This might look like one of the hundreds of derelict houses and apartment buildings in Detroit after the total collapse of the auto manufacturing industry but these buildings are not in Detroit. Lower Hamilton does have its share of rundown, slummy-looking constructions. They can potentially make for impressive urban photography, and they attract American film-makers and television people who want to re-create similar areas of New Jersey, New York City, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco in their productions.
In general, however, those buildings are just plain demoralizing to the citizens. Citizens have complained considerably about the physical conditions of the downtown areas, especially the core, prompting slow but real efforts to clean up some of the neighbourhoods.
Once proud buildings that were erected in the nineteenth century are now dilapidated to the point of being unsafe eyesores. Some are still occupied by residential and/or business tenants while others have been unused and boarded up for years without being rightfully demolished or restored. Many are too degraded for the expensive renovation that would be needed to save them. It’s not just the foundations and overall structures that are unsafe; the electrical wiring is outdated and in serious need of upgrading, mold has grown in with the potential of making people sick and some of these old buildings have been built with friable asbestos.
Hamilton has a number of by-laws that pertain to trying to keep the city’s private and public urban edifices looking good and being safe, of course. The two that are most questioned in regards to their effectiveness are the Property Standards By-law 10-221, and the Vacant Building Registry By-law 10-260.
The former by-law sets the standards for how private properties are to be maintained, even if they’re vacant properties that have been officially designated heritage sites. Under the latter, property owners are required to register their vacant buildings annually with the Municipal Law Enforcement (MLE) section. This is supposed to help the MLE be able to inspect the vacant properties a minimum of four times per year.
On paper, failure to comply with these by-laws carry stiff financial penalties but citizens have questioned how often and realistically the by-laws have been enforced with specific regards to vacant properties. These by-laws, in conjunction with provincial Acts that regulate and enforce building codes and Heritage interests, don’t seem able to do anything to force the property owners to clean up their affairs.
It seems that many of the large older style buildings are possessed by property owners who live in well-kept homes in wealthier mega-city Toronto and other areas, and really don’t care about the upkeep of their Steel Town real-estate.
These two old derelict adjoined buildings are on on the western edge of Hamilton’s St. Clair neighbourhood.
An area resident told me that the local SWAT team used to use the one on the left as a tactical training house. Neighbours used to watch the police run breeching drills by smashing in doors, popping off flash-bang grenades and storming in with assault weapons. Well, that tells me that this property has been in the possession of the city for some time.
Now that both buildings just sit completely vacant year-after-year, I’m wondering just how the by-laws apply in this case.