Hamilton Spectator: Renovation grants for developer rejected by councillors — again
Posted October 7, 2021
Posted October 7, 2021
Hamilton councillors have rejected $152,000 worth of grants for a developer amid complaints of displaced tenants and jacked rents.
It’s a rerun of an initial denial of a $170,000 tax grant for Malleum last month — a decision council reversed a week later.
In Wednesday’s 5-4 vote, councillors rejected five other applications Malleum submitted after former tenants urged them not to approve the public handout to help the firm cover its renovations.
Elizabeth Ellis said she felt “bullied” into taking a buyout to leave her apartment at Barton Street East and Sherman Avenue North.
“Please stop displacing people. We’re just making more homeless people,” said Ellis, a member of Hamilton ACORN, a group that advocates for tenant rights.
Likewise, KW Campol, who operated Coven Market bakery and deli in the same building, asked councillors to reject the grants, saying Malleum hiked his rent to $1,900 a month from $1,200.
“That rent price is more akin to a Class A office space downtown, not a shop at Barton and Sherman.”
He recalled watching the tenants above get displaced from their units, which were in “rough shape” and had bedbugs but still “livable” and affordable.
KW Campol, who operated Coven Market bakery and deli at Barton and Sherman, asked councillors to reject the grants, saying Malleum hiked his rent to $1,900 a month from $1,200.
Campol said he moved his business to Main Street East near Gage Avenue in a space that’s twice the size but rents for half of what he’d paid.
“I ask council to reject this application for funds and instead direct it to more appropriate community-focused endeavours and organizations.”
Malleum has denied it used pressure tactics to force tenants out of the Barton-Sherman apartments and has asserted that it has operated within Ontario’s landlord-tenancy laws.
In an email, managing partner Tyler Pearson disputed the “claims” former tenants made during Wednesday’s general issues committee meeting.
On Coven specifically, he said a revised agreement offered the business an “average monthly net savings” of $197 per month, five months of free rent and “over $11,000 in new investment.”
Campol acknowledged the free rent, but said “neither of those numbers add up.”
Malleum’s five tax-increment-grant applications for renovations at different buildings were submitted in 2018 and 2019.
That was before council tweaked the program meant to encourage redevelopment last month to prevent developers from landing funds for projects that displace tenants.
The new criteria for the programs rule out projects involving the renovation of existing residential units, for instance.
But there are exemptions, including for projects that don’t involve tenant displacement, affordable housing backed by government funding, buildings that have been vacant for two years and non-profit groups.
Coun. Brad Clark said he sympathized with the plight of tenants and noted he supports the program changes, but not for applications completed under the previous criteria.
“No matter how you slice it, we’re not supposed the change the rules of the game midstream. We’re taught that as children.”
Moreover, Clark argued council is not a “quasi-judicial body,” like the provincial Landlord and Tenant Board, that’s tasked with settling rental disputes. “That is not our role.”
But Coun. Nrinder Nann replied it’s “clear” city politicians can exercise “discretion” when it comes to deciding whether to approve or reject grants.
Public dollars shouldn’t “enable” private-equity firms to “beautify their buildings in order to jack up rents” and displace residents during an affordable housing crisis.
“Doing so will only further increase public costs as it relates to housing as well as health.”
The committee’s decision requires final approval at council next week.
Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator