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Hamilton Spectator: When there’s not much of a choice, Hamilton renters hold on to what they have - ACORN Canada

Hamilton Spectator: When there’s not much of a choice, Hamilton renters hold on to what they have

Posted May 12, 2022

Posted May 12, 2022

Wilfred Corneau is bracing for a fight to keep his home of nearly 20 years in east Hamilton.

At 53, Corneau faces eviction with the landlord wanting to empty the three-storey brick apartment building on Melvin Avenue for renovations.

Like others in the 20-unit building, he was offered cash — about $3,500 in his case — to move out.

But Corneau, who gets by on a monthly disability pension of about $1,200, says he’s staying put and plans to resist eviction before the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).

It’s not like there’s much of a choice, he says.

“Because I couldn’t afford to rent if I took the buyout. No one can,” says the former banker whose career was cut short after a serious bout with flesh-eating disease.

At $705, the two-bedroom apartment where he raised his daughter is about half of what even one-bedroom apartments go for in Hamilton these days.

So Corneau and fellow tenants joined advocacy group Hamilton ACORN, tapped into the city’s tenant defence fund and hired a paralegal to contest the evictions at the LTB.

“So we’re certainly going to fight,” he said during a barbecue with fellow tenants in March to foster solidarity and draw attention to the cause.

Family Properties, the landlord, has also served notices to tenants in a nine-storey building on Melvin, where some residents have tried to stave off displacement.

Representatives of the firm haven’t responded to The Spectator’s requests for comment.

With a provincial election in full swing, the housing affordability crisis is front and centre, if not the most pressing issue for voters.

Skyrocketing real estate values hitting the $1-million mark — way out of reach for many — have been in sharp local focus.

And perhaps in the shadows of the ownership dilemma, a rental market crisis continues to present a bleak landscape in a city where roughly a third of residents are tenants.

Consider how average rent in Hamilton — not including Ancaster, Dundas, Flamborough and Glanbrook — spiked to $1,089 for a one-bedroom apartment last year, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

Rents in Hamilton’s census metropolitan area — which includes Burlington and Grimsby — “have persistently grown faster” than local incomes, “leaving even mid-income renters with few affordable options,” CMHC’s February 2022 market report notes.

The report found that only one of every seven vacant purpose-built rental units could be considered “affordable” for renters at the 40th income percentile.

“These renters were estimated to have an income of $42,000 and could afford monthly rent up to $1,049, which is 30 per cent of their monthly income.”

For low-income renters, who earned no more than $25,000, there were “relatively no vacant units that were affordable.”

This past March, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Hamilton overall was $1,527,’s monthly report noted.

Spiking rents, static rates

Another crucial consideration in the housing mix is how much social-assistance rates have not increased over the years.

Between 1994 and 2020, inflation was nearly 61 per cent, but the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) for singles rose by 26 per cent and Ontario Works by 12 per cent.

This means in “real value” ODSP dropped by 22 per cent and OW by 31 per cent since 1994, noted Open Policy Ontario, a social policy consultancy led by John Stapleton and research associate Yvonne Yuan.

“I have an eight-year-old and a 10-year-old, and it’s really tight,” said Mindy Faulkner, a 48-year-old single mom who also relies on ODSP to make ends meet at 375 Melvin.

That’s why clinging to her two-bedroom apartment of $735 a month is so important, says Faulkner, whose work at a furniture distribution warehouse ended after a back injury.

“People end up on the street and it’s not fair,” she added.

Ontario’s political parties have pledged to increase social-assistance rates by varying degrees if voters put them in office, with the Green Party setting the most ambitious goal by pledging to double rates.

Amid this confluence of unaffordability, efforts to vacate units for renovations — known as “renovictions” — have also escalated in Hamilton recently.

The formal LTB notice landlords use for this is the N13, which can lead to an L2, an application to evict if tenants don’t agree to leave.

In 2012, the number of N13s filed with eviction applications was six. Two years ago, there were 33, and last year the total jumped to 76, according to data from Tribunals Ontario.

This is just a snapshot of a wider renovation-driven displacement phenomenon. Those cases only represent tenants who have resisted their landlords’ attempts to get them out for renovations or demolitions.

The count for those who opted not to fight evictions and instead accepted incentives to leave is not tracked by the LTB.

Hole in your glass

The Ontario election comes amid the federal Liberals’ National Housing Strategy, a multiyear plan in the tens of billions of dollars for the sector after decades of flatlined investment.

But as rents in the private market continue to rise, the units that have been relatively affordable disappear at a rate that’s outpacing the creation of new social or community housing units.

Policies, for instance, that allow landlords to hike rates as much as they like between tenancies can negate any gains, notes Nemoy Lewis, an assistant professor at Toronto Metropolitan University’s school of urban and regional planning.

“So it’s almost as if you have a hole in the bottom of your glass and you’re pouring all this investment to build affordable housing,” Lewis said. “But yet you have policies such as vacancy decontrol.”

That creates “huge financial incentives for landlords to push tenants out,” says Ricardo Tranjan, a political economist and senior researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Renovations — the necessity of which tenants like Corneau and Faulkner at 375 Melvin Ave. question — aren’t the only reason tenants can be displaced.

When properties are subject to sales, vendors and purchasers alike can pressure renters to leave.

Take, for instance, Amanda Gilliam, who told The Spectator she didn’t know what she’d do if she lost a small two-bedroom apartment she shares with her two daughters on Kenilworth Avenue North.

“It’s scary because I don’t know where my kids and I are going to go,” said the 41-year-old during a small rally of supporters earlier this year.

Gilliam, who works at Canadian Tire, said she sleeps on the couch and pays $1,050 a month.

“I have so many people looking for me to find a place. Nobody can find anything that’s affordable,” she said, at one point, breaking down in tears.

Meanwhile, on Upper Wellington Street, Janet Woitowicz wondered where she and her adult son would end up if they had to leave their $1,022-a-month townhouse unit.

“None of us have a problem with the rent that we’re paying,” said Woitowicz, who at 65 still runs a housecleaning business to make ends meet.

“It’s just trying to find something with the way the rent skyrocketed and went up.”

It once made sense to buy a house in Hamilton with mortgage payments more reasonable than rent, but that window seems to have closed, she said.

“We’re trapped and we’re in limbo, yes, but we’re willing to stick it out and fight until the bitter end,” said Woitowicz, who has also enlisted ACORN’s help.

‘Not fair to tenants’

During a recent campaign stop in Burlington, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said her party would scrap vacancy decontrol to help tame rents between tenancies.

“We’ve lost a lot of affordable rental housing in the private market because of those kinds of policies and … it’s not fair to tenants.”

The Green Party platform, meanwhile, calls for an “effective vacancy control system through consultation” that will “limit increases between tenancies and get rid of the incentive” to displace tenants to hike rents.

The Liberals say they would “prevent rent hikes by reinstating rent control everywhere” after Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives in 2018 lifted controls for newer buildings.

Here’s a snapshot of other elements of the parties’ housing plans:

  • The NDP aim to build 1.5 million homes over 10 years and establish Housing Ontario, which would finance and construct at least 250,000 affordable and nonmarket rentals over the same period. Visit
  • The Liberals under Leader Steven Del Duca promise a “pathway to ownership” through the provision of rent-to-own agreements. They also pledge 1.5 million homes over 10 years and 138,000 deeply affordable units. Visit
  • Mike Schreiner’s Greens aim for 100,000 affordable rental homes over 10 years and the restoration of 260,000 community housing units. They also propose a portable housing benefit for 311,000 people. Visit
  • Ford’s Progressive Conservatives want to build 1.5 million homes over the next decade and implement a “long-term plan” that’s “informed by” a provincial task force’s recommendations, including measures to cut red tape in the municipal development approvals process. Visit

Housing experts Nemoy Lewis and Ricardo Tranjan say increasing supply alone will not solve Ontario’s affordability crunch.

“The difficulty is that half the time a lot of the housing that’s being built is not affordable,” Lewis said.

Using a percentage of average market rent to decide affordability can be problematic, Tranjan observes. “It’s like tying something on a rocket. It goes up really fast.”

Both he and Lewis call for bolstered government investment in social or deeply affordable housing amid a worrying trend of big players, including real estate investment trusts accumulating homes to use as profit-generating vehicles.

“I think we need to decommodify housing and we need to return housing as a social good and not a commodity that is either bought and sold on capital markets, or not a commodity where people are using these properties as a way to supplement their income,” Lewis said.

In April, Statistics Canada reported that owners of multiple properties hold title to nearly a third of all residential properties in the country. Moreover, the top 10 per cent wealthiest owners constitute roughly a quarter of housing value.

But the upshot of hiked rents is less spending to go around overall, Tranjan suggests.

“It’s not a very productive sector, productive in the sense of supporting the economy,” he said of real estate. “Money just kind of gets sucked in.”

Everything that’s wrong

For Chris Erl, a home in his west Hamilton neighbourhood that has been vacant for years is a symptom of a wider problem.

“It is a perfect example of what is wrong in the housing market. It is a physical reminder of how housing has become financialized.”

Erl, a doctoral candidate in McGill’s geography department, focused on the house on Head Street near Dundurn Street North for an exploration of the housing crisis that won the university’s 2022 Jack Layton Essay Prize for a Better Canada.

The old home, which languishes alongside other boarded-up ones on the Strathcona neighbourhood block, was purchased more than a decade ago for a redevelopment that never materialized.

As of late, with the growing emphasis of urban intensification, these types of properties should be “hot commodities,” said Erl, who has a master’s degree in planning.

“But they have sat and sat vacant, and it’s a real shame to see these houses disintegrate before the community’s eyes.”

To help prevent this, Erl suggests as “Homefront Strategy” that would involve the creation of community development boards that could purchase such properties and work with organizations to provide housing that people can afford.

The province could pass legislation to create the local boards whose members would “carry the weight of the state and act as a voice of the community,” he writes in his essay.

“It shows the importance of this provincial election,” Erl said in an interview, “that the province has a lot of power to make a lot of changes that can really reshape the housing market.”

He also calls for an expansion of housing co-operatives, which can range from apartments to townhouses, but are owned by members who set rates and collectively make decisions about their homes.

Erl notes those who advocate for environmental measures in response to the climate crisis often cite Canada’s all-hands-on-deck spirit of the Second World War.

“I think that we should be doing the same thing when it comes to housing. We should be mustering all the resources we have.”


Article by Teviah Moro for the Hamilton Spectator

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