Furious residents of two downtown apartment towers voiced their outrage Thursday night about the deteriorating conditions of their buildings and the property management company they claim is trying to force them out.
Some 60 residents of the 181 John St. N. and 192 Hughson St. N. apartments attended the public meeting on Thursday night at the Beasley Community Centre.
The event, organized by the Hamilton Social Planning and Research Council, was held to give building tenants some guidance about what to do as the property management company — Toronto-based Greenwin Inc. — tries to move people out ahead of major renovations.
'We're like a village 20 storeys in the air … and our village is going to be torn asunder.' - Eileen White, 181 John St. N. tenant
Community organizer Brandon Braithwaite calls the company’s push to terminate leases a "hard sell" and said the company appears to be moving fast with the goal of overwhelming tenants, many of whom are new immigrants, people with disabilities or those living in poverty.
Several residents shared their stories of being called into meetings with building management and feeling pressured to sign documents agreeing to move out in exchange for a one-time payment — $2,000 in some cases — and their last month's rent.
The tenants were presented with two major reasons to sign the deal, they said. First, the company told them rent was going up by 3 per cent (the company had to apply to the Landlord Tenant Board to go above Ontario’s current maximum increase of 1.6 per cent) and would keep going up in the future. Second, company officials reportedly told residents the renovations would lead to multi-day stretches with no water or electricity.
Some said they signed the document, but now regret it. Community organizers suggested they meet with legal counsel one-on-one, as there may be a way to get out of the agreement if it was made under duress.
CBC Hamilton contacted Greenwin on Thursday afternoon ahead of the meeting but nobody was immediately available to comment. No one from the company attended the meeting.
Greenwin spokesman Danny Roth told The Hamilton Spectator in a statement that the building improvements are intended to "to deliver quality housing at accessible prices."
While the meeting began with the aim of connecting tenants and community resources that may be able to help them – the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, City of Hamilton staff and other community organizers all answered questions – it quickly turned into an outpouring of anger about the conditions in the two buildings.
"It's been two years of poor conditions due to construction," said tenant Eileen White, who added she wants the city to stage a direct intervention.
"We're like a village 20 storeys in the air … and our village is going to be torn asunder."
Residents say the heat has functioned intermittently, the elevators are out of service every other day and one tenant claimed the garbage chute in his building had been sealed shut.
City staff criticized
City staff urged the residents to file complaints, but that provoked an outburst from two women who said the city was powerless when it came to making sure the building is functioning.
"I’ve dealt with you people before," one woman, who left the room shortly after saying she didn’t want to be named, yelled.
"Stop giving us lip service."
Ward 2 Coun. Jason Farr bore the brunt of some of that criticism.
"I understand the frustration," Farr said, noting he’d heard similar concerns about poor conditions at 181 John St. N. a year ago in a meeting at which property management officials were present.
"We do our best. We have by-laws. And we do enforce. We enforce to the best of our abilities."
Farr urged tenants to document their problems and to contact his office about them. When the garbage chute complaint was made, Farr read the by-law pertaining to it and told the tenant to file an official complaint with city staff.
Organizers’ plans to hold breakout sessions to come up with solutions were scrapped, though some residents did make suggestions including launching a class action lawsuit against the property management company.
Residents upset with building staff
Others, suggested the community needs to stay together to fight the proposed rent hikes.
"This is not a simple issue. This is a hard issue. It's the whole building," said interpreter Shanso Elmi, speaking for a group of Somali women.
Elmi, on behalf of the women, also raised the specter of discrimination among building staff. She said when one tenant complained about the cold temperatures in her apartment, building staff told her that she wasn’t used to "our lifestyle."
Hadsen Mahamud echoed that sentiment, saying she often get hassled at the apartment entrance.
Some white tenants also reported having arguments with building officials.
Despite the numerous complaints, many people attended the meeting because they wanted to stay.
Abdiwahid Omer, who lives in the 181 John tower, said since 2009 he's done all the maintenance work in his apartment needs himself.
White, meanwhile, hopes to hold a walkthrough of her building so the media and concerned members of the public can see the conditions for themselves. While it’s bad now, she’d rather have the building fixed than move somewhere else.
"We don’t want to leave downtown Hamilton," she said.