Tenant Testimonial: Sharon (Part 2)

Sharon, her husband Bill, and her three cats – Speedy, Monkey, and Baby – live in a triplex house on King Street near East Bend Avenue. She has lived here for more than 20 years and pays $550 in rent. Along with many other King Street tenants, Sharon is facing eviction from her home by Metrolinx and the City of Hamilton for the Hamilton Light Rail Transit project.

What do you like about living downtown, living in this neighbourhood?

Well, I have a bus stop right out front. If I walk half a block up to Main Street there’s a bus stop there, right at the top of the street. I am close to shopping. Even if I am buying stuff like cat food which is heavy, bulky, it’s under ten dollars for a cab to most of my shopping. So yeah, I don’t want to move. The neighbours are nice. Yeah it’s a good place to live.

What did Metrolinx offer you to leave your home?

They offered me assistance in finding another place. They said that they would pay the difference between the rent I pay now and the rent I would pay there, for one year. Which was absolutely ridiculous because even then after a year, it’s on me. They didn’t seem to get that. I think they should pay for it permanently. It’s not my fault that the housing crisis has gone through the roof, that rents have gone through the roof. Even my phoning around to places that I thought might be in my price range, the cheapest one was $1,200. That is almost my whole cheque! Like, am I not allowed to eat? And a lot of my medications and my husband’s medications are not covered, they are over the counter. I couldn’t afford it.

What has it been like having Metrolinx as a landlord?

Metrolinx bought my place in June 2018. I told the guy when he first came about my oven not working, my dryer not working, about the cockroaches. He said, oh I don’t deal with that side of things. Well, who does?! Then in January the furnace broke. In the middle of winter, we were without heat for eight days. I kept calling but no one would come to fix it. Then we got bed bugs. I called about the spray, went to the office, submitted work orders. This went on for months, with no response, no action. I was getting eaten alive, my husband too, our cats were anemic. I feel like they did this on purpose, to try to force us out. But we had no where to go. Eventually we contacted the top guy at Metrolinx, the CEO. Then we got a response right away. I asked for some months’ free rent so I could use the money to get a new mattress, couch, sheets, clothes. I got a few sprays. I got rid of the bugs. I got what I wanted. But doing all of that shouldn’t be necessary, chasing these people around.

The other thing, after the LRT was cancelled [in December 2019] the Metrolinx and DMS [property manager] people disappeared. There was no one to get any information from, no one to do repairs. The DMS office closed at the beginning of COVID. When I called the number Metrolinx gave me, the DMS girl said “DMS doesn’t do any repairs for Metrolinx tenants; we only collect rent.” That’s crazy! She gave me a 416 number to call for the Toronto DMS office. I called, left a message, never heard back. So we were totally on our own, abandoned. What if something bad had happened? What if my furnace broke again?

And then of course we have to deal with the bullying from Metrolinx. At the beginning, I had that guy David Derbyshire [Metrolinx “tenant support specialist”] bothering me all of the time, phone calls, knocking on my door. I don’t deal with him anymore, I couldn’t take it. He’s not allowed to come here. He is so rude, what a nasty man. I went to high school with him, you know. I can’t believe he would take a job like this. You couldn’t pay me enough. Imagine, getting paid to kick people out of their homes! Maybe that’s not what he would call it, but that’s obviously what it is. The Housing Help Centre people are useless too. I told them, I have PTSD from before, from a tragedy, I can’t live in a high-rise. And they wanted to put me in First Place, on the nineteenth floor or something. They don’t care, they don’t listen. With the LRT back on [in summer 2021] I’m getting phone calls and letters again. The Metrolinx girl called me to warn me I’d be getting a letter but “Don’t worry! No pressure!” [Laughs] Yeah, we want you out of your home, you’ll be homeless, but no pressure! These people are ignorant.

How did you get connected to King Street Tenants United?

I saw a poster for the first meeting so I went. It was at the union hall. I told my neighbours, and they came too. I wish more of the people that were still here at the time, I wish they had come out to meetings. I wish some of the ones that we know were put out, some with no money, one guy with $250 – like what did that give him? Moving money? But I think going through what I’ve gone through with the bullying, the intimidation, having services withheld, I think some people are too scared to speak up. Or fear losing whatever deal Metrolinx gave them.

I have to say, I used to be a member of ACORN, but they are useless. Paying fifteen bucks a month when you’re on Old Age isn’t nothing. And then when I needed help, they were nowhere to be found. They wouldn’t return my calls. I’ve heard that from other people too. And then I learned ACORN supports the LRT! And they got their members to campaign for Nrinder Nann, who voted for the LRT and is the biggest LRT champion! So I’ve distanced myself from them, I took my fifteen dollars a month out, because they certainly weren’t going to help me at all. They misrepresented themselves. I’m very disappointed in them. They just want money. I wouldn’t support them for anything.

Sharon celebrating with her friends on the day Doug Ford cancelled the LRT (December 2019).

What has been your impression of Metrolinx and City of Hamilton planners and politicians through the LRT planning and evictions process?

A lot of us were blindsided. We had no idea when they started talking LRT, which is actually fifteen years ago, that any houses would have to be taken out. I think they should have bought some buildings and had the people pay what they were paying all along, which obviously is what they could afford. I mean you’ve bought so many, why couldn’t you have bought one more and put the people there?

I do think most of the problem stemmed from Mayor Eisenberger and city council. Not just him but he exacerbated the whole thing. This has been an ongoing controversial subject for fifteen years. That not one single city council or mayor had a housing plan in place. They knew we would be displaced. They’ve known all along. And didn’t care. I remember a city that cared. It’s certainly not like that now.

Nrinder Nann [Ward 3 Councillor] has cut herself off from everybody. I used to phone her with my concerns. “I’ll put you on the call list.” I’m so sick of hearing that I finally gave up. She said she would meet with me but then her assistant cancelled the meeting at the last minute. Because obviously she doesn’t want to talk to her constituents, she doesn’t want to know what the problems are. She never walked down King Street, she never once knocked on my door. I remember Bernie Morrelli, he would knock on doors. I had his number, I could call him day or night. He actually knew the people in his ward. Not Nrinder Nann. She says she wants to build affordable housing, she wants to help homeless people. She does realize all of us LRT victims, we’re all getting evicted under her watch?! Most of these Metrolinx evictions, these demolitions are in her ward. But she doesn’t care. She only cares about the homeowners, the people moving from Toronto. Rich people. She’s a hypocrite. She talks out both sides of her mouth. She just wants to collect her pay cheque and be done with it. It’s a job. It’s a seat. She’s collecting a pay cheque.

You know another thing that bothers me. Why did Metrolinx paint the boarded up buildings? It’s a joke! Like what is it? Carnival town? It’s stupid. They’re boarded. Painting them these obnoxious colours is not making it any better. That was somebody’s home, and they were forced out. They should be painted black if anything. Really, the death of a community.

Have you noticed the neighbourhood changing since the LRT was announced?

Some landlords in the neighbourhood when they heard the LRT was going to happen, threw tenants out, revamped their apartments, and doubled the rent. That’s sleazy landlords that get away with it because governments allow them to. The government changed the rules to allow landlords to increase the rent however much they like between tenancies – sometimes 50% or 100%! Plus there will be condos. Whatever Metrolinx didn’t need for the train was going to be sold to developers and we all know that they would be building condos. We have too many condos now with empty units because nobody can afford them, unless they are from Toronto.

What advice would you give to tenants in Hamilton, who are facing eviction by Metrolinx or at the hands of any other landlord?

Anybody that has been having a hard time with getting the basic things done in their apartments, or having their landlords put their rents up, we’ve got to come together. We’ve got to stand together to get anything done. To put caps on housing, like the rents are ridiculous. A one bedroom for $1,200? Please people. That’s so exorbitant, that’s like a usury tax. They are nothing but loansharks. We’ll loan you our apartment but you gotta pay this. Everybody has got to stand together because people at city hall think they can just crush us, we’re not a big deal. And landlords that do not do repairs in a timely manner should be fined, I mean big time. I don’t mean panny aunty $500. I mean $20,000 or $30,000. Hit them where it hurts the most and that’s their pockets.

If you were evicted by Metrolinx, you need to come forward. We can still fight. I’m sure that some of the people that were already displaced are in places that they would not have gone to if they had had a choice. Some are probably struggling with the fact that they are paying market rent. They need to come forward. It’s only me. There are many advocates out there that are willing to fight for them. But we need to know who they are and what their circumstances are since Metrolinx displaced them.

Sharon speaking at a King Street Tenants United press conference (January 2020).

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