Hamilton Spectator: Housing activists call on city to create bylaw to stop evictions through renovation

Posted August 24, 2020

“Tenants united will never be defeated.”
 
“Whose homes? Our homes.”
 
“Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right.”
 
Those rallying calls rang through the Hamilton city hall forecourt Friday afternoon as housing activists and concerned tenants called on the city to take “bold action” against its affordable-housing crisis.
 
The demonstration followed ACORN Hamilton releasing its “Defending Our Homes” report Thursday, which appealed to the City of Hamilton to replicate a “renoviction” bylaw passed in New Westminster, B.C., in February 2019.
 
The term, which is defined in the B.C. laws, refers to a landlord evicting a tenant for the purpose of renovations or repairs. Housing activists believe some landlords abuse this practice to replace tenants that pay lower rents.
 
ACORN’s hope is for a bylaw that could define under what conditions landlords can evict; would set clauses to temporarily house tenants during renovations; and would prohibit some rent increases when tenants return. It would also punish and fine landlords that violate the rules.
 
Rebecca Hockridge-Guzzo, secretary for ACORN’s Hamilton Mountain chapter, said “renovictions” are decimating the city’s affordable housing stock and uprooting vulnerable, low-income renters.
 
“We urgently need bold action from the city to protect all of our tenants,” said Hockridge-Guzzo, speaking to a crowd of approximately 60 people.
 
Mike Wood, chair of the downtown chapter, said a bylaw would “take away” the financial incentive for landlords to renovate.
 
“The time is now, we can’t wait any longer,” said Wood. “There is no reason (the city) can’t put it through when other municipalities have.”
 
Sharing her story with the crowd, Dayna Sparks said her building was bought by a new company that attempted a “renoviction.” She said through a real estate agent, the company offered tenants buyouts to move them out and then renovate the units.
 
“Many people lost their homes due to the renovictions and there are so many people out there dealing with the same thing,” said Sparks, who has lived in her building since 2012.
 
Hockridge-Guzzo said the urgency of the bylaw has also been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has resulted in job losses among already vulnerable tenants.
 
Statistics obtained by The Spectator show that landlords applied to evict at least 323 Hamilton tenants over unpaid rent during the pandemic — even before a ban on evictions expired this month.
 
“If these people already can’t afford their rent because they’ve lost their job, they’re not going to be able to move into a new place,” said Hockridge-Guzzo. “Our shelter system is already strapped. Where are these people going to rent?”
 
The group is also calling on the city to bring in a landlord licensing program, which Wood said would help ensure that buildings remain in good condition.
 
“Some (tenants) cannot invite friends of family over or have their children come over due to the unsafe, unhealthy conditions within their units,” said Wood. “Nobody should ever have to feel ashamed of where they call home.”
 
Alongside the bylaw, the group is also calling on the city to track the sales of rental buildings and ensure existing tenants know their rights, as well as expand and make a tenant defence fund permanent.
 
“Hamilton has the power to (protect) affordable housing … it’s up to these city councillors and the mayor to do so,” said Wood.
 
Michael Blashko, a lawyer with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, said if council were to push ahead with the bylaw, it would let “everyone know that (Hamilton) puts people over profits.”
 
“It can be one step toward a happier and healthier Hamilton community.”
 
 
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Article by Fallon Hewitt for the Hamilton Spectator

 

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