Survey of Displacement for Light Rail Transit

Many Hamiltonians didn’t realize that property acquisition, eviction, displacement, and demolition were part of Light Rail Transit (LRT) construction. If they knew the truth about the number of properties purchased, the number of people who lost their homes, and how poorly people were treated during the eviction process, they would be shocked.

Metrolinx and City of Hamilton staff have downplayed the scale of displacement in interviews with journalists and reports to city council. Based on what we have seen on the ground and heard from our neighbours, we believe the official numbers are misleading and far underestimate the actual scale of displacement. We decided to conduct our own survey to try to get at the truth.

Some brief background information

Planned route for Hamilton LRT. October 2018. Image source: City of Hamilton.

In order to build the LRT, Metrolinx planned to purchase nearly 400 properties along the route from McMaster University to Eastgate Square, including portions of Main Street West, King Street West, King Street East, Main Street East and Queenston Road. This includes approximately 300 ‘partial property’ purchases and 90 ‘full property’ purchases. Partial property purchases are typically “a few metres or less” shaved off the front of the property in order to widen the road. Full property purchases are located near LRT stops in order to accommodate station platforms and vehicle turning lanes. Full property purchases result in the displacement of current occupants and demolition of buildings. The majority of ‘full properties’ planned for purchase and demolition are located in Ward 3 – by our count, 79% of all properties.

In May 2015, Kathleen Wynne’s provincial Liberals gave the project the green light and committed $1 billion in funding. In April 2017, Hamilton city council approved the updated Hamilton LRT Environmental Project Report, which details the route, location of station stops, and list of properties required for acquisition. Metrolinx’s Property Acquisition Unit began buying properties in May 2017. As of May 2018, they had bought 22 properties. In June 2018, following Doug Ford’s election and funding freeze, the LRT project was in jeopardy and property purchases were paused. The Ford government later committed to build the LRT in the April 2019 provincial budget and in May 2019 property acquisition resumed. As of December 4, 2019, Metrolinx had spent approximately $80 million on property acquisition and purchased 60 full properties – two thirds of the 90 properties required. Demolitions were originally scheduled to begin in the summer and fall of 2019, but then postponed until spring 2020. On December 16, 2019, Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney announced the LRT project was cancelled. Plans for demolition and any future property acquisition stopped.

In their most recent report to Hamilton city council (December 4, 2019), City staff provide the following numbers:

  • Of the 90 ‘full property purchases’ on the Metrolinx demolition list, 60 are residential properties and only 30 are occupied by residential tenants.
  • Of the 60 properties purchased to date, 15 are residential properties.
  • The 15 residential properties purchased to date contain 55 residential units.
  • Of the 55 residential units, 40 units were occupied and 15 units were vacant at the time of purchase by Metrolinx.
  • Through these purchases, Metrolinx encountered 66 individual tenants “requiring support” and 43 of these 66 individuals have been “successfully accommodated” (displaced) to date.
  • Had LRT gone ahead, staff reported that an additional 15 residential properties would be purchased. Staff predicted: “The total number of people [individual tenants] requiring support through our project will probably be in the 100-range…We’re at 66 now.”

We suspect these numbers are misleading and far underestimate the true scale of displacement. For example, one of the first buildings purchased by Metrolinx, a mid-rise apartment building at King Street East and Holton Avenue South, contains 27 rental units alone.

832 King Street East, at the corner of King Street East and Holton Avenue South, once home to an estimated 27 tenant households, is now vacant and boarded up. December 2019. Image source: King Street Tenants United.

SURVEY METHODS AND DATA

We have conducted our own survey and arrived at different results. We worked from the demolition list provided in the Hamilton LRT Environmental Project Report, but supplemented this by walking the length of the route, photographing each affected property, carefully counting mailboxes and hydro metres, and talking with residents and business owners.

  • The most recent demolition list made publicly available by the City of Hamilton and Metrolinx can be found in the 2017 Hamilton LRT Environmental Project Report, accessible here [PDF]. We call on Metrolinx to publish an up-to-date list of all properties acquired for the LRT project, with a full accounting of the number of residential and commercial units at each property.
  • Our full dataset and calculations are accessible here [Google Sheet]. Tab 1 shows the data. Tab 2 shows the analysis.
  • Each property included in our survey is listed here [blog post] with a picture and accompanying description.

While our estimates exceed the counts reported by Metrolinx staff, we nevertheless underestimate the true numbers. We know that Metrolinx has altered construction plans in sections of the route and added buildings to their demolition list. (The original demolition list published in 2017 included 56 properties, but as of 2019 Metrolinx said they would need to demolish 90 properties.) Furthermore, our survey focuses on those facing direct displacement for the LRT. We also realize that many more people (hundreds, if not thousands) have been indirectly displaced in neighbourhoods near the LRT as landlords, investors, and homebuyers cash in on increasing property values and rents due to LRT-driven gentrification. Metrolinx evictions are the tip of the iceberg.

SURVEY RESULTS

Figure 1: Total Estimated Number of Property Acquisitions by Metrolinx for Hamilton LRT

Figure 2: Map of All Properties Planned for Purchase & Demolition vs. Map of Properties Purchased Before LRT Cancellation

Figure 3: All Properties Planned for Purchase & Demolition vs. Properties Purchased Before LRT Cancellation, by Ward

The majority of impacted properties is located in Ward 3: Hamilton Centre (Councillor Nrinder Nann). This is the section of King Street between Wellington Street North and Ottawa Street North. We estimate a total of 69 properties were planned for purchase in Ward 3. We estimate 43 properties were purchased in Ward 3 before LRT cancellation.

Figure 4: All Properties Planned for Purchase & Demolition vs. Properties Purchased Before LRT Cancellation, by Property Type

We estimate Metrolinx purchased 19 out of the 34 commercial properties they planned to purchase before LRT was cancelled. We estimate Metrolinx purchased 37 out of the 53 residential or mixed-use properties they planned to purchase before LRT was cancelled.

Figure 5: All Units Planned for Purchase & Demolition vs. Units Purchased Before LRT Cancellation, by Unit Type

By our count, Metrolinx planned to purchase 72 commercial units and 180 residential units. Assuming these units were occupied, this suggests that 72 businesses and 180 households (including owners and tenants) were facing displacement for LRT. We estimate Metrolinx purchased 45 commercial units and 113 residential units before LRT cancellation.

Figure 6: All Residential Units Planned for Purchase & Demolition vs. Residential Units Purchased Before LRT Cancellation, by Tenure (Owner or Renter)

We estimate the 180 residential units on Metrolinx’s acquisition list included 12 owned homes and 168 rented homes. Assuming these units were occupied, this suggest 12 homeowner households and 168 tenant households were facing displacement for the LRT. We estimate Metrolinx purchased 113 residential units before LRT cancellation, including 11 owned homes and 102 rental homes.

Figure 7: Estimated Number of Tenant Households, Homeowner Households, and Businesses Displaced by Metrolinx Before LRT Cancellation

Figure 8: Estimated Monthly Rent Increase Faced by Tenant Household Displaced from Apartment by Metrolinx, by Length of Tenancy

Data sources for Figure 8 are as follows: Average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Hamilton was $1,537/month as of December 2019 (Rentals.ca National Rent Report); $1,158/month as of 2018 (Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation Hamilton Census Metropolitan Area 2018 Rental Market Report); $959/month as of 2014 (CMHC Hamilton CMA 2014 Rental Market Report); and $831/month as of 2009 (CMHC Hamilton CMA 2009 Rental Market Report). Please note: Rent increase calculations are approximate and do not take into account the annual increases landlords are permitted to impose upon tenants, in accordance with the guideline set by the Province (typically 1-3%).

Tenants pushed out of their homes by Metrolinx likely have to pay hundreds of dollars more per month in rent at their new apartments, compared to what they paid when living on King Street. For lower-income tenants, especially tenants on fixed incomes through their pensions or social assistance, rent increases of this magnitude are difficult, if not impossible, to afford.

METROLINX vs. King Street Tenants United: HOW DO THE NUMBERS COMPARE?

Number of residential properties planned for acquisition
Metrolinx claims that, had LRT gone ahead, a total of 60 residential properties would need to be acquired. Our number in this case is lower: We counted 53 residential properties slated for purchase and demolition.

Number of residential properties purchased for LRT
Metrolinx claims only 15 residential properties have been purchased to date. Our survey counted 37.

Number of residential units planned for acquisition
Metrolinx has not provided the public with an estimate of the number of residential units affected by LRT property acquisitions. We estimate a total of 180 residential units would have been affected, including 12 owned homes and 168 rented homes.

Number of residential units purchased for LRT
Metrolinx reports that 55 residential units have been purchased to date. We estimate 113 residential units have been purchased to date, including 11 owned homes and 102 rented homes.

Total number of tenants who were facing displacement for LRT
Metrolinx reports that the number of individual tenants facing displacement for LRT “will probably be in the 100-range” (Kris Jacobson to Hamilton City Council General Issues Committee, December 4, 2019). We estimate 168 tenant households were facing displacement, but cannot know how many individuals this number translates into. This assumes that all apartments were occupied by tenants when purchased by Metrolinx.

Number of tenant households displaced already
Metrolinx reports that 43 individual tenants have been “successfully accommodated” (displaced) to date and 23 individual tenants remain living on King Street with Metrolinx as their landlord. By our count, 87 Metrolinx-owned rental units are currently sitting vacant, suggesting 87 tenant households have been displaced. We cannot know how many individuals this number translates into. But even if we assume one person per household, this suggests less than half of all tenants displaced were supported by Metrolinx in securing new housing. Many tenants displaced for LRT likely received nothing from Metrolinx.

Metrolinx reports that of the 55 residential units they purchased, 40 units were occupied and 15 units were vacant at the time of purchase. Given that Hamilton has an apartment vacancy rate of 3.1% (CMHC 2018 Hamilton CMA Rental Market Report), it’s hard to believe that 27.3% of apartments purchased by Metrolinx had been sitting vacant for a long time prior to purchase. We know that many landlords sent letters to their tenants, telling tenants they needed to leave as Metrolinx would shortly be buying the building. These letters were not legal, but many tenants got scared upon reading and left. Some landlords, knowing that Metrolinx would shortly be buying the buildings, began slacking on maintenance and refused to put money into the buildings. This made living conditions unbearable for tenants and some became so frustrated they left before Metrolinx took over. In this way, individual landlords undertook the dirty work of pushing tenants out in order to deliver a vacant building to Metrolinx, letting Metrolinx off the hook to compensate and rehouse people. Vacant possession is often stipulated in agreements of purchase and sale for real estate transactions, or communicated informally (“I’ll give you $20,000 extra for the building if you hand it over empty”).


CONCLUSION

Metrolinx and City of Hamilton staff appear to have misrepresented and de-emphasized the scale of tenant displacement for LRT, downplaying the significant financial and emotional hardship endured by many who have been uprooted from their homes and communities for a train that was never built. Numbers matter because they help us build our case for properties to be preserved as affordable housing and for every single household displaced from King Street for the LRT (before or after Metrolinx became formally involved) be allowed to return to their homes. We call on Metrolinx to publish an up-to-date list of all properties acquired for the LRT project, with a full accounting of the number of residential and commercial units at each property.


If you are a current or former resident or business owner of one of these properties, please contact us at kingstreettenantsunited@riseup.net. We welcome your input and any information you’d like to add.

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