Rights and responsibilities

Brad is a single dad who lives with his five children in an apartment in east Hamilton. His landlord refuses to spray for bugs, conducts illegal inspections and is making Brad pay for damage that predated his move-in. Now, the landlord is putting pressure on Brad to move. “I don’t want to,” Brad says. “He calls me the R-word. I’ve heard that word all my life. It makes me want to cry.”

Brad credits Civic Connections — a program that uses community outreach, tenant workshops and leadership development to increase the civic engagement of Hamilton’s low-income tenant community — with giving him the confidence to stay put.

HCF first funded Civic Connections in 2017. Subsequent grants have supported the program’s expansion in several neighbourhoods experiencing escalating pressures from gentrification, including those in east Hamilton and on the Mountain. In 2021, the program will continue in east Hamilton and expand to four new west Mountain neighbourhoods and one in the core, again with HCF support.

More than 60 people attended the tenant workshops in 2020, which were developed with the support of the Social Planning & Research Council of Hamilton and the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, and held online due to the pandemic. Participants learned the basics of municipal government, practised presenting to city council and were informed of their rights and obligations, with special attention to evictions during COVID-19.

Elizabeth Ellis co-led the east Hamilton workshops. Like Brad, she had been bullied by her landlord to leave, eventually accepting a buy-out that wasn’t enough to cover her moving costs, let alone the rent increase at her new place. “Knowledge is power,” Elizabeth says. “We give people information so they can decide what’s right for their situation. The more people speak up, the more city hall will listen.”

The ultimate goal is constructive civic engagement. “An informed citizenry makes better decisions,” says Hamilton Community Legal Clinic staff lawyer, Ali Naraghi. “If the public knows their basic rights on any topic, it automatically de-escalates conflict down the road.”