The municipal budget submission will also focus on accessible employment opportunities.

The union’s education department and municipal affairs committee’s recommendations aim to offer proactive solutions for each issue and improve Hamilton’s attractiveness to students and recent McMaster grads.

One of the committee’s recommendations is for the city of Hamilton to implement a lighting audit across Ward 1.

Hackett emphasized that there are neighborhoods off-campus substantially lacking in visibility. As a result, many students do not feel comfortable walking home late at night after classes.

A lighting audit would reduce these issues in these neighborhoods and identify priority locations for new street lights.

The committee reached out to the Ward 1 councilor Maureen Wilson, who was receptive to the committee’s recommendation and is confident that the proposal will be valuable to McMaster and Ward 1.

Another recommendation calls for city council to move forward with the landlord licensing project discussed in December.

Hackett and Stephanie Bertolo, MSU vice president (Education), articulated their stance on landlord licensing to Ward 8 city councilor Terry Whitehead, who sits on the Rental Housing sub-committee.

Since then, the motion to implement a pilot project was brought to council and endorsed by many councilors.

Prior to the development of the budget submission, the committee consulted city officials.

The committee plans to continue to meet with the city staff and councillors to push for their recommendations and make them a priority for the council.

Thus far, they have met with Terry Cooke, CEO of the Hamilton Community Foundation, to discuss student engagement and retention and the ways in which organizations can support one another in the future.

The municipal affairs committee has also been successful in implementing its Landlord Rating system, a platform developed by the MSU education department.

The landlord licensing project, which the committee has also been lobbying for, got the Hamilton city council rental housing sub committee’s stamp of approval and will be put forth into discussion during the next city council meeting.

“The council has been extremely receptive to all our points about the agreements we put forth,” said Hackett, adding that the MSU budget submission has proven to be a valuable resource for lobbying municipal stakeholders.

Over the next few weeks, the municipal affairs committee will meet with city councilors and community stakeholders to advocate for their budget submission proposals.

 

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Photo by Kyle West

Following recent snowstorms that deposited as much as 40 cm onto Hamilton streets, some Hamilton residents are using social media to bring attention to the issue of snow-covered residential sidewalks.

Currently, residents are expected to clear snow from their sidewalks within 24 hours of a “snow event.” If residents fail to comply, the city will issue a 24-hour “Notice to Comply,” followed by possible inspection and a contracting fee for the homeowner.

However, residents say both residential and city sidewalks are still not being cleared, either by residents or by the city.

The Disability Justice Network of Ontario has encouraged residents to participate in the “Snow and Tell” campaign by tweeting out pictures of snow or ice-covered roads and sidewalks using the hashtag #AODAfail, referring to the Accessibility for Ontarians for Disabilities Act.

https://twitter.com/VicBick/status/1087879002092646401

McMaster student and local community organizer Sophie Geffros supports the campaigns and says it a serious issue of accessibility and justice.

Geffros uses a wheelchair and knows how especially difficult it can be for those who use mobility devices to navigate through snow-covered streets.

“It's people who use mobility devices. It's people with strollers. And it's older folks. People end up on the street. If you go on any street after a major storm, you'll see people in wheelchairs and with buggies on the street with cars because the sidewalks just aren't clear,” Geffros said.

https://twitter.com/sgeffros/status/1087384392866123778

Snow-covered sidewalks also affect the ability for people, especially those who use mobility devices, to access public transit.

“Even when snow has been cleared, often times when it gets cleared, it gets piled on curb cuts and piled near bus stops and all these places that are that are vital to people with disabilities,” Geffros said.

https://twitter.com/craig_burley/status/1088798476081741824

Geffros sees the need for clearing sidewalks as non-negotiable.

“By treating our sidewalk network as not a network but hundreds of individual tiny chunks of sidewalk, it means that if there's a breakdown at any point in that network, I can't get around,” Geffros said. “If every single sidewalk on my street is shoveled but one isn't, I can't use that entire sidewalk. We need to think of it as a vital service in the same way that we think of road snow clearance as a vital service.”

Public awareness about the issue may push city council.

Some councillors have expressed support for a city-run snow clearing service, including Ward 1 councillor Maureen Wilson and Ward 3 councillor Nrinder Nann.

I just don’t find it all that complicated. Cities are for people. It is in our best interest, financial and otherwise, to plow sidewalks. It’s also a matter of justice. I await the city manager’s report and ensuing debate

— Maureen Wilson (She / Her) (@ward1wilson) January 29, 2019

A city council report issued in 2014 stated that a 34 dollar annual increase in tax for each homeowner would be enough to fund sidewalk snow-clearing.

Recently, Wilson requested the city council to issue a new report on the potential costs of funding snow-clearing service.

Geffros sees potential for the current discourse to open up to further discussions on other issues of accessibility and social justice.

Hamilton’s operating budget will likely be finalized around April. Until then, Geffros and other Hamilton residents will continue to speak out on the issue.

 

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Every year, Ward One residents have the opportunity to voice their input on how the Ward Councillor should spend $1.5 million dedicated to infrastructure projects through participatory budgeting. Twenty community members, including a representative from the MSU, are appointed to a Participatory Budgeting Advisory Committee that oversees the process.

Starting in April of 2011, the Ward One Area Rating Funding was put in place as a means of aiding in infrastructure investments. Ward One was the first Hamilton region to adopt the method of participatory budgeting to engage community members in government decisions that directly impacts their quality of life.

Anyone can submit suggestions for projects they would like to see supported by the ForWard One fund. Submissions can be completed online or in person at Westdale Library, Locke St. Library and other brick and mortar locations throughout Hamilton. Submissions are due March 25, after which Ward One residents are able to vote on the options from May 16 to June 3. A public discussion is held between the submission period and the voting period in order to facilitate conversation about the options put forth. The votes are then processed by the PBAC and submitted to the Councillor as suggestions, which are taken to Council for final approval.

“There are sometimes modifications [to projects] because there is higher citizen involvement in some neighbourhoods of Ward One than others, a process meant to correct for any unequal partitioning of projects,” said Ward One’s Dale Brown.

Hamilton residents may recognize some previous ForWard One projects around the neighbourhood. Those who have hiked the stairs going up the mountain near the golf course may have stopped to drink from the newest water fountain, and those walking by Cootes Paradise Elementary may have seen their new natural playground.

While $1.5 million may seem like a lot, when put towards ambitious projects, it can be stretched pretty thin. A suggestion that has gained a lot of support in the past is the construction of a Pedestrian Bridge to Bayfront from Locke Street North. To the disappointment of those that voted for the Pedestrian Bridge, it is not likely to be something that is ever realized. Instead, smaller but much needed projects have been supported by a fraction of the Ward One Reinvestment Fund. Community members have welcomed the recent addition of bike lanes on Longwood Road North and pedestrian activated crosswalks at Locke and Hunter. The changes can be so small that those without knowledge of their history might never notice; yet they are much needed improvements to the ward’s infrastructure.

This year the initiative will allow for the use of $3 million, as the project was put on hold last year and the money transferred over.

The initiative is novel in its use of community input to make decisions, and this system of participatory budgeting was adopted by the MSU more recently.

Brown recognizes that despite its benefits, the system is not perfect. “It is always a challenge because of the timeline, because [students] end school in April and [the initiative] operates until June, making it challenging for students who have headed off for the summer to vote. We are cognizant of that but have not yet figured out how to fix it, because we also have deadlines that we have to meet for the city.”

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