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Tenant group makes push to bring affordable housing to vacant Hamilton LRT properties

Hamilton-LRT-Properties
Buildings purchased on King Street East by Metrolinx for Hamilton's LRT. Don Mitchell / Global News

A group hoping to rally tenants allegedly “pushed out” of their homes to make way for Hamilton’s now-defunct LRT is demanding the properties be converted to affordable housing.

A collaboration that calls itself King Street Tenants United (KTSU) says they represent 80+ tenant households that were “displaced” from homes set for demolition by the province to accommodate road widening and construction of LRT stations.

KSTU claims of 60 buildings purchased by Metrolinx before the LRT cancellation, there are currently 87 of 102 rental units vacant.

READ MORE: Ontario government cancels Hamilton LRT project, mayor calls announcement a ‘betrayal’

“It is unconscionable that apartments sit empty,” the group said in an email to Global News.

“Metrolinx and City of Hamilton staff have downplayed the number of tenants affected and boasted about their ‘unique’, ‘Made in Hamilton’ tenant eviction program ‘has resulted in a high number of positive interactions with tenants.'”

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KSTU claims tenants have received as little as $200 towards moving expenses or nothing at all, and that 12-month rent supplement packages for some are set to expire, leaving many with unaffordable rents in their current dwellings.

The group says they’re looking for the Metrolinx-owned properties to be reserved for affordable housing, giving those evicted by the province first crack at the available units.

READ MORE: LiUNA leader calls demise of Hamilton’s LRT ‘disturbing’

In addition, they’re calling for a stay on rents with tenants who currently have Metrolinx as their landlord and maintenance for properties that have been allegedly neglected since being purchased for the LRT.

Focus Ontario: Hamilton LRT Cancelled
Focus Ontario: Hamilton LRT Cancelled

KSTU also says they have retained counsel for potential legal action against Metrolinx and are actively searching for others affected by the purported LRT evictions.

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Sharon Miller, who currently lives in a King Street property owned by Metrolinx, says after she was approached by the transit agency things got “really dicey.”

Miller, who was a renter in the King Street property,  says she was directed to the Hamilton Housing Help Center by Metrolinx to find alternate accommodations.

Miller says Metrolinx offered to compensate her for up to one year on any incremental difference in rent at her new location.

The 66-year-old says she forwarded doctor’s notes to the housing centre identifying needs she and her husband required in terms of a living space, particularly living as close to ground level as possible.

“And then Hamilton Housing started calling me, they had apartments on the 17th floor, the 13th floor. I said to them, ‘I can’t do that,’ according to Miller, “I suffer from PTSD. You should have my doctor’s notes. Nothing was forwarded to them. Absolutely nothing.”

READ MORE: Director of Hamilton’s LRT surprised by cancellation amid report bidders ‘dropped out’

Lepa Radic, who left her rental unit on King Street in a similar Metrolinx agreement as Miller, says she’s likely not going to be able to afford the rent she’s currently paying at her new location.

“[Metrolinx provided me] compensation for a year and that year is coming to an end. I imagine that most people, once those [rent] subsidies run out, are now thinking, ‘Well, what am I going to do now?’”
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Shawn Selway, a volunteer spokesperson for KSTU, says “a new form of housing” in Hamilton needs to be found.

“The market is not delivering affordable housing measured in terms of 30 percent or so of income, maybe 45 percent of income, if you take transportation into account,” Selway told Global News, “So if the market can’t or won’t deliver it, then somebody else has to. Presumably the municipal government or some combination of provincial and federal and municipal money.”

Global News reached out to Metrolinx for comment on claims made by KSTU.

The agency confirmed that 60 properties were indeed purchased to make way for the LRT project.

“This includes eight properties which are either vacant lots or partial acquisitions,” Issues Specialist Fannie Sunshine told Global News.

Sunshine went on to say that Metrolinx attempted to acquire property through what they call a “willing-buyer willing-seller” basis and made efforts to provide “fair and reasonable” compensation for all property rights that are required.

READ MORE: Ontario auditor general to probe Hamilton LRT project costs

“On the Hamilton LRT project, Metrolinx began conversations with impacted property owners as soon as possible and worked collaboratively to ensure that the process was fair and open and caused the least impact possible,” Sunshine said.

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“Negotiations continued until a fair settlement was reached. No expropriations were initiated on any properties along the corridor.”

Sunshine says discussions related to property negotiations previously underway, or future acquisitions, have ceased in light of the LRT cancellation.

“Property owners will receive formal notification that the Hamilton LRT project is not proceeding and Metrolinx no longer requires property to build this project.”

Metrolinx says there’s no plan for the properties at present, and says its corporate realty team will pair up with the city’s transportation task force to determine their future.

King Street Tenants United has set a 10:00 a.m. start time for a press conference on Wednesday at the CUPE Hall on King Street.