Posted May 13, 2019
Elizabeth Ellis regrets taking a $2,000 buyout from her landlord.
In fact, she wanted to stay at 160 Sherman Ave. N., but under pressure from the building's new owner, agreed to leave, Ellis says.
It was tough to rent another apartment she could afford in a spiking and tightening market.
"I found this place two days before I had to move," said Ellis, 51, who now lives in a tiny basement unit on Kenilworth Avenue North she shares with a roommate for $975 a month plus hydro.
He happened to know the owners.
"That's the only reason we got this. Otherwise, I would have been homeless," Ellis said.
Now she and other advocates of tenants' rights are holding workshops to help people resist "renovictions."
That's when developers apply pressure to displace tenants so they can renovate and charge higher rents. The term has gained more traction in Hamilton as more investors tap into the city's fertile real estate market.
On the one hand, that investment has breathed life into derelict or vacant properties, spurring business and tax growth, including along the future LRT corridor.
The other hand is Ellis and the tenants who no longer live at 160 Sherman, an eight-unit building at the corner of Barton Street East.
Ellis, who scrapes by on Ontario Works, acknowledges her old place was far from perfect, but at $765 a month, it was reasonable compared to other units renting for at least $1,000.
After Malleum Properties bought the building for $1.1 million last year, its representatives "badgered" her to take a buyout, she said.
When landlords issue tenants N13 notices to inform them units must be vacated for extensive renovations, tenants have the right to return once the work is done and pay the same rent.
They can also challenge N13s before the Landlord and Tenant Board if they want to stay.
But some landlords forgo N13s, preferring to convince tenants to leave through buyouts, which are sometimes less than the compensation available through the provincial tribunal.
Ellis says others at 160 Sherman also felt pressured to take buyouts, were frustrated with problems with the building, or struggled to pay rent via a new internet-based "portal" system.
Malleum principals Tyler Pearson and Gregory Clewer didn't respond to emails or phone calls requesting comment.
The 160 Sherman purchase was one of several investments Malleum has made in the lower city recently.
They include the refurbished Hendry's Shoes building on Barton Street 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. The partners say they have raised $25 million in a little over three years.
Hamilton ACORN — the anti-poverty group behind the tenant workshops — wants the city to end such handouts to developers that displace tenants.
"I think it's disgusting. It's basically saying, 'We support you in what you're doing.' What it's doing is creating homelessness," chair Mike Wood said.
Judy Lam, who's in charge of urban renewal for the city, said such programs for downtown and Barton Street East have been essential.
Without them, developers wouldn't bite, said Lam, who noted the city is trying to spur business and residential development alike through builders like Malleum.
"A lot of the buildings they bought were derelict and empty. I feel it's not helping the city if they're just sitting there vacant and in disrepair."
Coun. Nrinder Nann is aware of ACORN's stance and says she has spoken to economic development and housing staff about anti-renoviction strategies.
"I agree that the city needs to figure this out. I think this has turned into a pattern of behaviour," the Ward 3 councillor said.
"Fundamentally, at the end of the day, I'm pro-investment ... but not on the backs of our residents."
The ACORN workshops are the first Tuesday of each month from 6-7 p.m. at the Beasley Community Centre.
Article by Teviah Moro for The Hamilton Spectator