Hamilton Acorn celebrate approval of tenant protecting renovation and relocation bylaw

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Published January 17, 2024 at 7:58 pm

“When we organize, we WIN!,” was the response on social media for Hamilton Acorn members after the City’s General Issues Committee voted to unanimously ratify a Renovation and Relocation bylaw to protect vulnerable tenants in the city – the first such bylaw in Ontario.

“Today was only made possible because Hamilton Acorn members kept on the pressure for the past five years to push for this critical anti-renoviction protection,” the tenants rights group said on Facebook. “We know that people power works to make REAL change, and the momentum from today doesn’t stop with the city of Hamilton.”

Hamilton is in the middle of a worsening housing crisis and Acorn members have been clear that one of the contributing factors has been a sharp increase in the number of renovictions, a practice where landlords push out long-term tenants on the premise of renovations, freeing up the building owners to raise rents much higher than legally allowed if the tenants were to stay.

“Housing is a human right. Yet renovictions are forcing tenants out of their affordable homes to give way to higher rent apartments,” Hamilton Acorn said in their four-prong platform for the City’s 2024 budget deliberations.

Acorn Hamilton has been advocating for strong municipal policies and programs to protect tenants since 2017. On Wednesday, one of the four planks in that platform – the Renovation License and Relocation bylaw – earned political approval.

The goal of the policy, the group said, would be to disincentivize landlords from pursuing eviction under the guise of renovations but still allow legitimate renovations and maintenance to proceed with full tenant protection.

Once displaced by a renoviction, Acorn claimed, tenants are thrown into a housing market where they are not able to afford the rent or are forced to cut back on spending for essential services just to be able to pay for housing.

The January 17 General Issues Committee meeting at Hamilton City Hall

Hamilton Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann threw her support behind the vote and congratulated Acorn for their efforts since work started on the bylaw nearly four years ago.

“Congratulations to each and every neighbour who rents that has been organizing with Hamilton Acorn for over five years for this moment today,” Nann said, noting that it is the first anti-renovictions bylaw approved in the province. “It has been an honour working with you on this since 2019.”

Protecting Hamilton’s affordable housing is more important now than ever, Acorn said in their manifesto presented to committee, pointing out the average market rent in Hamilton for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,755, nearly $900 more than it was just seven years ago.

“Hamilton has lost 15,000 units that rent for less than $750 a month in the last decade. Renoviction shatters the lives of families, breaks long-held community bonds, drives up rents in the neighborhood, increases homelessness and strain on social services, incentivizes landlords to allow their buildings to fall into disrepair and destroys existing stock of affordable housing.”

Acorn is still hoping for approval in the budget for a proactive safe apartment property standards enforcement program, which would require landlords to register with the city; a revamped and expanded Tenant Support Program run by the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic; and a max heat bylaw to better enforce by-laws to protect tenants.

“Today was won because Acorn Hamilton is organized, motivated, and powerful. Everyone who has delegated to City Hall, spoken to the media, and relentlessly called your representative, this is a win for all us,” said the group, who held a press conference at City Hall prior to the meeting. “Municipal action to protect affordable rental housing is possible, and the bylaw passed today is proof.”

Hamilton Acorn members at a City Hall press conference prior to the General Issues Committee meeting Wednesday

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