Are Hamilton property owners using city grants to push out tenants?

The city is looking at changing how it hands out grants to improve properties along Barton/Kenilworth to make sure it doesn't squeeze out people who need affordable housing.
Elizabeth Ellis, shown at a protest last year, says reno-victions are happening on Barton Street. (Adam Carter/CBC)

The city is looking at changing how it hands out grants to improve buildings along Barton/Kenilworth to make sure it doesn't squeeze out people who need affordable housing.

City council's general issues committee voted Monday to look at changing five grant programs — three for Barton/Kenilworth, two for the city in general — so tenants won't be victim to "reno-victions."

The city gives out a bevy of grants to encourage property owners to improve their buildings, especially along streets where vacancies have been an issue. But Nrinder Nann, Ward 3 councillor, worries property owners are shoving out their tenants in the process.

"As a city, we absolutely welcome investment," she said. "But not if it's going to displace our residents."

Typically, landlords are limited in how much they can increase the rent every year. The province sets a guideline, and in 2020, the provincial rent increase guideline is 2.2 per cent.

But when landlords dramatically improve their buildings, they can apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board for permission to hike up the rent beyond the provincial guideline. If this is granted, tenants often can't afford their units anymore. Landlords can also issue N13 notices, which forces a tenant to move out temporarily so the landlord can renovate, but landlords often forego them and offer tenants buyouts. 

Tenant advocates say these dynamics are increasingly common in Hamilton, largely because of increases in rents and property values.

It's not clear how often this happens on properties that get city grants. Such grants are often used for new construction or vacant buildings, said Jason Thorne, general manager of planning and economic development. But "I can't say unequivocally that it's never happened."

Elizabeth Ellis says it has. Ellis volunteers with Hamilton ACORN, a tenant rights group that filled two audience rows in the council chamber in support of Nann's motion.

Ellis said she was reno-victed out of her Barton Street apartment earlier this year. Meanwhile, the city gave her landlord $44,000 to fix up a property a block away.

The city has two tax increment grant programs — one for Barton/Kenilworth, and one for Hamilton's various downtowns and commercial corridors, as well as the Mount Hope gateway and 13 business improvement areas. The grants help phase in property tax increases that happen when the owner makes dramatic improvements to the property. 

The city is also looking at the Barton/Kenilworth commercial corridor building improvement grant program, the Barton/Kenilworth commercial planning and building fee rebate program, and the commercial corridor housing loan and grant program.

City staff will report back.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.