Defending Affordable Housing in Hamilton’s North End
In 2015, 468 James Street North was the most affordable rental I could find, but even 6 years ago it was difficult finding affordable housing on a fixed income. On the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), my annual income is $15,060 or $1,255 a month.
My 2021 rent is $525 a month, which is 42% of my income. A good benchmark for affordability is 30% of a household’s income. When I first moved in, in 2015, 468 James Street North had all 12 units occupied. Now, in May 2021, we are down to 4 tenants and counting the days until we lose our homes.
It started escalating in 2017 when Red Brick Rentals sold the building to John van Nostrand Developments Developments (JvN/d). JvN/d had plans to demolish 476-468 James Street North to build a 92-unit condo building with the aim of providing affordable homeownership to households with incomes ranging from $25,000 to $125,000, but they backed out of the project in 2019.
In early 2021 all remaining tenants were notified that the building had been purchased by a new owner and on March 2 we received N13 eviction notices to vacate the property by June 30. This gave me 4 months to start searching for another affordable unit.
I applied to subsidized housing with the City of Hamilton with homeless status. Knowing that the waitlist for affordable housing in Hamilton stood at over 5,000 households, I realized the prospect of securing a spot in social housing by June was slim and only being entitled to 3 months rent as compensation, the reality of becoming homeless seemed inevitable and I needed to prepare.
I bought a wagon to pull behind my mobility scooter so I could carry what was needed and a generator to charge the scooter, my hearing aid equipment, cell phone and portable cooking appliances. I also got a tent big enough to store all of my gear and a canopy to cover it all and keep it out of the sun and heat. But I realized that I wouldn’t be able to take all my belongings and would have to consider putting many things in storage.
At this point, not knowing what else to do, I reached out to Hamilton ACORN, a tenant and community organization.
After attending a few of the downtown chapter meetings, residents were able to plan a protest in front of our building to bring attention to the situation. Through direct action, receiving media attention, and communication with the Ward 2 office, we secured a meeting with a representative of one of the investment partners of 476 James Inc. Tenants have been demanding fair compensation to help with moving and extra time to move out.
While there is no good time to be displaced, a global pandemic and housing crisis make it even more difficult for low income tenants.
Across the street from 468 James Street North sits the empty Jamesville townhouse survey. Hamilton is in a housing crisis and everything must be done to preserve existing market affordable housing stock and build more affordable housing. Homelessness is continuing to grow in the city at an alarming rate. It’s been disturbing to witness encampment communities broken up during the pandemic and vulnerable members of our city displaced again.
Not far from 468 James Street North, tenants at 35 Brock Street and 600 John Street North are also experiencing the uncertainty that comes along with new ownership. REIT CLV Group has started “upgrades” to common areas and has begun renovating vacant units. Tenants from the two buildings have attended ACORN Tenant Union meetings and shared that some of them have been offered money to move out and have talked about a just general uneasiness, fearing what the big corporate landlord has planned.
Hamilton ACORN has been calling on the City of Hamilton to use it’s municipal powers to protect tenants from predatory displacement tactics.
The City already has a policy developed, as part of the Downtown Secondary Plan, around demolition requiring “development proposals that will result in the demolition or redevelopment of affordable housing units to demonstrate that as a result of the proposed development there is no net loss in the number of affordable housing units within the Central Hamilton Local Housing Market Zone and provide an acceptable tenant relocation and assistance plan.”
On the renoviction front, ACORN has highlighted the groundbreaking municipal policy passed in New Westminster, British Columbia — a licensing tool that requires landlords responsible for making alternate accommodation for tenants during renovations.
Through ACORN’s advocacy work, last month, a motion was passed unanimously at City Hall asking staff to report back on a framework for developing an anti-renoviction strategy for Hamilton that includes licensing and bylaw tools like those available in New Westminster, proactive tenant education, and improvements to the City of Hamilton’s Tenant Defence Fund Pilot Program.
It might be too late for me and my neighbours but we can’t waste any more time. The City of Hamilton needs to take bold action now. People are not expendable. Why treat them like they are?
Interested in getting involved with Hamilton ACORN or worried about renoviction/demoviction at your apartment? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gordon N. Smyth grew up in Keswick, Ontario and moved to Hamilton in 1981; he is a tenant and resident in Ward 2