Beating the Heat for Tenants

ACORN International Climate Change

       New Orleans      The foundational point undergirding climate change is that temperatures are heating up all over the globe.  The impact of this global warming for some communities and even whole island countries could be catastrophic.  On many levels, all of us will see these changes in the seasons and our own environments.  Bottom line:  we will all feel the heat.  Over the last year, ACORN Canada has made extreme heat a signature campaign for tenants in Hamilton, Ontario.  Working with several allies, ACORN has not only won the first bylaw in Canada to address this issue, but one of the first measures of this kind in the world.

The demands in this campaign were straightforward:

  1. A maximum heat bylaw mandating that adequate and suitable cooling shall be provided and maintained by the landlord (implementation for summer 2024)
    2. Temporary cooling measures available in apartment buildings for the summer of 2023. Such as a designated space available to all tenants that is air-conditioned.
    3. Development of a municipal program to support low-income tenants with the cost to run an air conditioning unit.
    4. The City of Hamilton to develop a municipal program to support retrofits of private purpose-built rental housing.
    5. Tracking of heat-related deaths and illnesses in Hamilton.

ACORN leaders, members, and allies combined actions and meeting with all twelve Hamilton city councilors to make their case that landlords had to assure that their tenants would not only survive the Canadian winters with adequate heat, but also the new realities of Canadian summers with adequate cooling.  The end result saw a first-step motion pass unanimously 10-0 by the council.  The key provision responding to our demands was that the “2024 budget allocation for allowing the licensing and bylaw division to develop, update and enforce city bylaws to protect tenants” on the issue of maximum heat.

Clearly, the fight is a long way from over.  The bylaw requires the staff to report back on the “feasibility” of tracking heat-related deaths, which should be an easy win when they return.  Having the city come back with a realistic plan to support low-income tenants is likely to cost some money, so that is likely to be a push.  The devil is also in the details on exactly what the final law will require as it sets heat ranges and the requirements for landlords to meet the standards.  ACORN has been fighting everywhere for more support on retrofits for homes and housing complexes and has won some victories in this area, but a program like the one developed in France that financially supports landlords in upgrading their buildings is a more difficult struggle.

This is a big step forward in Canada and could point the direction for other communities.  Now we have to make sure that the study, final language, and hard dollars bring tenants the relief from the heat that rising temperatures demand for public health.