A tenants advocacy group is calling on the city of Hamilton to do more to protect renters from extreme heat.
During a press conference in front of city hall on Wednesday, members of ACORN Hamilton said access to cooling is no longer a luxury and should be considered a necessity as higher temperatures become prevalent.
The group has released a report that includes four calls-to-action for Hamilton, including the implementation of a maximum heat bylaw.
The city already has a minimum heat bylaw that requires landlords to ensure all units are at least 20 degrees Celsius between September 15 and May 15, with penalties for those who don’t comply.
ACORN member Evan Pettitt said the provincial government hasn’t established its own legislation to protect tenants from extreme heat.
“There is no indication that this is a priority for the current government,” said Pettitt. “The city of Hamilton has the power to protect tenants from extreme heat. The health and well-being of thousands of renters is at stake.”
Liz Scott was one of the tenants who addressed the crowd in front of city hall, saying the heat in her high-rise apartment in the Riverdale neighbourhood has had an impact on her health.
“When I get overheated, I get migraines. Sometimes it feels like I’m in an oven. It affects my sleep. I have problems sleeping at night because it’s too hot.”
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Zakery Rodrigues said the temperature in the kitchen of the Cannon Street apartment he shares with his fiancee and young daughter sometimes gets into the 30s, even when it’s cooler outside.
“I tell you, it’s right brutal,” he said. “Sometimes we’ve got three air conditioners running damn near constant just to keep it reasonable.”
The crowd also heard from Arnim Hughes, who lives in an older building in Stoney Creek, where window AC units aren’t permitted.
He said he doesn’t have air conditioning and leaves his apartment to go somewhere cooler when it’s hot, but also acknowledged that not everyone has that option.
“People most at risk, such as older people, are less mobile and they are the ones stuck in an apartment. I leave the apartment and come back, but not everyone is able to do that.”
The group is also urging the city to develop a municipal program to support retrofits of market rental housing, add more public drinking fountains and tree canopy in lower-income neighbourhoods, as well as track deaths and illnesses caused by extreme heat.
Right now, there are no Canadian municipalities that have established a maximum heat bylaw, although there are jurisdictions in the United States that have done so.
Karl Andrus of the Just Recovery Coalition said such a bylaw was among the recommendations his group made to the city several years ago and it needs to be made a priority by current councillors and those who end up being elected in October.
“We can all feel the days are getting hotter,” he said. “We have, for decades in Hamilton, had a minimum heat bylaw that said that landlords cannot freeze their tenants to death. We need a maximum heat bylaw because the climate is changing and we need people not to boil and bake in their own homes.”
Speaking on behalf of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, Ahona Mehdi pointed out that people who are disabled or those with chronic illnesses are disproportionately impacted by extreme heat.
“Electric wheelchair batteries can easily overheat in high temperatures. Lack of air conditioning and proper ventilation also has dangerous impacts on those with respiratory issues. A variety of life-saving medication also impacts the ability of people with both mental and physical disabilities to exist in extreme heat.”
Researchers have warned that there are some medications like antidepressants, antihistamines, high blood pressure drugs, and treatments for overactive bladders that can make people more sensitive to heat-related illness.
The city has identified extreme heat as a priority as part of its Climate Change Impact Adaptation Plan, which was approved by council last month. That plan includes actions aimed at addressing dangerous temperature conditions in rental units.
Ian Borsuk of Environment Hamilton said it will be important to ensure everyone elected to the next term of council actually works on bringing those actions to life and adapt as best as possible to extreme heat fuelled by climate change.
“There’s a lot more that we can do into the future with heat pumps and things like that, but just because we don’t have those immediate zero carbon solutions available, does not mean we have to continue to insist renters in the city of Hamilton continue to suffer.”