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Riverdale apartment residents worry about gentrification

Mike Pearson, Stoney Creek News (Sept. 2015)

When Deana Hazell heard her apartment building was being sold, she began making plans to move.
Hazell and other residents in the Riverdale community of high-rise apartments are concerned that rents could become unaffordable now that their buildings have been purchased by InterRent Real Estate Investment Trust.
Fearing a rent increase, Hazell has decided to downsize and move into a one-bedroom unit closer to the city’s downtown.
Hazell currently lives in a two-bedroom high rise unit at 40 Grandville Avenue. The building is one of four complexes recently purchased by InterRent in a deal expected to close before the end of November.
Hazell was notified last week her rent is increasing by $15 to $772 per month.
“As soon as I started hearing all the rumours of what was happening I decided now is the time to move,” Hazell said during the annual Fallfest event last Thursday.
“With the new company taking over, they want to redo all the appointments and increase the rent. I’m low income. I can’t afford that.”
Along with 40 Grandville, InterRent has announced it’s reached an unconditional agreement to purchase the buildings at 77 Delawana Dr., 11 Grandville Ave. and 11 Violet Dr., in a deal valued at $51 million.
Hazell, and other residents who spoke to the Stoney Creek News, said 40 Grandville has had repeated problems with bedbugs and cockroaches. Hazell had to throw away her bed and spent more than two months living out of plastic bags to stave off a recent bedbug infestation.
Linda Tutt, who also lives at 40 Grandville, said the bedbugs and cockroaches remain the building’s biggest issue.
She loves the area but also worries about the potential for rent increases.
“With the lack of affordable housing in Hamilton and with the rental situation being what it is, this is really the only viable option for a lot of people who are on limited incomes,” she said.
The building, in the heart of the Riverdale community, offers reasonable rent for low-income residents and close proximity to transit, shopping and community support agencies, said Tutt.
But that could all change if rents become unaffordable.
“If management outprices (the rents), they’re going to squeeze everybody out and where are they going to go?” Tutt said.
Tutt hopes the new owner will addresss outstanding issues with the property without hiking the rent.
“My hope is that they are going to follow through on everything they say they’re going to do, because we’ve heard it all before,” she said.
Tutt noted that last week’s rent increase was the first residents have received in several years.
InterRent announced on Sept. 2 it had reached an unconditional agreement to purchase 618 suites in the four buildings. The apartments are owned by Hamilton’s DiCenzo Management, part of a group of companies founded by home builder Anthony DiCenzo and now operated by his family.
InterRent CEO Mike McGahan and president Brad Cutsey did not respond to interview requests.
In a news release, the company states the buildings are located in a residential area, within a short-walking distance to parks, schools and the Eastgate Square shopping plaza, and also highlights future plans to extend the light-rail transit system from the Queenston Circle to Eastgate Square.
“We believe the Hamilton market is well positioned for excellent growth and this portfolio is located in a strong rental node,” InterRent officials stated. “This acquisition is a strong addition to the REIT’s value creation strategy.”
The Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton has identified the Riverdale area as having the second highest number of low-income individuals and highest number of newcomers in Hamilton.
Brandon Braithwaite, a community development worker for the Social Planning and Research Council, said landlords in the downtown area have recently offered cash incentives to convince tenants to move out. Once the tenants are gone, landlords can increase rents above the normal three per cent guideline.
“I’ve heard from a number of the tenants that were moving out who couldn’t find anything for the same price that they had been paying.”
Braithwaite fears the same situation could happen for the Riverdale tenants, who might feel intimidated to move in exchange for incentives of $1,000 to $2,000.
Current tenants of 40 Grandview said no such incentives have been offered to date.
Chad Collins, city councillor for the area, said that while rent controls should protect residents who intend to stay in their units, the area can’t avoid the gentrification that’s resulted in higher housing prices and lower vacancy rates.
“The rental market is not immune to those rising prices,” said Collins. “As more people move here, vacancy rates are at an all-time low. I suspect that Riverdale won’t be immune to some of those growing pains, if you want to call it that.”
On the plus side, Collins hopes InterRent will invest some much-needed capital into its newest acquisitions.
Collins noted InterRent recently purchased some other rental properties in the Quigley Road and Tindale Court area that are now showing signs of renewal.
“If they follow the same pattern they did with their previous purchase, I think we’ll see some changes,” he said.

Accessed April 21, 2016