The unaffordability of housing in Toronto’s Jewish neighbourhoods has spurred some community leaders to lure young, growing families to areas outside the city where the cost of living is more reasonable.
A campaign called “Think Hamilton” led by Adas Israel Congregation director of operations Rabbi Chanan Weiser and the synagogue’s spiritual leader Rabbi Daniel Green was initiated about a year ago.
“With expenses in Toronto being so high… we’re just about 45 minutes away from Toronto, and it’s a nice little option that is affordable and do-able,” Rabbi Weiser said.
“The idea was really to let people know what goes on in Hamilton. I married a girl from Toronto and growing up, she didn’t know anything about Hamilton. The only exposure she had to Hamilton was when you’d go down to Niagara Falls, you’d pass Hamilton and see the smoke stacks coming out of there. In her mind, there was nothing going on there.”
He said Hamilton’s Jewish population of about 5,000 has access to infrastructure such as shuls, Hebrew schools and kosher food. Since the campaign began last year, six Jewish families have moved from the GTA to Hamilton.
Rabbi Weiser spoke about the lower cost of living in Hamilton, which is a driving factor for young families.
He said small homes sell in the high 300s and low 400s, but there are also larger homes that range from half a million to $1 million.
In terms of the motivation to encourage Toronto Jews to move to Hamilton, “the more people you have, the more you can accomplish… in the community,” said Rabbi Weiser, a California-native who chose to settle in Hamilton about four years ago to be close to his wife’s family in Toronto.
“We’re a GO train away from downtown Toronto. One guy who moved here from Thornhill said he didn’t change jobs. His commute in total was an extra 10 minutes, and it’s a more pleasant commute now that he’s on the train.”
He said part of the campaign is to offer an incentive of up to six months free rent for Jews moving to Hamilton.
“I calculated that saving six months rent, you save about $13,000 to $14,000, and you’re on your way toward getting a down payment. It’s a way to help and assist people in ways to help you get over that hump,” he said, adding that the synagogue owns eight to 10 housing units that it can offer.
“We’ve been promoting people to come in and experience our community for a Shabbos, come visit and see what it’s about.”
A similar initiative called FrumCity –led by Rabbi Bernie Moskoff, Joseph Feldman and Rabbi Tsvi Heber – is also meant to address the problem with the unaffordability of Toronto’s Jewish neighbourhoods.
According to the FrumCity website and an email sent to those interested in the initiative, which is still in its infancy, the idea is to create a “new Orthodox community in Innisfil, Ontario,” minutes from Lake Simcoe, and to offer “a sustainable, affordable, growing, frum lifestyle, within a short commute of the GTA, by facilitating Jewish community infrastructure.”
Rabbi Heber said the “idea is in very initial stages. We’re reaching out to the community.”
He added: “Obviously, you know what housing prices are like, therefore, there is an effort to put together a constituency that would move close by, within range, but a place that’s cheaper. The Jewish community requires a group because of minyan and shul.”
On the website, the project’s originators state that “this grassroots community would welcome dozens of families, an energetic rav, shul, mikveh and possibly a community kollel at the outset.”
The website clarifies that the enclave will not be “exclusively frum,” as it will be part of a new community development open to the public.
“We are arranging our community to generally occupy one area at the outset.”
The development of about 1,100 homes includes single, detached full brick homes starting in the low 400s.
“Our target is a minimum of 90 young families and our current list of interested families is currently at 134,” the website states.
“There is an existing GO station in the south end of Barrie approximately nine minutes from the site. There is another GO station planned in Innisfil and the developer is optimistic that it will be located in close proximity to the subdivision. As well, there is a proposed highway 400 interchange.”
The Tent City Jewish Congregation in Innisfil, which currently operates as a summer cottage shul, will be temporarily available to FrumCity newcomers.
But interested families should expect some growing pains.
When it comes to arranging transportation for children to get to school, there will be “a bus service or carpool option at the outset. Although this is challenging, it is part of building a new community. The more quickly this city gains traction, the faster this critical piece comes into focus.”