Tenants demand vacant properties along LRT route be turned into affordable housing

King Street Tenants United, a grassroots group made up of people displaced by the LRT has released a list of demands to Metrolinx and the city, including that all properties purchased for the project be turned into affordable housing.

Metrolinx says all tenants currently paying rent at its properties don't have to leave

Sharon Miller speaks during a press conference organized by King Street Tenants United. The 66-year-old lives in a property owned by Metrolinx and said she's worried about her future now that the LRT project has been cancelled. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Sharon Miller describes herself as an "LRT victim."

The 66-year-old lives in a King Street property owned by Metrolinx, which she says has "gone to hell in a handbasket" while waiting for the project to proceed. Now that it's been cancelled, she feels her future is even murkier.

"I was constantly in limbo and I still am," she explained. "When does the next shoe drop? Does Metrolinx sell it to the highest bidder and he throws me out anyways?"

Miller spoke during a press conference organized by King Street Tenants United, a grassroots group made up of people displaced by the LRT, those who still live on King and others whose homes are near the proposed corridor.

They gathered outside 832 King Street East Wednesday and released a list of demands to Metrolinx and the city, including that all properties purchased for the project be turned into affordable housing.

In a statement emailed to CBC News, Metrolinx said all property negotiations related to the LRT have been halted. The transit agency's corporate realty team will work with the provincial task force to come up with a plan for the properties, including the tenants who still live there.

"Until further notice is provided, residents who pay rent at Metrolinx-owned properties on the corridor do not have to leave and are able to remain in their homes," it read, adding tenants like Miller will receive a letter outlining next steps.

King Street United outlined exactly what it believes those next steps should be by releasing the following list of demands:

  • That Metrolinx turn all properties purchased for the LRT to the city so they can be used as affordable housing.
  • That the buildings be rehabilitated and tenants pushed out by Metrolinx be given priority if they want to move back in.
  • That tenants who currently have Metrolinx as their landlord be given "written assurances" they can continue to live in their unit without the fear of increasing rent or pressure to leave.
  • And that Hamilton's Property Standards Department immediately inspect all units on the Metrolinx purchase list to enforce repairs to ensure repairs are made and maintenance is not being neglected.

"We are not demanding the world, these are simple, doing the right thing demands," said Miller.

A large banner with big, bright red block letters was dropped from the top balcony of the boarded up building during their press conference.


King Street Tenants United draped a large banner from the top balcony of 832 King Street East, one of the first properties Metrolinx purchased, which is currently boarded up. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The city was shocked last month when the Ford government abruptly announced it was cancelling the LRT project on Dec. 16, citing rising costs.

Transportation minister Caroline Mulroney came to Hamilton to announce the decision, but ended up cancelling her press conference and leaving town after the mayor, members of council, and residents showed up.

The province says it's still committed to investing $1 billion in transportation in the city and is in the process of assembling a task force to decide what form it will take. About $80 million has already been spent on purchasing properties.

The boarded up building houses 27 apartments, but is currently surrounded by an orange snow fence and trash. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

A report that will presented to the general issues committee says approximately 60 full properties were purchased along the corridor before the project was cancelled. Of those, 15 were residential with 55 occupied units, housing a total of 66 people.

Housing was found for 45 of those tenants, the remaining 21 are still living in Metrolinx-owned properties, according to the report. It notes those statistics are from before the cancellation, and the city has asked the transit agency to confirm exact numbers.

Group believes buildings are 'solid'

The report says Metrolinx has not provided "any information or direction" on what will happen to the properties or whether the city will be involved in any way with those plans.

"Cancelling a project of this magnitude mid-stream presents a unique set of challenges and questions," it reads.

Some of the properties in question have been sitting vacant for years, but Shawn Selway, a volunteer with the group, said he doesn't believe they're in bad shape.

"These buildings are all quite solid," he said, "They can be rehabilitated."

Shawn Selway, centre, called for the city to take over the properties and convert them into affordable housing. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

He added the properties provide Hamilton with an opportunity to do something different — rather than breaking them up and selling to developers, they could be handed over to a public trust of some kind that could complete repairs and build affordable housing.

Emily Power, a member of Tenants United, said residents should be compensated for the hardships they've been through and should now be able to return to their homes if they want. The group is considering its legal options, she said.

"It is outrageous that units sit empty on King Street while homeless people sleep on the sidewalks or on the trails.