Hamilton. ON. As of April 2021, The Tower is temporarily closed and will be moving.
Originally published by Northshore Info.
One of the key goals of the project from the beginning has been to provide infrastructure explicitly useful to support and further radical organizing in Hamilton for free. Over the course of the last year we have struggled with ongoing questions of how to best operate within a pandemic when so much of what we do as a physical space relates to people being able to gather. It has been increasingly difficult to strategize ways to function and be useful within the constraints of our current moment.
For the first 6 months of the pandemic, the space was transformed into a neighbourhood foodbank and distribution centre. Downtown East Hamilton Mutual Aid was able to run their project out of The Tower, and in doing so, provided much needed support to people in the area at the beginning of the pandemic. During this same period, The Tower’s printshop printed posters, flyers, pamphlets etc. for various campaigns such as Keep Your Rent amongst others, as well as printed and published different zines and books. However, moving into the fall much of this activity died down, and it became increasingly difficult to find ways to make use of the space and its resources.
Moving into the winter months, we began to question whether or not the expenses of The Tower could be justified. Our average monthly expenses vary from $1,500-$2,000, and it has become increasingly difficult to justify the use of the money when the space was going largely unused. While considering next steps for the project, our relationship to the landlord and property management company of 778 Barton Street East, as well as the condition of the physical building itself, began to drastically deteriorate.
While it’s nothing unique in this increasingly gentrified urban landscape, our landlord Andrew Sukhiani of “Andy’s Apartments” is a scumbag slumlord par excellence. If you want to get your class rage on you can read more about him here:
For those who can’t stomach it (and we don’t blame you), highlights include tips from Andy on how to make it rich while working no more than 4 hours of a day, and how to go from being a predatory supplier of student housing in Waterloo to a “real-estate mogul” in Los Angeles. Somewhere along the way Wolverine Property Management became involved, giving both Andy and Wolverine a blame-loop to escape any kind of accountability for building repairs or emergencies. In fact, Wolverine is so practised in escaping responsibility there tenant portals have “how-to” videos instructing tenants on resolving their own maintenance issues.
The Tower’s location at 778 Barton St. East has always had its problems, however this past fall and winter these escalated to untenable heights. It would be impossible to go over everything wrong with the building, but here’s a brief snapshot: basement flooding, repeated and severe ceiling leaks, water in electrical receptacles, rats the size of cats, an electrical fire, three break-ins related to property management negligence, no heat for an entire winter, and ongoing sewage backups – including two that necessitated the use of biohazard suits and rubber boots.
The electrical fire led to the building being inspected by the fire marshal, by-law, and finally – the electrical safety authority. These inspections revealed a long list of major building code violations, serious safety concerns, and several “mandatory” work orders that have been delayed time and time again. After months of fighting – by ourselves and with tenants, for these issues to be addressed the Electrical Safety Authority finally delivered an electrical shut-off notice to the entire building due to non-compliance. When concerns about the shutoff were brought up with Robert Braun – president of Wolverine – he brushed it off, stating there would be no shutoff and all the authority wanted from them was a promise to address the issue – they didn’t care about the issue’s resolution.
All of this was incredibly frustrating for us, but the biggest source of stress and concern, was not The Tower, but all of the residential apartments and thus renters, that we share the building with. The conditions of the apartments are brutal, many are literally falling apart and barely fit for anyone to live in. Through our years of renting and sharing the building, we built relationships with our neighbours and know tenants have had serious concerns that have failed to be addressed by both Andy & Wolverine – missing door knobs, lights and fire alarms, fire and electrical safety issues, heat and hot water issues, flooding problems, pest problems, and more.
While there are – understandably – very few tenants currently left in the building we support those choosing to stay and fight for their homes. We encourage others to support them as well. With COVID and a severe housing crisis in all of Southern Ontario, we heavily discourage any calls for or attempts to shut down the building as a whole. That said, The Tower has made the hard decision to leave the space.
This certainly isn’t an end of the project, but rather a pause and maybe even a bit of reset. We’re going to take this as an opportunity to scheme and plan for the next steps of the project. Everything from The Tower is in storage, and once the pandemic wraps up in a way that a social centre can meaningful function again, a new space will open.
We’ve survived several waves of repression, countless far-right attacks, city-wide backlash, the scorn of local politicians, and much more. This certainly is not the end, just a result of the everyday bullshit of capitalism and the unavoidable impacts of a global pandemic. We have no desire to line the pockets of a particularly vile landlord when the space cannot be utilized fully – there are much better things for those resources to go towards.
We’re incredibly grateful for all the support we have gotten from people, without which this project would have never happened and certainly would never had survived. Keep an eye on The Tower facebook for updates, and if you know of any/see any space rentals that might work for us in the future, please let us know!