The Hamilton Community Benefits Network (HCBN) is a broad collective made up of representatives from the Hamilton Building Trades, the Immigrant Working Centre, the Hamilton District Labour Council, the YWCA, Hamilton Food Share, Environment Hamilton, and many more organizations that envision an inclusive, thriving city in which all residents have equitable opportunities to contribute to building healthy communities and a prospering economy.
Members, Partners and Funders of the HCBN
The HCBN begin in response to the opportunities presented by the Hamilton Light Rail Project. With pressure and hard work from the community, the previous Ontario government included in Bill 6: The Ontario Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, a mandate for Community Benefit requirements for some infrastructure projects in Ontario. Inspired by the success of the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) and the opportunity afforded by the Hamilton Light Rail project, The Hamilton Community Benefits Network was formed. The original Foundation Document was produced by Karen Lior and Patrick Rettig of the Toronto Workforce Innovation Group (TWIG). The Toronto Foundation Document on approval from the TCBN was utilized and revised by the HCBN through two Stakeholder Outreach Meetings held on July 6th and July 19th, 2017 to formally become the HCBN Foundation Document.
News Release on Bill 6 and LRT funding
After meetings with many stakeholders, community groups, labour organizations and residents the HCBN was incorporated along the same lines as the TCBN on Aug 14th, 2017. At the first Annual General Meeting a Board of Directors was elected by the membership. The Original Structure of the HCBN was based on a not-for-profit model with a working board of directors, with each member organization getting one vote. They, interim, selected the Board of Directors that served for 2-year terms.
The HCBN board engaged in a series of Community Conversations and a large survey of residents to help shape what a community Benefits Agreement might look like for Hamilton’s LRT. Beyond the employment opportunities for marganized folks in the city of Hamilton to access training and apprentices in the trades, residents identified all kinds of potential community benefits opportunities from the project. Some of the early requests that came from resident consultation included Input into Station Designs, green roofs and LEEDS standard construction, the need for a Community HUB to be built along the corridor possibly at the Storage and Maintenance facility, Community Art, concerns over boarded up buildings and demolitions sites, water fountains at the LRT stops. A key demand was the replacement of the lost affordable housing along the corridor (twice as much as was lost was the demand). The The previous government agreed and budgeted 5.8M from the project to do that. Another Key demand was for the inclusion of both opportunities for training in trades and Professional Administrative and Technical positions for marginalized residents in Hamilton throughout the project, a target of 20% of employment hours was requested. We had discussions around Pop-up parks, and open spaces on the demolished building sites.
HBCN partnered with Metrolinx, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (Delta, Sir John A MacDonald, Dalewood, Prince of Wales Elementary School), Art Gallery of Hamilton, Hamilton Regional Indian Centre, Local Artists, the City of Hamilton on a series of art projects titled, "Transport to the Future: Community, Conversation, Art!"
They are installed mainly on commercial properties that were acquired under a willing seller agreement and now owned by Metrolinx for the LRT project. The youth-centred art pieces were to set the stage for a broader conversation about LRT and the resulting social, environmental, economic challenges and prosperity for the city.
The pilot was an opportunity to create a dialogue about Community Benefits and Community Benefits Agreements in relation to Hamilton LRT and other large infrastructure and development projects in the city. Art was placed near the proposed Longwood station (Main and Longwood) along with added additional benching and garbage cans near the bus stop for the community gathering point. Additional art was installed near the Wentworth Station location and proposed Gage park station. Other planned art instillations were suspended along with the Hamilton LRT project.
Community art installed on a commercial property bought by Metrolinx for LRT near proposed Wentworth
Hamilton’s LRT has always been a contentious project. Despite the on-again-off-again nature of the project the HCBN board and membership continued with stakeholder engagement, meetings, outreach and early discussions with Metrolinx. The HCBN was able to score some small victories, including design changes to the stations, creation of working groups such as: environmental and affordable housing, community conversations and a community art project. A research project in partnership with McMaster’s research shop outlining successes of CBs and recommendations for Hamilton. Much media attention in the local press, radio and television. Launching of an in-depth community survey based on Community Conversations. Most importantly a Community Benefits subcommittee that reported directly to Hamilton City Councils General Issues Committee.
However, with the cancellation, again, of Hamilton LRT and an overstretched volunteer Board of Directors (many of whom are actively engaged in many other communities and labour causes) it was decided at the March 2019 board meeting to disband the board and return the organization to a more community focused group and rebuild the network.
Community art installed on a commercial property bought by Metrolinx for LRT near proposed Longwood
After that Board meeting several membership meetings have been held and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion was chosen as our charitable partner to provide logistical support in rebuilding the network.
Currently in Partnership with the Hamilton Centre for Civic inclusion the HCBN seeks to rebuild the existing membership and reach out too many voices that were not included in the original outreach. HCCI and HCBN want to move forward with a community focused organization that is centered on Economic Justice as the linchpin to the organization’s undertakings. While remaining engaged on negotiations with all levels of government around major infrastructure projects, and empowering the HCBN Subcommittee. The organization is looking to take on more of an empowerment and education role. Focused not just on residents in the lower city or along the LRT corridor, but across all 15 wards in the city. Getting residents in neighbourhoods across the city more involved in the changes going on in their backyard. Empowering them with the ability to follow developments coming before council that could affect the places they live, work and play.
Recently in an unprecedented move in Hamilton’s history, the HCBN working with a coalition of community organizations with expertise on a wide range of issues such as climate change, disability justice, housing rights, and anti-racism came together to make recommendations to the City of Hamilton ahead of its budget deliberations. This culminated in the release of the #JustRecoveryHamOnt policy paper. The report provided a list of recommendations to foster a fair recovery for all Hamiltonians as the City continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The policy paper was released as part of a larger campaign to start conversations and collaborations among community organizations, businesses, and residents in Hamilton. You can find out more about the #JustRecoveryHamOnt work at the website https://justrecoveryhamilton.ca
Looking forward the HCBN wishes to continue to grow its membership and educate the broader public around the value of Community Benefits. The HCBN is looking to work with local stakeholders, developers, and council and staff to find creative made-in-Hamilton solutions to address the challenges facing the City of Hamilton. The renewed interest in a Hamilton Light Rail Project, the pending development of the $500 Million Downtown Entertainment District, interest in the Commonwealth Games all present great opportunities to address deep social inequality with Community Benefits Agreements.