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Planning Hamilton for who? LRT and the Rental Housing Crisis: Part Three

By Shawn Selway for King Street Tenants United

Because we are not reproducing at the replacement rate, and because the Canadian state participates in American wars for control of strategic resources that produce great disruption and loss of life, we need to bring in voluntary immigrants and refugees. And they would benefit themselves as well as us by coming in because many would have greater physical security, and may be able to send some earnings home. They will not do as well as rapidly as those who came before, but that is of no matter to those who determine Canadian immigration policy. They are holding the gate open because they want the children of those immigrants. 

The City of Hamilton’s population growth is approximately 1% per year. In 2016-2017, almost two-thirds of that was attributable to immigrants, who numbered about 3700. Source:  “A Demographic Profile of Immigrants in Hamilton”, Hamilton Immigration Partnership Council, March, 2019.

The chart above is from a statistical compilation which tells us, among many other interesting things about the languages and ethnic origins of incoming Canadians, that:

Among recent immigrants living in Hamilton in 2016, 35.2% had a university certificate, diploma or degree at the bachelor level or above. Recent immigrants had significantly lower earnings than both immigrants and non-immigrants across all educational levels, and their low-income rate (43.0%) was almost three times higher than the population overall (15.3%).

We need to settle these people here, but where are they to live when they first arrive?

We need also to retain some portion of the students who graduate every year from McMaster and Mohawk. 

The McMaster undergraduate student body is about twenty-seven thousand strong these days. Alongside them are about 5,000 graduate students in masters and doctoral programmes.  Each year the university confers seven thousand degrees, five thousand of which are Bachelors of Arts, Sciences or Engineering.  We would like to settle some of these individuals here, but again, where are they to live? Where is the affordable rental housing for young people just beginning their careers and earning comparatively little, whatever their potential may be? 

Finally, there are the members of that “flourishing local arts community” whose existence McMaster flacks feel important to mention on the university’s brochure page. These individuals have been coming from other parts of Ontario, chiefly Toronto, but also from abroad.

Artists and musicians are the voluntary portion of low income earners, if I can put it that way. These are people who are often highly educated and therefore economically mobile if they wish, but who feel, rightly or wrongly, a vocation and are prepared to act on that conviction. They are not excluded, they choose a special form of participation: life in the art world, which is either a decadent playground for permanent adolescents or an anticipation of a utopia of non-alienating work, depending on who’s judging. For some, artists are the “footsoldiers of gentrification”, scorned for their pretensions, their aloof abstraction from the bread and butter concerns of the rest of us, and their apparent acquiescence in the condo-ism of the city’s EcDev crew and the marketing slogans of the developers.  In conversation many artists are well aware of their ambiguous position in the local economy, and of their mostly unsought role in the “urbanist” spectacle of real estate promotion. As a group they are as divided as the rest of the city. 

Advertisement for off-King new build.

How much the arts amenity actually influences locational choice is not very clear. It certainly gets lots of lip service, but is this anything more than publicists both private and public recycling each other’s boiler plate? The other week a real live entrepreneur and business owner was invoking the familiar city-building rubrics – at least, according to publicists KGA, who had him saying in a press release that:

“Hamilton offers all the right elements for our employees. It’s affordable, has fantastic restaurants, vibrant nightlife, a great arts scene, and offers active green space nearby. It’s also within close proximity to our headquarters in Toronto, providing easy knowledge-sharing across both offices.”

The speaker was Darrel Heaps, founder and CEO of Q4, on the occasion of the announcement that his firm had leased premises at 59 King East (a Core Urban holding) and would be engaging up to 140 bright young things to frolic in the wellness room, the games room, and the outdoor patio, as well as to savour the cuisine on King William and vicinity – much of which is also owned by Core Urban.

The real draw for Q4 and similar outfits is the chance to retain employees longer while paying them less, because as city staffer Judy Lam told the Spec, “For the first time, some of their employees will be able to start a family and afford a house or condo to live in.” (Hamilton Spectator, 21 January 2020.)

Whatever the importance of the “art scene” may be, city councillors certainly do not act as if they believe any of the publicity about arts-related “vibrancy” helping to induce investment. True, there is language in the new downtown secondary plan to the effect that proposed residential development close to an existing live music venue must be built with noise attenuating measures (so the new residents don’t start campaigning against the venue) but the destroyer of Toronto’s live music scene is not neighbour complaint but rocketing land values.  There is no talk at city hall of any provision to make a special tax class as Toronto was able to arrange with the province when it seemed that 401 Richmond, a commercial rental building occupied mostly by arts organizations, was headed for forced shutdown. The problem was that assessment based on “highest and best use” of the land, e.g. a condo tower, was yielding a tax bill in excess of the tenants’ means.  The solution was the establishment of a new property tax class for Creative Co-Location Facilities, with the rate set by the city, and the drafting of a set of criteria for inclusion in the new class. 

Again, as with the other lower income groups discussed above, housing affordability is the chief difficulty facing artists and musicians in Hamilton. It doesn’t much matter if venues survive and studio space is attainable, if you can’t find a place to live anyway.

No Big Money coming in? Little Money providing shelter, food, drinks, “eternal beauty and well-being”, and coffee on King. There’s also a corner variety store.

Almost every large city is a global city now, inhabited by people with nested identities. And many of the inhabitants of cities in the hinterland of a metropolis are undergoing the same impoverishment by a rentier class who own more and more and produce, well, nothing really. It is suicidal to allow still more land to pass into the possession of this vampiric class, unless you are a revolutionary or an authoritarian reactionary, in which case everything is developing just fine.

Rise of the residential REITS. Source: Martine August, “Canada’s Rental Housing Goldmine: The financialization of multi-family rental apartments”, 2017.

For an account of the growth of one of these outfits from rooming house owner to billion dollar operation, see last year’s article from the Hamilton Tenants Solidarity Network. The trusts, whose business model is essentially to bleed lower and middle income earners and send some of the money on to their middle and higher income shareholders, are now being joined in the Canadian market by giant private equity firms. (Tim Kiladze, “The rental rush”, Globe and Mail, November 30, 2019.)

In a 2015 article for the “The Journal of Urban Affairs” Gillad Rosen and Alan Walks draw the outline of the current mechanism of “city building”, in which financialization has replaced industrialization as the driver of capital flows, and explore what this has produced in Toronto. 

Third-wave urbanization has likewise involved a spatial shift from suburbanization and urban dispersion toward concentration, gentrification, and intensification, which bring with them profound changes in urban social life. We argue that in cities like Toronto such shifts are tightly intertwined with the rise of what we term condo-ism. The latter refers to a particular mode of development rooted in a nexus of, on the one hand the economic interests of the private sector development industry and the state, and on the other new urbane yet privatized residential preferences, lifestyles, and consumption interests among consumers. This has resulted in a new structured coherence of political and economic interests. . . dependent upon continued intensification and real estate development in the city, with mortgage credit displacing industrial expansion as the primary driver of the urban growth machine. In the context of financialization and globalization, condo-ism has thus usurped the role of industrialization in urban development. Toronto is an exemplar of this process. (Rosen and Walks, “Castles in Toronto’s Sky”)

Renters have the most difficulties under this regime, and not only lower income renters but those of middle income as well, as is evident from the fact that both have been coming here for some years seeking relief.  This would seem to imply the possibility of a broader coalition directed at a non-market solution, but somehow this seems not to occur to the struggling children of the lower middle classes – probably because they are so alarmed by the unexpected prospect of downward mobility that all their efforts are aimed at grabbing a rung on the home-ownership ladder. The odds against them are lengthening.

Hamilton, November 2019, first snow. With permission.

I’ll give the second last word to City of Hamilton planning staff, who after all are the experts in these matters.

The Downtown Secondary Plan contains this stirring affirmation:

6.1.3.7 Diversity of Housing Housing is fundamental to the economic, social, and physical well-being of Downtown’s residents and neighbourhoods. Housing is a basic human need and is the central place from which people build their lives, nurture their families and themselves, and engage in their communities. Downtown’s livability and prosperity is connected to the provision of housing that meets the requirements of a diverse population with varying housing needs. Downtown offers various built form housing options, including grade-related, mid-rise, and tall buildings with a variety of ownership and tenancy. Providing housing to a wide range of residents that is affordable, secure, of an appropriate size, and located to meet the needs of people throughout their life is the goal of an inclusive Downtown and essential to the creation of complete communities.

Fine words. Surely this is intended as a manifesto,  a statement of principle which ought to be endorsed, but in fact is silently rejected, by city council, the chamber of commerce, the developers and their architects and lawyers, the leadership of the construction trades, LIUNA, the health care principalities, and the strategists of all three major political parties.

In fact, almost nobody but tenants in rental housing and the homeless in their camps actually feels the need for their right to housing to be met – affordable, secure, adequately sized and located housing, that is. Everybody else thinks it is somebody else’s responsibility. Or no-one’s. 

Meanwhile those buildings all along King Street East are sitting there, intact and empty, and the next logical step is obvious to all. Whether anyone will take it remains to be seen.

This article is the third in a three part series. Read Part One (“Time to Turn”) here and Part Two (“Urban Renewal Then and Now”) here.

Urban Renewal Then and Now: LRT and the Rental Housing Crisis: Part Two

By Shawn Selway for King Street Tenants United

York Street after widening. Source: Hamilton Spectator, November 1976, Hamilton Public Library Special Collections

Margaret Rockwell’s 2004 M.A. thesis, “Modernist Destruction for the Ambitious City”, recounts the hopes and disappointments of the urban renewal episode in Hamilton.

As early as 1957, the Hamilton Downtown Association recognized the potential which federal urban renewal dollars could offer a city wanting drastic change. Hamilton’s businessmen began to lobby for an urban renewal study to be carried out as required under the National Housing Act. They believed that the money Hamilton spent on urban renewal would be regained through increased tax revenues due to the modern buildings’ higher assessments and the fact that the services for development were already in place. They were convinced that they could fight the allure of the malls of suburbia by bringing pedestrian shopping centres into the urban inner core. (Rockwell, 104)

Over the next decade, this appetite for drastic change led to the destruction of houses in the North End and elsewhere, a vast downtown demolition and reconstruction programme that crashed twice, put half of the long established concerns out of business and left large empty lots for years. (Rockwell, 110). It also entailed the total reconstruction of York Street.

The reason that the city needed to destroy the street, the planner Murray V. Jones told the Ontario Municipal Board at its hearings in April 1974, was “to meet traffic demands of the future.” He told the board that he had originally chosen to widen York St. back in 1964 because “of its historic and functional role as an exit and entry to and from the city.’ The street was going to have to succumb because the modernist need to create efficient transportation corridors was considered more important than the citizens who lived along the streets. The Barton Street freeway which had seemed so essential in 1964 was cancelled in 1970 because of the cut backs in federal urban renewal funds and the realization that the city couldn’t destroy hundreds of homes. The perimeter road along Strachan Avenue in the North End [100 houses removed ] was still expected to be built and would be linked to the York street freeway. [This road stayed on the books until 2012; even then, the Chamber of Commerce objected to its removal from the area’s plan.]

The opposing voices had their say during the eight days of OMB hearings in April 1974. . . An NDP brief suggested that the city wanted to build the expressway “to woo commercial development to the civic square” and didn’t want low income people living along the route to their prestigious development. . . However the city’s decision to make York St. into an essential western link in the cross-town street system prevailed. The Ontario cabinet upheld the OMB decision and the Spectator wrote that it was too late for the city to turn back. . .  

The city expected to destroy 249 properties and relocate approximately 500 families. Some people refused to move. Harry Mitsui who operated an upholstery business and lived above his store had to be physically removed by police. They handcuffed him and carried him out of his house in red boxer shorts with a blanket over his head to the police cruiser. His house was destroyed in 1976. “I went to jail for five days on a matter of principle,” remembered Mitsui, “because I was fighting to stay in a home I lived and worked in for 28 years.”  (Rockwell, 131)

The urban renewal campaigns, particularly in the downtown, have left the city centre looking very bare today, especially when one considers how old Hamilton is and how prosperous it was for so many decades. The central city should be a dense, varied and layered landscape – and indeed it was; but much of the core was simply bulldozed during the sixties and seventies.

Ten years after the widening of York Street, there were new buildings in the corridor. Forty-five years later there are a few more, but nothing at all comparable to the historical density of the mid-twentieth century has appeared and the “pedestrian realm” remains very underpopulated. The obvious comparison is with James North, which in 1975 very much resembled York Street before its destruction.  Because James was “left behind” its commercial life continued to evolve and the ebb and flow of investment was on a much smaller scale. Particularly in the last ten years, those flows and the turnovers that result have become more rapid. But they occur one or two buildings at a time, that is, in small increments within a more stable context, without the wholesale destruction wrought by grand plans imposed by experts enacting the ideology of the day. This does not mean that the outcome of incremental change is necessarily the most desirable. Personally I find James North’s steady conversion to restaurant row regrettable, but perhaps the new condo dwellers on the street would not agree. 

The churn on James North. Two new restaurants coming soon. February 2020.

However, council’s love for the Big Fix is a deep and lasting love, as shown most recently by projects like the stadium build, the LRT, and the current proposal to re-raze the core that was already flattened and trucked away fifty years ago – probably because the bigger the project the better the chance of pulling in provincial or federal money to supplement city resources insufficient to do the job. Insufficient also to heal the wounds when the outside funding is withdrawn.

But at least this time the momentum has been interrupted before the demolitions have occurred, so that Metrolinx has been left with a large stock of buildings, and under-developed or vacant lots. However,  the structures are now boarded up and undergoing demolition by dereliction in the time-honoured Hamilton way, which usually leads in short order to a vacant lot that remains so for a very long time. We have seen this at Queen and King, on James and Jackson where the site of the former Baptist church looks like the building was felled by a missile, and others. Some of these desolated areas are quite large – the greater part of the downtown block bounded by James, King, Main and Hughson for example; or the Barton Tiffany precinct which got the bulldozer treatment in the fall of 2011. Thirteen houses were removed from Barton and Tiffany streets, and the premises of seven businesses including relatively new buildings housing a gas station/variety store and an auto-repair shop. An older industrial building in the centre of the Caroline-Hess block was also taken down. Last to be demolished was a large structure with two huge interior volumes which might well be functioning today as a film studio were councillors less dedicated to making rubble and more willing to entertain adaptive reuse. Eight years on, this area is an unofficial construction waste dump. Meanwhile the Tivoli and 18-28 King at the Gore, ostensibly rescued from the wreckers, continue to sit empty, unused and unmaintained while the owners wait for their competitors to increase the land values.

Those small apartment buildings along King and Main are fine examples of the Missing Middle, the term which has become a catch-all for many types of “ground-oriented housing”: row houses, townhouses, apartments in buildings under five storeys, apartments in duplexes, and residential units above commercial. Demolition of these buildings would be doubly wasteful and harmful because it reduces still further the amount of rental housing available outside the high-rises, and those larger multi-residential buildings are now mostly in the hands of REITs dedicated to more or less ruthless programs of repositioning their assets in the market.

Middle range “ground oriented” housing on King.
Mid-range on Wilson in East Central Hamilton.

The Missing Middle has been much discussed over the last couple of years and is the new darling of intensification proponents. It is “gentle density”, so called to distinguish it from tall buildings which can land pretty hard if not subject to strict built-form guidelines that enforce minimum separation and maximum heights, as well as a unit mix ratio that avoids the endless proliferation of monocultural barracks for singles and their canine companions.

And in fact, the city is signalling a preference for the gentle end of the scale with the transit oriented development zoning that has been placed in the LRT corridor.

The transit-oriented development zoning in the eastern LRT corridor.

However, the six-storey (22 metres) height is just as likely to stimulate  negotiations for more permissions than to prompt anyone to proceed “direct to site-plan”, as the phrase is – a point which Vrancor has just illustrated very clearly by asking for 25 storeys on a six storey site at Queen and King already under construction. (“Anger over proposed growth of two core projects”, Spectator, January 27, 2020).

Parking for a six storey building, Vrancor style. Southwest corner King and Queen, February 2020.

A couple of detailed Canadian studies on the desirability of the Missing Middle came out last year, one from Ryerson and another from Evergreen and the Canadian Urban Institute

However, when you read through the Missing Middle reports, it becomes clear that the Evergreen study was prompted partly by the distress of those who find themselves unable to qualify for a mortgage as they enter the family planning years; and partly by an imperative to unlock land value in so-called stable areas zoned for detached and semi-detached dwellings, whose protections threaten to impede the growth machine. The Ryerson study, which focuses on Mississauga, points to that problem, but sets it aside in favour of looking for opportunities for denser infill mostly outside the single detached housing tracts that occupy about thirty percent of the land there. These concerns are coupled with complete reliance for remedies on the private market, whose actors are to receive various encouragements i.e have their profit margins guaranteed. Accordingly, there is nothing in this discussion as currently framed for lower income renters. 

Apart from simply giving developers money, or saving them money by reducing oversight, or allowing them more floor area in return for a few below-market priced units i.e. licensing them to do outright harm by building beyond the plan which defines what is best for all, there is not much to be done to achieve affordability in the market. Reduction in unit size is a possibility, and is ongoing. Except in jurisdictions where a minimum size is legislated, nobody knows how small a unit the market can be made to accept, and legislation is changeable. Inclusionary zoning is frequently mentioned, but apart from other problems, it cannot yield very many units. And finally there is filtering, the process by which newer builds presumably drive down the prices that can be charged by the owners of older builds. But filtering is very dependent on local conditions and in any case takes years to moderate values, years which may pass pleasantly for the generally comfortably housed advocates of filtering, but less pleasantly for the poorly housed who are waiting to inherit.

In short, there is no market solution.

The technical route to housing affordability is probably through energy-efficient building on off-market land with ready access to public transit.  I say “probably” because the practicability of any particular solution has not been adequately studied in the local conditions. It has not been a goal to plan for true and lasting housing security, and this is a political, not a technical problem.

The technical route to housing affordability is probably through energy-efficient building on off-market land with ready access to public transit.

The immediate political problem is to ensure that the land which Metrolinx has now aggregated from a large number of small-holdings is kept intact, and to have the parcel transferred to a public body or a trust, rather than breaking it up and selling it off to individual private developers, which will have the effect of worsening the housing crisis. For the sake of variety of course it might be desirable to lease land to a number of proponents, but long-term affordability depends on retaining the entire parcel in public hands and off the market in perpetuity.

The immediate political problem is to ensure that the land which Metrolinx has now aggregated from a large number of small-holdings is kept intact.

The new owner would begin by rehabilitating the existing vacant buildings, completing deep energy retrofits where possible, and then turn to building stacked townhouses or smaller apartment blocks on the vacant lots, in order to make the new units available quickly.

How this could be done would not be hard to find. The literature is extensive and there is local experience of building to meet passive house standards of energy conservation. The technical problem reduces to establishing the minimum initial cash investment that would be required to get started, and identifying a lender or guarantor, probably the federal government. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives would tacitly resist limiting opportunities for the employment of private capital by taking land off the market, no matter what the public rhetoric they might spout, but a discussion of the political task that this entails is a topic for another day.

But why should a stock of affordable housing be developed, and for whom? Or better, why is it more costly in the long run not to develop such a stock?  Who would we want to attract with this housing? Not priced-out young professionals or property speculators from Toronto, nor retired persons looking for a way to stretch their fixed means, though the first and the last should of course be welcomed and not condemned for their inadvertent individual contributions to what are structural problems. But these people are not enough to give us a future as anything other than a dormitory suburb of Toronto really. Surely we still have more self-respect than to settle for that.

 No, we need the housing not only to provide a floor for people already here, those on fixed incomes and the working poor surviving on pay below a living wage, but equally importantly, to attract new immigrants from everywhere, to retain new graduates from Mac and Mohawk, and to draw and keep artists and musicians — all of whom will need a place to live which they can afford.  Without these kinds of people, stagnation and decline are inevitable, no matter how promising it may seem in the short run to import a batch of computech jobs with workies attached from Toronto. The centres of decision will be elsewhere, and the interests of Hamiltonians will be sacrificed.

In the concluding section of this three part series, I want to look in more detail at who Hamilton would be planning for, if the municipality were to begin to take housing affordability seriously by looking for non-market solutions.

This article is the second in a three part series. Read Part One (“Time to Turn”) here and Part Three (“Planning Hamilton for Who?”) here.

Time to Turn? LRT and the Rental Housing Crisis: Part One

By Shawn Selway for King Street Tenants United

Future foggy. Source: Yakir, Pixabay

According to on-the-ground estimates made by King Street Tenants United, the managers of the LRT land procurement process have thus far removed from the rail corridor the residents of 178 mostly rental dwelling units, and shuttered about 57 commercial fronts. This does not quite square with what Kris Jacobson, the director of the LRT project office, told Council’s General Issues Committee on Dec 4. Jacobson reported that Metrolinx had acquired 15 residential properties containing 55 residential units, only 40 of which were occupied.  The discrepancy suggests that Tenants United may be counting vacant units not actually held by Metrolinx, or that Metrolinx may be underreporting the number of residential tenants affected. (For details of the KSTU methodology, see the relevant article here.)

In addition to Metrolinx activity, many other properties are changing hands in and around King East, and the displacement of renters by private speculators who are buying in or near the corridor and renovicting sitting tenants is much harder to quantify. What is certain is that there is a great deal of turmoil.

Who are the people who are being pushed out?

Back in March 2009, IBI Group consultants working with HDR Decision Economics delivered an “Economic Potential Study” of the Hamilton Rapid Transit Initiative, as it was then called.  The study concentrated primarily on the B-line corridor and was meant to be “indicative” rather than whatever the converse is called in consultant-speak.  The study included a “social needs assessment” of those who were living in the corridor, and the results of that assessment were summarized as follows.

The proposed rapid transit corridor covers areas of relatively high social need. Persons with social needs may include those who are unemployed, lone parent families, low educational attainment, low income or high rates of government assistance. The B-Line corridor stands out within Hamilton as well as regionally, provincially, and nationally in every category except for its proportion of seniors. For example, 35% of people living in the corridor are classified as low income compared to the national average of 15%. The implementation of rapid transit should be positive in that it provides these individuals with greater access to employment opportunities and health and wellness activities, but cautioned (sic) must be exercised so as not to displace these individuals from the corridor. (IBI/HDR p.3)

Comparison of Social Need Indicators

IndicatorCorridorHamiltonGTHAOntarioCanada
Government Transfers as a proportion of total income20.60%12.90%9.30%9.80%11.10%
Population over 6514.80%14.20%12.20%13.60%13.70%
Lone parents23.60%14.70%14.20%15.80%15.90%
No high school certificate or diploma38.50%28.70%24.10%22.20%25.50%
Low income35.60%16.20%12.40%14.70%15.30%
Unemployment rate10.40%5.80%5.20%6.40%6.60%

Since, obviously, the low income earners cannot benefit from the transit if they are no longer in the neighbourhood, IBI’s cautionary note implies the implementation of a housing programme in advance of the transit build, but during the ensuing ten years nothing of the sort has been undertaken. For reasons too numerous to discuss here, the production of affordable housing, rental or otherwise for working and dependent individuals of lower income has never been accepted as a legitimate object of public policy by politicians of any party at any level of government, and their position has steadily worsened. It has become especially difficult in the portion of East Central Hamilton bounded roughly by Ferguson, King, Barton and Kenilworth – that is, the east end of the LRT corridor, as attested by numerous reports. Also being increasingly impoverished are renters in the Centennial neighbourhoods of East Hamilton, where Real Estate Investment Trusts own the rental towers.

I want to discuss here the benefits to be gained from the initiation of a non-market housing alternative to the state-sponsored gentrification policies which are disrupting the lives of an ever larger number of Hamiltonians. The cancellation of the LRT may give us a chance to start limiting the harm done by this hellish machinery, to opt out of the pervasive condo-ism which is exacerbating many of our problems, and to develop a less imitative and more innovative strategy for Hamilton.

Let’s begin with the city’s own statement of the problem.

In April of 2018 staff produced a report titled “Defining Affordable Housing and Hamilton’s Rental Housing Market” for the edification of the Healthy and Safe Communities Committee.  In addition to supplying careful definitions of affordability as defined by income comparisons and alternately by price comparisons, the authors discussed local rental market conditions.

In 2017, the average market rent (AMR) for all units in Hamilton was $943 per/month. One bedroom apartments rented for an average of $850/mo., while units with three + bedrooms had an AMR of $1,159/mo. . . .  rents and rent increases vary widely across the city as well. CMHC data shows rents are highest in Ancaster, Flamborough and Glanbrook while the most affordable rental housing is located in Central East Hamilton. . .

…Compared to neighbouring municipalities, rents in Hamilton remain relatively affordable; however, this affordability gap is closing. Rents in Hamilton are increasing faster than any other major urban centre in southern Ontario. Rents in the GTA remain the highest in the province; however, the places with the most rapidly increasing rents tend to be centres on the periphery of the GTA. Along with Hamilton, rents in Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, Burlington and Brantford are rising most quickly.  

Source: City of Hamilton, Defining Affordable Housing and Hamilton’s Rental Housing Market (HSC18003), April, 2018

Last summer, while members of King Street Tenants United were organizing meetings of LRT – threatened tenants, the organization received this message from a local landlord:

Subject: recent meetings at Bernie Morelli Centre

Message: Hello there. Your recent notices of meetings have caused a lot of unnecessary anxiety bordering on panic with a lot of tenants. Perhaps a more focused contact system could be investigated. I am a small landlord who sympathizes with tenant concerns, however please consider that tenants should never think they will stay in a building for life. This seems to be a bit of a Hamilton issue. Tenants need more support in terms of living together, sharing apartments or perhaps (and this is stressful) finding alternative accommodations in other Ontario cities. That is just part of the stress of the LRT changes. All the best.

This opinion, that a proportion of Hamiltonians should just move on now that others wish to come here, seems to be the view of some at City Hall as well.

It is not openly expressed but can be inferred from the train of decisions and omissions. This might have made wicked sense at one time.  Ten years ago it was wrong for Toronto to let market pressures force emigration on some of its residents and to export its problems to other cities; it was wrong, but it was workable. No more. There is nowhere else for renters to go to better their condition. Increased pressure on wages and rents locally can only deepen poverty. Municipal strategies which exacerbate the housing affordability problem today look less like indifference and more like active hostility, as pointless as it is cruel.

Let them move on? There is no place else to go.  Source: Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton, Hamilton’s Rental Landscape 2019.
The rental wage. This map shows the wage required to rent a two bedroom apartment in the various neighbourhoods at a housing occupancy cost of 30% of gross income.
Source: policyalternatives.ca/rentalwages

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives last year published a series of interactive maps on which the rental wage can be viewed neighbourhood by neighbourhood. Taking a housing occupancy cost of 30% of gross income as the measure of affordability, a renter in East Central Hamilton in 2019 would have to have been making $18.57 an hour in order to pay for a 2 bedroom place.  At the fourteen dollar minimum wage they would have had to work 53 hours a week. This area, north of King, is the cheapest part of the city. South of King Street, the “rental wage” jumps to $19.34, and it is higher everywhere else. The numbers for the city as a whole are $23 and 65 hours.

Here are the figures for a few Ontario cities, taken from the CCPA maps:

Occupancy cost = 30% incomeHamiltonKitchenerGuelphSt. CatharinesBrantfordWindsor
Rental wage232222201918
Hours at $14656464575550

A little exploration within these maps brings one to the conclusion that there are very few neighbourhoods within any of these cities to which someone could re-locate from East Central Hamilton to a comparable or cheaper apartment. This is so even after discounting moving costs, the fact that vacancy rates are lower where rents are lower, and the realities of vacancy decontrol in Ontario. Even if you move around within your own neighbourhood, you will pay much more than you are paying now.  And there are other considerations: the loss of friendships and other social supports including medical services. The insecurity and anxiety inflicted on children who have to switch schools. If a grandparent babysits sometimes, or a group of friends spell each other off with the children . . . All these things make it difficult and costly in time and money to uproot yourself and go elsewhere.

It is important to note however that, at least in the case of those directly displaced by LRT, individuals are not simply being shoved aside by the LRT programmers and left to fend for themselves in a brutal housing market. No, no. They are in receipt of a lot of hand holding and even some hard cash, as Councillor Farr attempted to make “crystal clear” during the questions period that followed LRT Director Jacobson’s December 4 progress report.  The councillor was keen to get on the record an account of the good work being done for the displaced, and solicited the following testimony from Jacobson and LRT “community engagement” head David Derbyshire. It has been transcribed from the video record of the meeting. (The video can be viewed here. Farr’s contributions start around 8:00)

FARR: … you know, you’ve presented here I think the top story of the day. 15 residential properties to date. 55 residential units. 40 occupied 15 unoccupied. 66 people requiring support. 43 people accommodated to date. . . and this stood out for me, that each and every one of those individuals, and being relocated and some have probably lived along the corridor for a long, long time, is hard enough. But each and every one is living in conditions better than they were before we arrived. That is, I’ve known personally that is important to you, to you, to your team, to Metrolinx. But to be able to state that here publicly to me is the top story of the day. Through you chair, how were you able to accomplish that?

JACOBSON: If there’s one thing we’re proud of so far, it’s our ability to accommodate those people whose homes we’re affecting. You know, we have a great tenant support structure, a great tenant support team. David Derbyshire is here. He’s in the back. David leads not just our community engagement process through the Community Connectors but is also our point person when it comes to tenant supports. So, you know, David and his team work one-on-one with every individual that we affect. . . And it’s not always easy. It takes some time. But, you know, we feel it’s incredibly important that we ensure that the people that we relocate as part of this project are put into a better situation than where they’re coming from. . .  We hope that we can achieve that. So far, we have and I’m happy to report that. But really, it goes back to the team that we have and the passion that they have for just helping people.

FARR:  . . . David do you see any roadblocks or issues with maintaining this impeccable record going down the road, knowing that there will be more displacements happening? . . .

DERBYSHIRE: Wow. What a question. Yes there are roadblocks. Yes there are barriers. The reality is our city’s rental market is skyrocketing. We are having to assist folks in finding accommodations that they can be comfortable with—in, that they would be proud to move into. So the reality is, what they’re paying now doesn’t equal what they’ll be paying in the future. Our partners at Metrolinx have enabled us to do some very creative things to help our tenants. And they are our tenants. We take that responsibility. We meet with them individually and really get a sense of what their needs are, what their limits are, and help them find something that is going to be sustainable for them long term. This isn’t just a quick fix, we’ll do something that will cover them for a couple of months and then good luck in the future. We make sure that what they’re moving into is going to be sustainable for them long-term.”

FARR: . . . Real estate and rents – this has been an issue . . .  this has been a problem for three, four years now where the rents have gone up in conjunction with the assessments. So obviously you had to deal with that issue with these 43 people accommodated to date and 66 people requiring support. What you said, Metrolinx did some creative things. What creative things did they do to accommodate the needs, the limits, and the sustainability over long periods of time that you included in your answer? . . .

DERBYSHIRE:  One of the first things that we did is we individualized this to every tenant and their previous situation. We didn’t apply a blanket strategy to address everyone on the corridor. What we did is we met with the individuals, helped them recognize what their current situation was, what their—where they stood, and then helped them find the best possible solutions for their situation.

JACOBSON:  So through the chair, if I can add to that as well, some of the additional supports, and David might be able to speak to this in greater detail than I can but, you know, some rent supplementation, moving expenses, assisting them with utility hookups, and, you know, working them through difficult application processes. You know, there’s a number of supports that we do provide. I don’t know David if there’s anything additional you’d like to add.

DERBYSHIRE: Even as much as helping them with tenant insurance. The real estate market out there for rental accommodation has changed dramatically in the last five years. A lot of prospective tenants face the reality of having to go through elaborate application processes, through property managers, never get a chance to meet with the actual landlord themselves. So we assist them in navigating these processes that have been put in place. We make sure that at the end of the day they are comfortable with whatever, whatever they are able to find. And again, we assist them in finding these locations. . .  We help them find alternatives, examine those alternatives, and decide which one will best meet their needs. Sometimes they have a choice. Often times they don’t. You know, they are only acceptable in certain locations.

FARR: Right. Excellent. So, to be clear though, because you did mention that we’re in a great peak in terms of higher rents that we haven’t seen ever. And then . . .  one of the . . . creative things that David Derbyshire mentions is “rent supps” so I want to be crystal clear here today. Through you chair to Kris, we’re not taking Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a couple who’ve been living near the corner of King and Sherman for 20 years paying $685 a month in rent, and putting them in a unit where they’re now paying $1,265. And if it is a $1,265 unit, that rent supp is covering the difference? So they’re paying what they’ve traditionally paid?

DERBYSHIRE: You must have spoken to Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Yes, we attempt to do that. . .  What we also do though, we make sure that we don’t put people in over their head. So if they do agree to move into a $1,200 unit after previously living in a $600 unit, we make crystal clear what their plan is beyond the length of our subsidy. Metrolinx can’t afford to subsidize families forever. There’s a limit. There’s a timeline on what that subsidy will be. And again, it’s individualized for the family. . .  So we make sure that when the subsidy is over the family, the individual has a strategy for continuing to be able to pay that rent. So it might be “Well, you know, my boyfriend is going to be moving in with me in six months so when that happens, I will be able to—or we will be able to cover the additional rent ourselves.” That’s just one example of a strategy that they would have put in place. Or “My daughter is moving in with me and she will assist with the rent moving forward.”

FARR: That’s good. Thank you.

It remains only to add the councillor’s enthusiastic tribute to presumed LRT-induced development.

FARR: For proponents and supporters, right from the get go. Myself, others around this table. I think the excitement is really beginning to build. . .  The private investment that’s going on, I mean, we’re safely well over a billion and a half in LRT supportive development, in the core mostly but I think in other spots. And I’ve just had two meetings last week with two mid-size, straight to site plan developments by two LRT supportive developers. One is done sales and ready for demolition at Kiwi in International Village, as you know. I always say I think that is going to be the most coveted piece of real estate once this is all through. . .  And one right beside it at Jarvis Street, there’s a great deal of interest in the old TiCat office there. So I see this all the time. . .

This should make it all as “crystal clear” as the councillor could wish.

However, to avoid any possible misunderstanding whatever, here is the succinct and precise definition of the LRT project that Councillor John-Paul Danko recently provided to the Spec (“Province says task force to consider highways for Hamilton”, Hamilton Spectator, Jan 2, 2020).

DANKO: At its core, LRT is an economic development investment designed to reduce residential property taxes city-wide through new high-density urban and commercial development along the LRT corridor.

We might add the corollary, that the interests of the residents of East Central Hamilton are to be sacrificed to those of home owners in the rest of the city. Those who have the least must have still less in order to benefit the rest.

The IBI report (pg. 52) put it like this:

Unless the City chooses to increase property taxes to reflect new service provision, it will not realize additional tax revenue from changes in property values due to the LRT system. A redistribution of the tax burden may occur, with owners of lands near the new LRT line paying higher taxes due to an increase in property assessment. This in turn would result in a decrease in property taxes charged for other land owners.

However,

Changes to the City’s tax base resulting from increased assessments following redevelopment and growth could generate new property tax revenue . . . the 455 parcels of vacant land within the study area currently have very low assessment values and as such generate little tax income for the City.

Here is the potential residential capacity of the corridor.

Theoretical Capacity for New Residential Development within the LRT B-Line Study Area
Source: IBI Group based on City of Hamilton Vacant Land Inventory Data and Windshield Survey

Land Area Population Housing Units
Low High Low High
Development of Vacant Residential Land 81 ha 8,500 14,625 3,400 5,850
Development of Vacant Non-Residential Land 10% of vacant non-residential land (i.e. 16 ha) 630 2,200 252 880
Intensification/Redevelopment (e.g. surface parking lots and underutilized lands) 18 ha 540 3,640 216 1,465
Total Estimated Residential Development Capacity 139 9,670 20,486 3,868 8,186

In addition, there are another 156 hectares of non-residential land that could be brought into use. Certainly in the ten years since these estimates were made, things have changed, but the numbers suffice to give a notion of the scale of redevelopment that is envisaged in the corridor.

Of course, this is just what LRT supporters have been saying all along, with little effect on their opponents, who generally fall into three camps: those who have been put out of their homes by the project, or fear, quite rightly, that they are next to go; those who insist on evaluating the thing primarily as a transportation project, no matter how often they are corrected; and those who believe that LRT operating costs will raise their taxes, when council has demonstrated that they are far more likely  to drain funds from the rest of the HSR system to service LRT than increase taxes to cover both should the need arise. Finally, there is a fourth, much smaller group of people whose public figures are  Councillors Clark, Collins and Whitehead, and Liberal backroom boy turned mayoral candidate Vito Sgro, who are either opportunists working a wedge issue or playing a deeper game, it’s not clear which.

Although the provincial Growth Plan would likely be well served by the intensification proposed for the LRT corridor, owners of land outside or near the current urban boundary might prefer that the transportation system be rejigged to point in that direction. However, Waterdown and Elfrida are almost fully built out, as long as the Growth Plan boundaries hold, and it is impossible to imagine the eventual residents of the greenbelt lands (Elfrida, Twenty Road East and Twenty Road West, 1,760 hectares in total) getting out of their cars and onto a bus. It will be interesting to see how Clark, Collins and Whitehead respond to the highway proposals which the Conservatives are wanting to include in the LRT substitute that is being formulated. The Ford Government’s No-LRT plan is likely to be a whole lot of highway and not much public transit, which will ultimately compound both our infrastructure deficit and our difficulties in meeting our climate change obligations.

The LRT cancellation was abrupt, but we have been here before. Historian Margaret Rockwell has written in detail about earlier episodes of planning policies imposed to realize large scale reconfigurations of the city that did not go as expected. In the second part of this piece, we’ll see if there is anything to be learned from the earlier episode, and make the argument for a non-market solution to the housing problems.

Source: Hamilton Spectator, n.d., 1970? , Hamilton Public Library Special Collections

This article is the first in a three part series. Read Part Two (“Urban Renewal Then and Now”) here and Part Three (“Planning Hamilton for Who?”) here.

Press Conference: Tenants Demand Metrolinx Rehouse Evicted Tenants in Vacant Apartments & Preserve Purchased Properties for Affordable Housing

For Immediate Release: Notice of Press Conference
Wednesday, January 15, 2020, 10am
CUPE 5167 Hall (818 King St E)
Hamilton, Ontario

Press Conference: Tenants Demand Metrolinx Rehouse Evicted Tenants In Vacant Apartments & Preserve Purchased Properties for Affordable Housing

Lost in the conversation about the cancellation of Hamilton’s Light Rail Transit (LRT), is the plight of 80+ tenant households which were pushed out of their homes by Metrolinx, now for no reason at all. 60 buildings were purchased by Metrolinx before LRT cancellation, planned for demolition in order to accommodate road widening and LRT stations. King Street Tenants United has counted 102 rental units in these buildings and estimates that 87 of these units are currently vacant. (The full results of this survey are now available here.) With an apartment vacancy rate of 3.1% in Hamilton (source), 300+ homeless (source), 16,000+ on the affordable housing waiting list (source), and tens of thousands of Hamilton renters struggling as rents jumped 24% in the last year (source), it is unconscionable that apartments sit empty on King Street.

In reports to City Council and interviews with journalists, Metrolinx and City of Hamilton staff have downplayed the number of tenants affected and boasted about their “unique, ‘Made in Hamilton’” tenant eviction program they claim “has resulted in a high number of positive interactions with tenants” (source). In reality, many tenants have been treated terribly. It has been documented that tenants displaced from 832 King St E, a large, mid-rise apartment building and one of the first buildings bought by Metrolinx, received as little as $200 towards moving expenses or nothing at all (source). Since King Street Tenants United began holding tenant meetings over a year ago, the standard lease termination package from Metrolinx increased to include a twelve-month rent supplement (the difference between current and future rent). For many tenants, this supplement will soon expire and, facing a rent increase of hundreds of dollars monthly, it will only be a matter of time before many tenants are economically evicted. 

832 King Street East, at the corner of King Street East and Holton Avenue South. This mid-rise apartment building contains 27 rental units, currently sitting empty.

Tenants’ Demands

King Street Tenants United will present the following demands of Metrolinx and the City of Hamilton at this press conference: 

  1. Metrolinx provide all properties purchased for LRT to the City of Hamilton to be preserved as affordable housing. 
  2. Buildings be promptly rehabilitated and tenants evicted by Metrolinx be given the first opportunity to move into these units, back into their homes and neighbourhoods. 
  3. Tenants who currently have Metrolinx as their landlord be given written assurance that they will be able to continue to live in these units without facing rent increases or pressure to leave, either by Metrolinx or a new landlord. 
  4. Tenants have reported that landlords of buildings who had been told that Metrolinx would purchase are neglecting maintenance. City of Hamilton Property Standards Department should immediately inspect all units on the Metrolinx purchase list, with the tenants’ permission, and enforce repairs. 
Banner drop at 832 King Street East on January 15, 2020.

Potential Legal Action Against Metrolinx

King Street Tenants United is also reviewing the potential for a class action lawsuit against Metrolinx. Our message to the 80+ tenant households evicted by Metrolinx, and anyone who remains on King Street with Metrolinx as their landlord: Contact us to join the fight for compensation and the right to return to vacant units. Tenants can email KingStreetTenantsUnited@riseup.net or call 289-659-0281. 

Quote from Affected Tenant

All I’m hearing is people being like ‘Yay, it’s not being built!’ or people being like ‘Oh no, this is horrible! it’s not being built!’ but no one is talking about all of the people that have been uprooted [for the LRT]….People were moving into places that were a lot more money than the place they lived in. [Metrolinx provided me] compensation for a year, and that year is coming to an end. I imagine that most people, once those [rent] subsidies run out, are now thinking ‘Well, what am I going to do now?’. I’ve now been living in this new place for about a year and don’t want to leave again. But if I can’t afford to stay here, it’s going to come out of something else. Like I’m either going to have to work more, or spend less money on food and other necessities, or get a roommate, or something. It’s just not a sustainable thing. And it’s not like affordable housing is readily available. You’re kind of stuck…I go by my building all the time now and I see it all boarded up. It just seems crazy to me that there’s a perfectly good building with five units in it that just sits empty while there’s lots of people in this city that are having a hard time affording housing or finding housing.” 
– Vanja, tenant evicted and displaced from her home on King Street by Metrolinx

About King Street Tenants United

King Street Tenants United is a volunteer grassroots group of tenants and their supporters. It includes tenants who have been displaced from their homes on King Street to other parts of the city by Metrolinx; tenants who remain living on King Street with Metrolinx as their landlord; tenants whose buildings were planned for purchase by Metrolinx; and other tenants from the neighbourhoods near the planned LRT route who fear displacement pressure from LRT-driven gentrification.

Contact

Email: kingstreettenantsunited@riseup.net
Phone: 289-659-0281
Facebook: www.facebook.com/kingstreettenantsunited
Twitter: www.twitter.com/kingsttenants

King Street Ghost Town Virtual Tour

Walking down King Street feels like walking through a ghost town. Metrolinx has cancelled the transit project, but remains the owner and landlord of 60 properties, concentrated in Ward 3 on King St E between Wellington and Ottawa. Dozens of houses, apartment buildings, and businesses have been vacated and boarded up. Tenants have been evicted from their homes, children transferred to different schools, people taken away from their friends and social supports. For those who remain, the neighbourhood feels empty, eerie, too quiet – almost like living in the aftermath of a bomb. We feel the loss of our neighbours, displaced to different corners of the city.

As part of our Survey of Displacement for Light Rail Transit (LRT), we took photographs and gathered data on properties planned for purchase and demolition. We worked from the demolition list provided in the 2017 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 full data set is available in a Google Sheet here and the results of the survey are summarized here.

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.) 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.

Thanks to King Street Tenants United member Taras for these photographs.

Address: 85 Paisley Ave S
Ward: 1
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Longwood Stop
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units: 0
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 940 Main St W
Ward: 1
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Longwood Stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units: 1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Town Media marketing company.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 160 Bond St S, 930 Main St W
Ward: 1
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Longwood Stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units: 4
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Chisholm Assessment Centre, WestMac Properties, Ferma Exchange, and AM Bowen Therapy.

Address: 918 Main St W
Ward: 1
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Longwood Stop
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units: 1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Popeye’s Louisiana Chicken restaurant.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 612 King St W
Ward: 1
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for turning lane
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units: 1
Ownership: Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently Shoppers Drug Mart.

Address: 619 King St W
Ward: 1
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Dundurn LRT stop and turning lane
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units: 0
Ownership: Unknown
Status: Occupied

Address: 621 King St W
Ward: 1
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Dundurn LRT stop and turning lane
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units: 0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Address: 426-428 King St W
Ward: 1
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track/turning radius
Estimated # of residential units: 4
Estimated # of commercial units: 1
Ownership: Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently appliance store.

Address: 2 West Ave N
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Wellington LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 9
Estimated # of commercial units: 1
Ownership: Unknown
Status: Occupied

Formerly coin laundry in commercial space at building rear.

Address: 401 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Wellington LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 5
Estimated # of commercial units: 1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Filipino Takeout and Grocery.

Address: 403-415 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Wellington LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 6
Estimated # of commercial units: 0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 561 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track/turning radius
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units: 1
Ownership: Unknown
Status: Vacant

Formerly Lolo La Congolese Tropical Food and Beauty Supplies.

Address: 563 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track/turning radius
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units: 1
Ownership: Unknown
Status: Vacant

Formerly Concan Computer Repairs and Internet Cafe.

Address: 1 Grant Ave
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status:
Vacant

Address: 654 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Address: 656 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Address: 658-660 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 6
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 662 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 2
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Address: 666-668 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently Stala Building Solutions.

Address: 674 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Insta Loan, Koodo Mobile, and Little Caesar’s Pizza.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 676 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly gas station and car wash.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 692-694 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Integral security company.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 696 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly St. Vincent de Paul Value Shop.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 698-700 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently Momentum Credit Union.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 702 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Wentworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently Amazing Fitness and Common Sense Automotive.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 787 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for track/turning radius
Estimated # of residential units: 2
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 789 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for track/turning radius
Estimated # of residential units: 4
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 832 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for track/turning radius
Estimated # of residential units: 27
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant


Address: 850 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery office.

Address: 3 Proctor Blvd.
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Unknown

Address: 891 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 2
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Address: 893 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 2
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently King Sherman Sauna.

Address: 895 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Address: 897 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently African Food and Beauty Supplies.

Address: 899 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Address: 900 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Microdental Dental Laboratory.

Address: 902 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 5
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Featured in Hamilton Spectator article by Jeff Mahoney (January 18, 2019): https://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/9132837-lrt-turns-fairy-tale-ending-into-rubble-jeopardy-for-spectacularly-revitalized-st-clair-apartments.

Address: 911 King St E
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Petro Canada gas station.

Address: 927 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Not yet purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Currently Atlantic Sub.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 924 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Hakim Optical.

Address: 929 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Martin’s Bowling.

Address: 935 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 937-943 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 945 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently Matrix Group Publishing.

Address: 949 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact:
Building demolition, Road widening for Sherman LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 10
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Not yet purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Currently Brock Lodge, residential care home for low-income people, including elderly people and people with mental health issues. Featured in Hamilton Spectator article by Matthew van Dongen (February 1, 2017): https://www.thespec.com/news-story/7095731-residential-care-home-in-the-way-of-hamilton-s-planned-lrt/

Address: 951-953 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 2
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 3 Barnesdale Ave S
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track/turning radius
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Address: 1125-1127 King St
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 2
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Formerly Celebrity Barbershop and Caribbean Vibes restaurant.

Address: 1135 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently Eric’s Automotive.

Address: 1137 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 2
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1139 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Robert’s Quality Upholstery.

Address: 1141-1143 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership:
Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1145 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently Taste of Poland restaurant.

Address: 1149-1151 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Formerly AIPS: Affordable Immigration and Paralegal Support.

Address: 1153 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Tim Horton’s.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1173 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1175 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1177 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1179 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1181 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1183 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1185 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1191 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Not yet purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Currently Otto’s Auto Sales.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1197 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 4
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Featured in Hamilton Spectator article by Matthew van Dongen (April 2, 2019): https://www.thespec.com/news-story/9264217-hamilton-s-lrt-is-back-on-track-so-what-happens-next-/.

Address: 1199 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1201 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 3
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1203 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Featured in Hamilton Spectator article by Matthew van Dongen (June 8, 2018): https://www.thespec.com/news-story/8660742-moving-out-of-the-way-of-lrt-when-do-i-have-to-leave-/.

Address: 1205 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1207 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Address: 1209 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1 Glendale Ave N
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 9
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Not yet purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Address: 2 Glendale Ave N
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 1
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Address: 1253 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Not yet purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Currently Eyecatcher Signs.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1257 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 8
Estimated # of commercial units:
0
Ownership: Not yet purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Address: 1145 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 4
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership: Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently Breezy Corners restaurant.

Address: 1147 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Unknown
Status: Occupied

Currently Neworld Martial Arts Fitness.

Address: 1149-1151 King St E
Ward: 3
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for track curve/CP grade separation
Estimated # of residential units: 6
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Penny Pincher Costumes.

Address: 1390 Main St E
Ward: 4
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Kenilworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Levy Medical Clinic (moved to 55 Parkdale Ave N).
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1392 Main St E
Ward: 4
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Kenilworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
4
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Currently Cash Money, Old School Boxing & Fitness.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1395 Main St E
Ward: 4
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Kenilworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 2
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Royal Farmacy: Cannabis Culture.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1403 Main St E
Ward: 4
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Kenilworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 2
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Rebelz Fashionwear Outlets.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1407 Main St E
Ward: 4
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Kenilworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly CIBC branch.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1410-1414 Main St E
Ward: 4
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Kenilworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Not yet purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Currently South Pacific restaurant.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1418 Main St E
Ward: 4
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Kenilworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Not yet purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Occupied

Currently Pawn Kings.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 1422 Main St E
Ward: 4
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening for Kenilworth LRT stop
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly New Hope Community Bikes.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 75 Queenston Rd
Ward: 4
Impact: Building demolition, Road widening
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
2
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly City Motor Hotel, Herbie’s, Pharma Plus. Site of future City Housing Hamilton development.
*Not included in 2017 LRT Environmental Project Report demolition list, but added afterwards.

Address: 606 Aberdeen Ave
Ward: 1
Impact: Partial building demolition, OMSF site
Estimated # of residential units: 0
Estimated # of commercial units:
1
Ownership: Purchased by Metrolinx
Status: Vacant

Formerly Hamilton Metal Trading Inc.

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.