Hamilton

Metrolinx plans to demolish 21 vacant buildings along proposed LRT route

The work will begin this fall in order to reduce the risk of fire and "other potential hazards," according to the Crown agency.

Advocates and tenants say vacant buildings should become affordable housing

832 King Street East is among the boarded-up buildings along Hamilton's proposed LRT route. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Metrolinx says it plans to begin demolishing 21 vacant properties along Hamilton's former LRT route "for safety's sake."

The work will begin this fall in order to reduce the risk of fire and "other potential hazards," according to the Crown agency responsible for transit.

Advocates and tenants have called for the vacant buildings to be turned into affordable housing.

Sharon Miller, who still lives in a Metrolinx-owned duplex along King Street East, said Friday that the buildings between her and one of her few remaining neighbours will be pulled down, something she sees as an effort to get them to leave.

"A lot of the these buildings could be used for housing," she said, adding that if she's eventually forced to leave she believes she'll end up living on the street.

"I sit on pins and needles every day," Miller added.

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins emphasized that no residents living in homes owned by the agency are being asked to leave, as long as they remain in good standing.

"We completely appreciate that this is a very difficult time for a lot of people given the pandemic," she said.

Seven of the 60-plus properties the Metrolinx owns are currently occupied by residents, while five are being rented as commercial sites, she Aikins.

The agency wanted to be very public about its demolition plans in order to ovoid any "misunderstanding or fear," she added.

Future of transit still unclear

Metrolinx notes the demolition is not connected to any particular transit project as Hamilton is still awaiting decisions arising from recommendations from the Transportation Task Force, which was set up after the provincial government cancelled the city's LRT project.

Most of the buildings that will be knocked down have been vacant for more than a year, says Metrolinx.

Staff have observed a risk of fire caused by smoking and illegal dumping during ongoing maintenance and inspections at the sites, a media release adds.

"Metrolinx officials note vacant structures can become safety hazards, prone to vandalism and break-ins, no matter what efforts are in place to secure them," the release reads.

During a demonstration outside 832 King Street East in January advocates released a list of demands, including that the buildings be rehabilitated and tenants pushed out by Metrolinx be given priority if they want to move back in.

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)

Emily Power, a resident who lives near the corridor and member of a group called King Street Tenants United, said Friday that the city's struggle to secure transit is a "scandal" that displaced hundreds.

She believes buildings should not be demolished.

"The homelessness crisis has worsened during the pandemic. People need homes and these homes are empty," she said, adding the city should do the necessary renovations to make the buildings livable again as soon as possible.

For its part, Metrolinx says the demolition is necessary given the "precarious state of the buildings" and the anticipated cost of making them suitable homes.

Aikins said the agency is "not in the housing business," noting affordable housing is outside of its expertise, but said Metrolinx understands "what happens to those houses is all really important."

Budget Demolition has been awarded the contract for the work and, pending permit approval, it's set to begin in fall 2020 and be completed by early 2021.

Metrolinx said the future for the remaining 40-or so properties along the route is still being worked out, adding any plans for future development or ownership have yet to be determined.

Miller said she fears eviction is coming, regardless of Metrolinx's assurances.

"I know it's coming. I'm going to fight as long as I can," she said. "There should have been a plan in place to re-home the people living in the LRT corridor and Mayor Eisenberger and city council didn't even bother. We're just collateral damage."

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