Tenants, community groups fight 'renovictions' at Ventura Towers in downtown Hamilton
The company 'thinks they can walk all over us ... these are our homes,' said tenant Terry Ross
Vanessa Jeffrey had tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat as she stood in front of her apartment on 192 Hughson St. in Hamilton's Beasley neighbourhood Monday.
She said she's lived in a unit at Ventura Towers for nine months and "it's been hell" because of poor living conditions such as bedbugs and cockroaches.
"Just imagine getting bitten alive, living with no heat ... how is it fair when we pay our rent?" the 42-year-old tenant asked.
Now she may lose her home because the owners, Valery Group, are going to renovate part of her building and another highrise on 181 John St.
"I was born and raised here and I ain't going," she told media.
Jeffrey was joined by a handful of other tenants at a demonstration in the biting cold to protest what they're calling "renovictions."
Developers want to build more units, local groups push back
Dyna Teal, Valery Group's marketing director, said the developer received all the required permits from the city and the two apartment buildings will undergo "a demolition to produce 200 new rental units to help assist with the Hamilton housing shortage," Teal wrote in a statement.
The specifics of the renovation or demolition are unclear.
Gachi Issa, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic's Black justice coordinator, said the renovation will affect the first six floors at the John Street building and the first five floors on Hughson Street. At least a dozen families will be forced out.
"I am so angry ... at the fact people are being displaced in the middle of the winter," she told media.
A letter dated Nov. 1, obtained by CBC Hamilton, from Valery to residents offered them $20,000 to leave in 30 days, $15,000 to leave in 60 days, $10,000 to move in 90 days.
However, if none of those were accepted by Nov. 8, the developers would issue a notice to vacate in 120 days for no money.
One tenant told CBC on Monday that packages were re-offered after Nov. 8 with a new deadline of Nov. 15. It is unclear how many tenants may have accepted.
The move comes as Hamilton grapples with homelessness and affordability.
Gachi said residents are frustrated and said she was told some were pressured into an agreement despite not understanding the terms.
"They weren't given enough information and no one took the time to translate," she said.
Tenant Terry Ross was among those voicing concerns. He said his family has lived there for decades.
"You have only been our landlord for a month yet you are ready to displace long-term tenants out of their home in 30 days. We are demanding you immediately stop," he said Monday.
Ross also pointed to past "renoviction" concerns when Greenwin Inc. owned the buildings.
Speaking for Valery, Teal said the packages the developer offered were "generous" and "above what is required under the Residential Tenancies Act."
"We discourage the distribution of misinformation by certain group activists; their efforts are not assisting anyone," read the statement.
"We do however encourage any group to work collaboratively as we have put together a transition team to ensure Ventura Tower residents understand their rights, options, assisting them in relocating and we are highly encouraging demolition-affected residents to select a compensation package that is suitable to them."
Community groups demand action from city
Issa said in an interview Valery's renoviction is racist because many of those who may be displaced are low-income people of colour and newcomers.
"They want Black people and racialized people to move so they can charge more money," she said.
Representatives from other groups including Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, the Afro Canadian Caribbean Association, the Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre, (HARRC) the Hamilton Centre For Civic Inclusion and the Disability Justice Network of Ontario also advocated for tenants. Hamilton Centre MP Matthew Green also attended Monday's press event.
"Valery Homes is trying to make this seem as if this is a Christmas gift ... We're going to continue to stand here with you and support you," HARRC executive director Lyndon George said.
Ahmed Yusuf and Abdul Wahed Omer, both tenants, said many residents including them will struggle to find other housing because many of them don't have a lot of money.
"It's a very different situation now because of COVID and it's very hard to find a house," Yusuf said, translating for Omer.
Residents called on the city and Ward 2 councillor, Jason Farr, to take action.
Today ACORN, <a href="https://twitter.com/HCCI1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HCCI1</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/HamiltonJustice?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HamiltonJustice</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/djnontario?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@djnontario</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/ACCAHam?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ACCAHam</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/HamiltonARRC?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@HamiltonARRC</a> and tenants from 181 John St N / 192 Hughson St N held a press conference to demand that Valery Homes stop all efforts to displace long term tenants!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/HamOnt?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#HamOnt</a> <a href="https://t.co/XOmgp9Azop">pic.twitter.com/XOmgp9Azop</a>—@AcornHamilton
CBC Hamilton reached out to the city for comment on Monday afternoon but the city didn't immediately provide a response.
Farr said in a phone interview he has been trying to contact Valery Group "and I intend on getting the full story."
He added residents should think carefully before accepting any cash offers.
Ross said he and other tenants will put up a fight to stay in the building.
"Valery thinks they can walk all over us ... these are our homes."