I've heard from some close allies and friends of mine that they are concerned about the LRT project and what implications it holds for the forces of gentrification in Hamilton. I understand that there has been a lot of concern that the LRT system is only going to exacerbate the issue of gentrification in Hamilton's downtown and push working class folk out of their neighbourhoods. I understand the fear, I've lived the fear, but it needs to be said that it's smacking at the branches of the problem instead of tackling it at its roots.
First, so my position is clear: gentrification is absolutely happening in Hamilton, and rents have risen significantly. It is fact, it can be seen in the rental market pricing, it can be seen in the condo developments. We know it is indeed happening.
Better transit that promotes a higher quality of life does not have to go hand in hand with gentrification of a neighborhood. I get that gentrification is happening, and I know that we are doing an extremely poor job as a city of ensuring it doesn't force people out of their homes as a result. The same goes for the province's inaction.
Yet this doesn't change the fact that transit is predominantly relied upon by low-income earners. For most, it is a vehicle of necessity, not of choice, and it is the only form of transportation they can afford. There are absolutely those who freely choose to ride it, but there will always be those that must ride it if they want to remain employed, or in school, or go for a night out.
Public transit is the single mother with her child in a stroller on her way to the daycare centre before she goes to work.
Public transit is the highschool student getting to class because their family car broke down.
Public transit is the means of getting groceries home.
Public transit is the means of accessibility to the rest of the city for people where there would otherwise not be.
I cannot see the social justice in telling working class people that rely upon it that in order to help assure they can live in the neighbourhoods they presently do and still be able to afford it, we must reject investment in the underfunded transit system they rely on every day. I cannot see the social justice in saying that if we allow a transit system that has notable improvements upon quality of life to be built, they will suffer. I do not see how this can be anything other but a disservice to these people of the greatest kind.
I understand that the development of an LRT system will in some ways lead to higher demand for real-estate and development projects that are the very forces that help increase the flow of housing prices, and I do not mean to criticize or dismiss the very real lived fear that comes with that for people
However, I do not understand why, when that is the precise issue — affordability — we are trying to tell people who rely on transit it is bad for them. It makes much more sense to tackle the roots of the problem — pushing for our government to actually ensure affordable housing initatives — than it does to try and purposefully make daily life harder for the same people we are trying to protect from being displaced by rejecting a billion dollar investment in the system they are economically dependent upon.
Working class people deserve a transit system that does not treat them like they are second-class citizens. And they also very much deserve to not be forced out of their neighbourhoods.
Let's tackle the real issue here, the roots, not the branches. It's the lack of affordable housing measures that is the issue for our working class, not the transit system that they rely upon.