Condo boom leaves no room for Ron Belmore
Disabled tenant searching for new home; lawyer says he’s a victim of ‘extreme’ gentrification in North End
RON BELMORE HAS BEEN living in squalor — and against city building rules — at the site of one of Hamilton’s swankiest proposed condo developments.
Now he is searching for a new home ahead of that pricey, yet-to-be-approved development. His predicament is being labelled an extreme example of the pitfalls of gentrification and an indictment of Hamilton’s overloaded social housing network.
Glitzy ads nailed to the fence around 271 Bay St. N provide a glimpse of the proposed future for the old auto-wrecking yard, which is also the subject of a $5-million lawsuit against the city.
The website for Tiffany Square at West Harbour says you can buy a future condo in the eight-storey, 160-plus unit luxury redevelopment — a short walk from the water and GO station — starting at $300,000.
But Belmore has been a resident for three years. He paid $650 a month out of his disability allowance to rent space in the old scrapyard office — a use the city says is not legal — with a bare concrete floor, plywood on two outside walls and a wood stove for heat.
Now Belmore says he is couchsurfing as a result of a legal notice telling him to vacate because of the planned redevelopment. “I felt like I was taken advantage of,” said Belmore, who is in his late 40s and has a brain injury. He argued he ignored worsening building conditions only to be “kicked out” before he was ready.
Landlord and developer Marino Rakovac disagrees. Yes, he
said, the unit is in “terrible” shape but only because of tenant “hoarding” and other damaging activities.
Rakovac acknowledged sending out a notice asking for tenants to move out by February but said Belmore had already cancelled his rent payment and announced plans to leave. A second building tenant, Kathy Muller, told the Spectator her half of the converted office is in “great shape” and she is content to stay month-to-month until demolition looms.
“I have empathy for Ronnie ... We tolerated his issues for a long time,” said Rakovac, adding he previously chose not to evict his tenant over unpaid rent and “unsafe” behaviour. (Belmore disputes those allegations, but acknowledges “withholding” rent over property issues.)
Regardless, both the city and Belmore’s lawyer suggest the vulnerable tenant should never have ended up in the building.
The city said Monday the former office is “not a legally habitable dwelling” based on zoning and building records. That was news to Rakovac, who suggested the building has a “grandfathered” use as a “live-work” space dating back decades.
“The living conditions are the worst I’ve seen for any of my clients,” said Brendan Jowett, a lawyer with the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic. “Based on what I’ve seen it looks borderline uninhabitable. You’re having to scrounge firewood for heat in the winter? That’s appalling.”
He called his client’s situation an “extreme” example of the challenges posed by gentrification, such as displacement of low-income residents by real estate wars and condo booms. But it also means a lack of affordable options, said Jowett.
There is a years-long wait list for some types of social housing in Hamilton — 5,800 would-be tenants or families, overall — and supports for tenants with special needs are not always readily available. But Jowett also said landlords have “a duty to accommodate” tenants, and programs do exist to help with everything from brain injuries to hoarding disorder.
Belmore said when he first moved in he had access to the entire building, which is clad on two sides with plywood and features a slightly sagging roof over the portion closest to Bay Street.
Later, he said he arranged to have another tenant, Muller, move in to help with the rent. That became a source of conflict, both tenants agree, and resulted in Belmore living largely out of a single room exiting onto Bay Street.
A visit from the Spectator Friday showed Belmore’s mattress on the bare concrete floor, beside a small tree he dragged into the building to feed a nearby wood stove he called his only source of heat. A counter in the middle of the room had a sink — but, at least at the time, no running water.
Rakovac argued the converted office was inspected and deemed appropriate by Belmore’s disability support worker when he moved in three years ago. The Spectator could not reach that worker.
The landlord said he wasn’t aware the kitchen sink didn’t work. But he said the wood stove was added because Belmore repeatedly covered baseboard heaters along the walls with “hoarded” possessions. “It wasn’t the only heat source. It was just the only safe option,” he said.
Belmore, on the other hand, argued the heaters were unplugged after a bill dispute. (The city also has no record of a permit to add the wood stove.) The tenant acknowledged the “messy” room but denied it caused safety problems.
Piles of Belmore’s possessions, ranging from old electrical appliances to pieces of furniture to kids toys, were indeed piled haphazardly along the room walls when the Spectator visited. Dog feces, he has a Rottweiler-boxer, was also scattered throughout the room. Rakovac said the outside of the old building is “deteriorating” but safe. Those repairs are not a priority, he said, given the property owners’ hopes to demolish the building.
The property owners have applied for a grant to remediate the old scrapyard, but must first settle an outstanding lawsuit against the city. The developer said he’s hopeful that will happen “soon” but also suggested a property sale is possible.
Top photo: Ron Belmore brings his e-bike back to Bay Street North to pick up his dog. The house appears to be the abandoned office of a scrapyard which is slated to be redeveloped into Tiffany Square, a West Harbour condo development.
Above, the interior of 271 Bay St. N. Ron Belmore has been living at the address for a few years. It was rented to him for $650 a month by developer Marino Rakovac.
At right, an advertisement for the new condo project.