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Hamilton votes: Ward 3 candidates debate derelict properties

Slumlords and derelict properties are a key topic in the crowded Ward 3 council race.

Slumlords and derelict properties are key topics in the Ward 3 councillor race, where a long line of challengers are struggling to differentiate themselves in a crowded municipal election race.

Thirteen of the 15 nominees weighed in on numerous issues at an all-candidates debate on Thursday. But a recurring one was what to do about areas such as Barton Street, where landlords have turned former storefronts into illegal residences, and people with low incomes live behind boarded-up windows.

Some vowed to expropriate properties from negligent landlords. Others said the city should do more with its existing bylaws.

It’s not surprising that the issue came up, said David Derbyshire, a community development worker who helped organize the event.

“We’re an inclusive neighbourhood, so we welcome anyone,” he said. “But the key thing is that where they’re living is safe and affordable.”

Here’s what each candidate had to say:

Ralph Agostino: The city has to “put its foot down” and send more bylaw officers to deal with problem landlords. In problem situations, the city could expropriate properties, fix them up and sell them back at fair market value. “I understand that people need a place to live, but they’re living in despicable conditions.”

Bob Assadourian: The city needs to “drop the hammer” and enforce the law on illegal landlords, he said, and “put in a safety net” to protect tenants who will be dispelled in the process.

I have a story I tell about a bacon and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved, the pig is committed.- David Derbyshire

Mark Demillo: For too long, properties have been investigated on a complaint basis. The city needs to be more proactive and also hit landlords “where it counts — in the pocketbook.” Have steeper fines for landlords with multiple violations.

Sean Gibson: The city needs to be more proactive and “we all need to come together with a progressive solution.”

Matthew Green: The area needs more medium-density, mixed-use buildings and facilities that offer affordable housing and other complementary uses.

Jol Hess: The city needs to move from “a complaints-based system” to one where it knows where the problem properties are.

Eva John: Do regular sweeps where landlords know that bylaw officers will be there to look for zoning and code violations. The city also needs to work harder to address poverty issues that force people to live in unsafe, substandard housing.

Brian Kelly: The city needs to enforce building and fire-code violations. Expropriation can work, but as part of a neighbourhood strategy.

Victor Mejio: Offer more affordable housing and have an outreach program to help people get off Ontario Works.

Byron Millette: Empower tenants so they know what recourse is available if landlords aren’t keeping up the buildings. He also agreed with Demillo to “hurt (landlords) in their pocketbook.”

Drina Omazic: Start a problem properties task force where residents identify problem areas and “tackle them one by one.” Also start an education campaign for landlords and do more “quick and consistent” enforcement of existing rules and bylaws.

Carlos Pinho: Every situation is unique and each issue can be tackled through property standards, building codes, fire codes or the rental housing tribunal.

Tim Simmons: Tap into the millions the city has set side for its 2013 Housing and Homelessness Action Plan. Also, use area rating money for a housing officer who “walks the beat” in Ward 3 and looks at housing conditions.

Residency was also a recurring theme, with each candidate answering a pointed question about whether he or she lives in the ward. (Demillo, Green, Hess, John, Kelly, Millette, Omazic, Pinho and Simmons do.)

That’s important to a lot of Ward 3 residents, Derbyshire said.

“Somebody who lives here is here at 11 o’clock on a Friday night and hears what’s going on on their streets,” he said.

“I have a story I tell about a bacon and egg breakfast. The chicken is involved, the pig is committed.”

The Gibson Landsdale neighbourhood association and planning teams from Crown Point, Gibson Landsdale and Sherman Hub organized the event. The group is also holding a mayoral candidates debate at St. Giles on Oct. 1.

Long-time councillor Bernie Morelli represented Ward 3 until he died earlier this year. In the interim, former mayor Bob Morrow has represented the area.

Maria Anastasiou and Bernie Szajkowski are also running in Ward 3.

The ward has the most challengers of any ward this election, although races are also heated in Ward 1 in west Hamilton, Ward 9 in Stoney Creek and Ward 13 in Dundas, where no incumbents are running.

The election is Oct. 27.

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