Tenants spark community action to keep their roof over their heads

Sharon Hyman on Mount Royal, happy to keep her home in the city see loves

SHARON HYMAN WON’T HAVE TO MOVE OUT. Neither will any of the other tenants in the two apartment buildings at 5781-5783 Côte St. Luc Road in Montreal. That’s not what their landlord wanted. But Sharon and her neighbours worked together to make sure what they wanted mattered more.

The tenants and their neighbours voted on November 24 to save the two buildings from demolition. It took long weeks of organizing and constant effort to win that possibility.

“After five months of really hard work, we showed that the people of Hampstead do speak, that this project was not a good idea for any resident of Hampstead, and it showed how people all worked together to be able to do this,” said building tenant Elana Hersh.

“It didn’t seem right to me,” says non-tenant Leah Lasry. “Frankly, I have no special interest in this other than for the people living in the buildings. Because somebody has to say , ‘Hey, this is not how we treat our neighbours.’”

Sending bailiffs to frighten 80-year olds

“I’m not against development. But there is an ethical and a humane way to do it. And showing up with bailiffs at the doorstep of my 80-year-old neighbour, who’s lived here for 30 years, and saying you have 10 days to contest your home being demolished—it’s not the humane way to do it,” says tenant Sharon Hyman.

Rents for the bright and airy 4½-room apartments are $750 a month, heat included. There’s no elevator and the windows are old, but the building’s in good shape. The landlord notified tenants last spring that he intended to evict them all in order to demolish the buildings to make room for a 10-storey luxury apartment complex.

“We found it unconscionable that an affluent municipality like Hampstead would back a project that would see affordable housing demolished, in the middle of the worst housing crisis Montreal has seen in two decades,” says Sharon.

Instead of meekly accepting the eviction notices, the tenants and their neighbours organized themselves to fight back.

A message to all tenants everywhere

A town council vote last summer opposed the demolition. The mayor vetoed that vote. At the following meeting a new vote was tied. The mayor broke the tie. He voted for the demolition.

The tenants and their supporters went to work to force the town to hold a referendum on the demolition on November 24. The result was a resounding vote against the demolition: 593 against / 267 for.

Sharon Hyman says the community victory should send a broad message to tenants across Montreal and across Canada: “It’s time to start fighting back, taking back our power and sending a message to developers that you can’t just treat tenants like expendable commodities.”

Hyman says we need to change the whole conversation around renters and landlords. She heard repeatedly that her landlords weren’t running a charity; they had a right to expect to make money.

She counters: “Yes. You’re not running a charity. But, I’ve helped you pay off your mortgage for the last 26 years. I mean, tenants are the ones who allow landlords to amass wealth…I personally put over two hundred thousand dollars into this building!”

Hyman says that what the tenants and their neighbours did working together was every bit as important as their final victory. They showed that everyday people have the power to make what they want matter. The proof of it is the two apartments that are still standing on Côte St. Luc Road in Montreal.

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