Plan to split up affordable 3-bedroom units denied - but it'll be back

A plan opponents see as a battle to gentrify and push families out of affordable downtown housing has died. But only for now.
The plan impacts 181 John St. N. and 192 Hughson Street. (Google)

A pair of downtown highrise renovations that residents and housing advocates fear would gentrify them and push families out of affordable downtown housing have been denied.

But only for now.

More than 60 opponents — many of them worried residents — jammed the city hall committee meeting Thursday where the fate of the two buildings, on John and Hughson Streets, was to be decided.

Hamilton's committee of adjustment denied a Greenwin Inc. application Thursday to split up dozens of three-bedroom units at two highrises into smaller units for singles and professionals.

It would have reduced the number of larger units from 69 to 10, and the number of overall units from 383 apartments to 543.

The project will be back though — next time at city council's planning committee or the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB). But committee of adjustment members, charged with approving a minor variance application, said this issue is bigger than them. 

"It's way beyond our mandate," said member William Pearce.

"It's a housing issue. There needs to be some policy guidance around this."

The denial was a short-term victory for the opponents who packed into the meeting room. They say it pushes out low-income families and caters to a new demographic — singles and urban professionals. That's particularly contentious right now, as downtown becomes more gentrified and housing prices steadily increase.

About 60 people attended the committee of adjustment to oppose the Greenwin application to renovate two buildings to reduce the number of three-bedroom apartments. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Rob Fiedler from the Beasley Neighbourhood Association agreed with Pearce. It's a broader issue.

"It's really too big an issue for (committee of adjustment) and it should go up to planning committee," he said.

The tension dates back to 2015, when Greenwin began renovating the building and offered tenants cash to move out.

Bashir Hassan was one of those tenants. He was offered as much as $7,000 to move out, he said through an interpreter. He lives in a three-bedroom apartment with his wife and four children.

Hassan has mobility issues and no vehicle. The building is near a doctor and transportation, and his kids grew up there.

"For over nine years, we've lived in that building and never had a concern," he said. "No concerns against us. We always paid on time."

That's not to say the buildings are perfect. Tenants have complained about building conditions, and Greenwin has spent $3.1 million so far to renovate 181 John St. N. and $2.9 million to upgrade 192 Hughson St., CEO Kris Boyle told the committee.

The company has also spent about $190,000 combined on pest control at the two buildings. Rents, she said, range from $1,050 to $1,250, including utilities.

The number of bedrooms in the building will remain about the same, said Ed Fothergill, a planner working for Greenwin. So will the number of people who live there. This is "an internal rearrangement of space."

Fothergill said the roughly 130 vacant units in the building right now would be back on the market after renovations. This would also fully use two floors of underground parking. It only uses one right now.

The proposal, which city staff endorse, would reduce the amount of parking from one space per unit to 0.6 spaces per unit. 

Larry DiIanni, a consultant for Greenwin, said the company will decide what to do next. He understands the affordable housing and gentrification issues, he said.

"Whether you place all the benefits or the ills of trying to find some solutions on a single company that's trying to raise the level of livability in their buildings is another matter, but these are good issues."