by Robyn Gillam

Since 1967, the 75 metre high Marina Towers apartments stood on the western bluffs overlooking Eastwood Park, at the corner of John and Brock Streets. They were the largest rental housing complex of this type in the North End, and, since the closure of the city apartments at 500 McNab, the only one. Sometime during Fall and Winter, Marina Towers disappeared.

 The two large apartment buildings didn’t actually vanish, but they did change their name, from Marina to Pier Towers. This is because the building was purchased in September by CLV, an Ottawa-based property company, specializing in large apartment buildings, and operating over much of Ontario and Quebec.

This organization may be familiar to Hamiltonians as the target of a rent strike in 2018 by tenants in Stoney Creek, who were fighting a ten percent rent increase. The renters, many of whom were low income and had lived in the buildings for many years, say they were subjected to various forms of harassment, including attempts to prevent them from gathering in common areas. The company, which countered that the buildings were run-down and in much need of major maintenance, was ultimately successful in getting the rent increase, displacing many tenants.

 CLV appears to be taking a different approach to the buildings at John and Brock. Several tenants, who contacted city, said they had been offered cash to move out. This is a tactic associated with “renoviction,” the practice of persuading or forcing tenants to move out on various pretexts (like the need for renovation), so that their unit can be rented for more money. Although it takes advantage of a loophole in Ontario legislation that allows owners to raise rents as they like on vacant units, the practice has become common all over Canada. Driven by inflated property values and increasing corporate ownership of rental units, renoviction results in greater housing insecurity, and, ultimately, homelessness.

However, renoviction need not be inevitable. The city of  New Westminster, B.C., was able to virtually eliminate it through a system of landlord licensing and guarantees to rehouse displaced tenants. All stakeholders were pleased with changes that encourage community stability. Proposals for similar regulation in Hamilton have been supported by Acorn, Hamilton Community Legal Clinic and other housing advocacy groups. While the city rejected earlier suggestions for landlord licensing, the proposal is being studied.

It’s time for us to show our support for tenants at the former Marina Towers, before they disappear like the old building name. They make up a diverse and sizable portion of our community and many of them have lived here for over 30 years. Contact the city and your local councillor to register your concern about the building and the issue of renoviction and think about lending your support to any community event or action to help them out.