Anna* and her girlfriend were having a tough time finding an affordable apartment in Hamilton. They decided to move into a vacant Metrolinx apartment on King Street, staying there for several months, rent-free.
*Names have been changed upon request.
Could you describe your time living on King Street?
Sure, so I lived on King Street in an apartment. The apartment was purchased from the original landlord by Metrolinx. The apartment was empty. The original tenants had left, due to some shady stuff with Metrolinx and being pushed out. So I moved in. I set up the utilities accounts and paid that, but I didn’t have to pay rent. Immediately when I moved in I changed the locks, just in case. I moved in but I kept the outside appearing like it was abandoned. I meticulously maintained that. The outside was dirty, grungy, the same way I came into it. That helped with keeping it subtle. I kept to myself. The place didn’t have a lot of windows. The windows were covered. I kept that up. There were some leaks from the ceiling. I had to get a dehumidifier and that actually solved a lot of the problems. There was a little bit of mold in the place, but I kept on it. I kept it clean. Over the course of my tenancy there, if you want to call it that, we had a few run ins within DMS/Metrolinx. Most of them were just posturing. We called on some friends to support us whenever we had to deal with Metrolinx. Eventually, my partner and I decided to move somewhere a little bit safer, that met both of our needs. So we gave the apartment to someone else. But it served us really well during that time. And it was just sitting there, empty, perfectly habitable. I think everybody is deserving of housing. It should be a fricking right. When you think of all of the people Metrolinx forced out, it’s terrible. Shame on Metrolinx. Now those people are paying high rents, crowding in with roommates, or maybe on the street. All because of Metrolinx.
What would I say to people who need a place to stay and are curious about doing the same thing? If you can get into a place and you can make it yours, it’s much better than staying on the street. Find somewhere you can feel safe. Definitely do a bit of research if you can. Talk to people you know who you trust. See if you can get some sort of information. New locks are super important and definitely go a long way to making sure you feel safe. Taking over the utilities if you can. Doing what you can to get your name on the mailing address. Keep on top of the mailbox. Definitely make sure you have some sort of friend group in case of a problem. If you do end up running into trouble or you need to leave the place for a bit to wear off the heat, having some friends with a couch to crash on or going back to that tent or something just as a temporary backup is beneficial.
What has been your impression of Metrolinx and City of Hamilton planners and politicians through the LRT planning and evictions process?
Well the LRT idea was always a noble one. Sure, you put in transit. It will be for the people. Quick, easy, cheap transit for everyone. You can get to work, whatever. That’s what the government always says. But when you actually look at it, you start to see problems. We’ve going to buy up 60 odd houses downtown along the corridor, that were rent-controlled housing, evict the people out of that, and then several years later put in this LRT line. Rip up the entire infrastructure. Change all of these things. Push everybody out. You end up hurting a lot more people than you intended to help, just like with Jackson Square in the ’70s.
The main people pushing for the LRT are the government officials, Fred Eisenberger and the Ford government or whoever. But who benefits? It’s actually the landlord companies, the managing companies, the real estate investors, all of that shenanigans. All of them are the people who are really involved, who really make all the money.
I can see the city in real time being squeezed like blood from a stone. Yeah it’s really sad. It happens a little bit everywhere as the city invests more money into building it up, and then companies with dollar signs in their eyes see money to be made and slowly buy up everything and then next thing you know, rent that was once $500 or less for a basement apartment is now $1,200. Definitely uncomfortable.
What advice would you give to tenants in Hamilton, who are facing eviction by Metrolinx or at the hands of any other landlord?
That’s tough, especially during the pandemic. But I would highly, highly recommend being part of some sort of group. I myself have been to King Street Tenants United meetings and talked with people, with other people from the neighbourhood and people there to support. Become a part of it. Learn about it. Going to meetings or demos or talks is good. I sometimes wish I had gone to more, but I only have so many spoons. If you have the time to do so, it’s definitely helpful. You find out you are not alone. You learn a lot of things. I didn’t realize I had half so many of the ability or the laws on my side at least sometimes that I did. I just didn’t know these things. It’s helpful to talk to people who do. The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic can also help.
And to the people who have already been pushed out by Metrolinx: If you can, if you have the ability, get mad. This is bullshit, right. You had a home. Everything was good, hopefully good, you were planning on living there for a long time, and then next thing you know, you’re evicted for this LRT. You should get some sort of reparations for it. You’re good people. Stand up and fight.