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Hamilton has a plan to keep homes affordable. Time for the feds and province to do their part



In the Spring/Summer of 2023, through my role as a researcher with the Canadian Housing Evidence Collaborative, I had the opportunity to work with the City of Hamilton on the development of its renoviction prevention framework. While I am hopeful that other tenants and municipalities will be encouraged by Hamilton's efforts and develop similarly strong policies to address predatory eviction, it's the province that really needs to step up to rein in the real estate speculation that is driving predatory eviction and increasing housing unaffordability. The following article was originally published in the Hamilton Spectator on January 15, 2024.

 

A decade ago, Hamilton had some of the lowest rents in the province. Today it has some of the highest among Canada’s largest cities — higher than Montreal, higher than Calgary — matched with a growing homelessness problem.


Ontario’s current rent control policy is at the centre of Hamilton’s housing and homelessness crisis. The policy doesn’t apply to new developments, where landlords are free to set rents as high as they like. For units created before 2018, the policy limits rent increases during a tenancy, but allows the landlord to hike the rent as much as they like once a tenant moves out. This creates a situation where longtime tenants in rent-controlled units often have rents far lower than current asking rent levels.


For investor-landlords, that difference between a longtime tenant’s rent and what a new tenant would be willing to pay, represents unrealized investment growth. Forcing a tenant to move out so that the rent can be raised — known as “predatory eviction” — is central to the business model investors use to grow their investments, with rates of return dependent on how many people can be forced out of their homes and onto the street … or into a tent in a park.


A provincial vacancy control policy, which limits rent increases between tenancies, and not just during tenancies, would eliminate the economic incentive to end tenancies, and virtually end predatory eviction across the province.


Tackling predatory eviction at the municipal level is much, much harder, requiring complicated, expensive and inefficient workarounds. But in the face of persistent inaction from first Liberal, and now Conservative, provincial governments, the City of Hamilton has been working to do everything in its power to stop it.


A combination of tenant organizing and advocacy, city councillors’ political will and persistence, and city staff committed to putting that will into action, has produced a set of policies that, together, will make the city a leader in the ongoing fight against the real estate predators who are driving residents out of their homes and communities.


The latest policy is a Renovation Licencing and Relocation bylaw, which requires landlords who want to evict tenants to do necessary repairs or renovations to first get a renovation licence and either provide the tenants with alternative accommodations or pay them compensation until they are able to move back into their units. Landlords will be fined for not getting a licence, not compensating tenants and trying to keep the tenant from moving back in.


The idea is that if landlords can’t make huge profits from kicking tenants out and secretly renting their units to different tenants at much higher rents, they won’t bother trying to renovict tenants in the first place.


The promise of this bylaw is that landlords who genuinely need to do repairs or renovations will either get a licence or work with the tenant to do repairs without ending their tenancy (by far the easiest and cheapest option), and profiteering investors will find that it’s no longer profitable to renovict Hamilton tenants and stop.


This bylaw is complemented by a new Safe Apartment Buildings Bylaw and improvements to the Vital Services and Property Standards Bylaws. These bylaws will improve the condition of rental housing and prevent landlords from forcing tenants out by neglecting repairs. A Tenant Support Program will help tenants organize to fight and prevent all manner of predatory eviction attempts. Policies to regulate the demolition and conversion of existing rental properties to reduce demovictions and preserve the supply of affordable rental housing are next.


In the absence of good provincial rental housing policy and measures to rein in residential real estate speculation, these initiatives are all critically necessary.


Hamilton’s policymakers know the first step to ending the housing and homelessness crisis is to protect tenants and preserve whatever affordable homes we still have. The City of Hamilton is doing everything it can with the resources and jurisdictional authority it has. Now it’s time for other governments — municipal, provincial and federal — to step up and do the same.

                                 

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