Posted July 9, 2019
Tenant advocates are applauding the city for examining how to keep municipal funds out of the pockets of developers who "renovict" renters in Hamilton.
"This is what tenants have been asking for across the city, and we want to keep building this," Mike Wood, chair of Hamilton ACORN, said Monday at the city hall council chambers.
Moments earlier, councillors backed Nrinder Nann's motion to explore ways to ensure that incentive programs aimed at spurring residential development in areas like the downtown and Barton Street East don't go to builders who displace tenants.
"Renovictions" take place when developers push tenants out of buildings to refurbish them and then charge new occupants higher rents.
Wood said long-term tenants, often with language barriers and fear of escalating harassment, in rent-controlled units are pressured to take buyouts and leave their homes.
"Revitalizing our neighbourhoods shouldn't mean displacing the people that live there. After all, we're saying we are supposed to be an inclusive city."
Speaking to her motion at Monday's general issues committee meeting, Nann said the city "absolutely" welcomes investment, but not if it displaces tenants via renovictions.
The Ward 3 councillor's office has heard of tenants who were pressured to leave their homes, she said. "And they've been left unable to afford rent elsewhere. For some, that has led to homelessness, and for others, it has meant leaving Hamilton."
But Nann noted that the city doesn't have the "legal power" to prevent renovictions.
"Regulations of this nature have to be brought forward at the provincial level and incorporated into the Residential Tenancies Act. But that doesn't mean the city has to be a background player."
Her motion directs staff to consult with councillors and "any stakeholders who request to meet with staff" about potential changes to the tax increment, grant, loan and fee-rebate programs.
The overarching goal is to ensure that property upgrades funded through the programs don't lead to the permanent displacement of tenants. Another is to inform renters of their rights if any property improvements could affect their tenancies.
Nann's effort comes as Hamilton experiences drastically spiking rents across the city and a wave of gentrification in the downtown area.
Coun. Esther Pauls, who seconded Nann's motion, expressed concern over the "terrible perception" of the city giving handouts to developers who renovict tenants.
Jason Thorne, the city's general manager of planning and economic development, said the incentive programs are designed to spur residential developments that might not otherwise prove viable to builders.
Thorne said staff haven't seen a correlation between renovictions and specific projects that have received incentives. "But we aren't aware of every situation."
Elizabeth Ellis, an ACORN member, told city politicians she took a $2,000 buyout after a new landlord, Malleum Properties, pressured her and others to leave 160 Sherman Ave. N., at the corner of Barton.
Ellis, 51, said she was just a couple of days from homelessness when she found a roommate to rent a basement unit on Kenilworth Avenue North.
As a result of the $2,000 buyout, her Ontario Works payments were clawed back, she added.
"We need to tell people and make them aware, if they're going to take a buyout, they have to know everything, if they're on ODSP, OW, they need to have a worker talk with them and tell them what's going to happen with them."
Malleum principal Gregory Clewer said in an email Monday that the firm "regularly makes meaningful investments" in its properties, many of which are downtown.
"In many of these cases, these investments provide sorely needed capital to properties that had previously been neglected by prior landlords."
Capital upgrades "typically require a unit to be unoccupied for an extended period of time," he said.
But Clewer noted some vacancies arise because tenants haven't paid rent. "While these situations are unfortunate, we aren't in a position to maintain a tenancy when rental payments are not made by the tenant."
Malleum "strictly adheres to the legal framework" of Ontario's Residential Tenancies Act," Clewer said.
But the firm has never used an N13 form to renovate units, which affords tenants the ability to leave temporarily to accommodate the work and return paying the same rent.
The 160 Sherman purchase is one of several recent investments Malleum has made in the lower city. They include the refurbished Hendry's Shoes building on Barton East. Previously vacant, it's now home to a new barbershop and revamped residential units. The city gave Malleum a tax grant worth roughly $44,000 for the Hendry's project.
Wood told reporters the city should scrutinize not just the specific addresses attached to grant applications but also consider what's going on with developers' other properties as well.
The local chapter of ACORN, a national organization that represents the interests of low- to moderate-income earners, wants the city to register tenant buyouts, keep track of apartment building sales and require developers to find displaced renters other housing.
"We're going to end up with a homeless rate that's out of control and the city's going to be footing the bill on this," Wood said.
Staff are expected to report back on potential changes to the guidelines and criteria of the city's grant programs.
Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator