Within the last three weeks, tenants at 10 Bay Street South in Hamilton have organized to demand better living conditions from their landlord. In this case, their landlord is McMaster University, the same public university where they are enrolled as graduate students.
McMaster opened 10 Bay Street South this fall as a housing option for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. McMaster marketed 10 Bay as a state-of-the-art 30-story building that would create a thriving student community in the heart of downtown Hamilton. The university never delivered on this promise. While students who moved into the building in September knew that it would not be entirely completed, the conditions have been significantly worse than what they had expected or had been informed by McMaster.
An unlivable building
On December 4, tenants posted an open letter to McMaster housing services which detailed their concerns and demands. Their concerns include:
- A harmful coliform bacteria outbreak in the building’s drinking water for multiple weeks;
- Long, disruptive hours of construction on floors that are full, despite promises that there would be no construction on tenant-occupied floors;
- Poor air quality in the building amid construction;
- Multiple instances of workers entering units without the tenants’ approval/knowledge; and
- No indoor parking available despite tenants pre-paying for access.
The group’s website describes students’ personal experiences with these issues, raising alarming concerns about structural and safety hazards. One tenant discusses their skin rashes and lesions. Another describes bug infestation in the laundry room. A quote from one tenant sums the situation up succinctly, “This fucking building is unlivable.”
In the face of these issues, tenants at 10 Bay have made collective demands for large rent refunds, advanced notice for construction and unit entry, a hazard review by an outside entity, and permission for tenants to break their lease within 60 days given the state of the building.
We have seen tenant organizing growing in the GTA, with the York South-Weston tenants’ union mounting Toronto’s largest rent strike this summer, which is still ongoing. Tenants at 10 Bay share concerns with other tenant organizing groups surrounding exorbitant housing costs, poor quality of accommodations, and mistreatment from landlords. The issue that sets 10 Bay residents apart is that their landlord is also their educational institution. For tenants working as teaching assistants or graduate lecturers, McMaster is their employer as well.
Organizing as tenants and workers
Tenants at 10 Bay have organized as the Tenant Solidarity Working Group within CUPE 3906, the union local that represents teaching assistants, research assistants, sessional faculty and post-doctoral fellows employed at McMaster. Workers within this local are not new to political action; just last fall, the union went on strike for nearly a month demanding better pay and benefits for Unit 1 employees (teaching assistants and research assistants). During this process, workers put public pressure on McMaster, prevented buses and cars from entering campus, and successfully compelled several departments to not cross the picket line. They won wage increases and added benefits to their contract in December 2022 because of these actions.
Workers’ rights and tenants’ rights are intrinsically linked. In the working class, we occupy both spaces simultaneously. At the provincial level, CUPE has shown support for renters via $5000 donations each to the Thorncliffe Park Tenant Rent Strike Fund and York South-Weston Tenant Union. At the individual level, many of the key organizers in these movements are current or former CUPE members themselves. Workers and tenants at 10 Bay are organizing as rank-and-file workers based on their own collective needs. They are also situating their group within a union that has shown solidarity with tenants and has the capacity to put pressure on McMaster.
Despite the collective power behind workers and tenants, landlords and bosses will always work to ensure that their exploitative interests are upheld. McMaster serves as both and has additional power as a large, public university. The 10 Bay Tenant Solidarity Working Group has shared their living experiences with several major news outlets, spreading images of murky tap water, open wiring, and more hazards within the building. Despite these obviously harmful living conditions, the City of Hamilton found no bylaw violations after investigating the property, and McMaster has remained largely silent.
McMaster is ensuring that it is making little to no technical or legal violations so they can continue to charge nearly $1500 in rent per occupant. Supporting the organizing power and continued pressure of the tenants at 10 Bay is necessary to ensure their demands are met. McMaster must see that the public does not condone these egregious conditions for anyone, let alone graduate students who are employed by the university.
Please consider writing to McMaster Housing Services in support of the CUPE 3906 Tenants’ Solidarity Working Group via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via letter at 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1. For updates, follow the group on Instagram @10baytenants and see updates on their website 10baystreet.ca.
Did you like this article? Help us produce more like it by donating $1, $2, or $5. Donate