A sign outside of the doors of the Hamilton Farmers' Market advertising hours of operation Credit: Joey Coleman / The Public Record

Pay up in full for 2020, or be evicted, this is the message Hamilton City Council is delivering to vendors in the Hamilton Farmers’ Market who are struggling due to COVID.

Hamilton City Council, in a closed session meeting, voted to not use federal and provincial COVID funds to offer a rent support program to vendors in the Market.

Council did not announce the decision, merely stating they have made a decision and it would remain confidential. Hamilton City Council holds more closed meetings than any other municipality in Ontario.

Vendors in the market do not qualify for the federal commercial rent support programs because the City of Hamilton is their landlord, and the federal government is already providing COVID funding to the City.

The City is expecting a surplus to end 2020, thanks to significant financial support from other levels of government. The Province announced an additional $6.4-million in COVID funding to the City of Hamilton just prior to Christmas.

All Vendors to Pay in Full, Regardless of Forced Closures and Reduced Hours

All market vendors are required to pay rent, even if they had to close due to COVID restrictions. City Council is not reducing rent, despite decreasing the hours of operation at the Market.

Like many businesses in downtown commercial areas across North America, the Hamilton Farmers Market is experiencing significant decreases in business as the thousands of office workers who usually work downtown are now working from Hamilton.

Restaurants in the Farmers Market were not allowed seating due to COVID restrictions, and could not offer curbside pickup during the pandemic. The majority of restaurants were closed during the early months of the pandemic as a result.

With offices downtown closed, and no indoor dining permitted, many market vendors continue to struggle. Nonetheless, City Council is demanding full rent.

Mayors Action Contrary to His COVID Economic Task Force

On December 16, 2020, Mayor Fred Eisenberger celebrated the release of final report of the Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Recovery.

The Mayor’s report states the commercial landlords not giving their tenants rent relief programs is a significant challenge for Hamilton’s economy. On page 12 of the report, it states there should be a “moratorium on commercial tenant evictions” and call for an expansion of government relief programs.

City Council Votes 13 to 1 Against Rent Support

On November 23, 2020, Council held a closed session discussion of the rent situation at the Market. Council did not provide any details of their closed session or reasoning. On November 25, in a 13 to 1 vote, Council voted to require all vendors to agree to pay full 2020 rent and to agree to pay any arrears by October 2021 to remain in the market.

Only Ward 7 Councillor Esther Pauls, who sits on the Farmers Market Board of Director, voted no. Pauls continues to support providing rent relief to Market vendors.

Ward 2 City Councillor Jason Farr has issued no statements on his website, social media, or newsletter regarding the situation at the Market.

Municipal Act and Rent Support

Ward 7 Councillor Esther Pauls, during the Hamilton Farmers Market Board of Directors meeting on Monday, revealed part of the information which Council discussed behind closed doors and is refusing to share with the public.

Pauls says she is lobbying local Progressive Conservative MPP Donna Skelly (Flamborough—Glanbrook) to change the Ontario Municipal Act.

Pauls says the City Manager’s Office told Council they cannot provide any COVID rent relief as the Municipal Act prohibits it as “bonusing”.

Pauls was quickly reminded that Council voted to not share its reasoning with the public, and did not say anything further.

The City of Cambridge and City of London both provided some rent relief at their municipally run markets.

The City of Oshawa publicly debated the matter of rent assistance for tenants in municipal buildings. Oshawa staff explained that the bonusing provisions of the Municipal Act forbid the municipality from giving a benefit to some businesses not available to all.

Mississauga voted to support 100% rent forgiveness to municipal tenants. (GC-0158-2020) Mississauga Council received legal advice in closed session prior to the decision. Mississauga follows proper protocol and limits their in-camera to advise, making decisions in public after the in-camera.

Mississauga City staff confirm they “granted rent forgiveness notwithstanding the City’s (and our tenants’) inability to access financial support through CECRA (Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance) [program]”.

Vendors Given to Jan 21 to Sign Agreement to Pay 2020 Rent or Be Closed

City Council directed the City Manager’s Office to require all vendors to agree to pay full back rent for 2020 as part of annual lease renewals. Council is deferring interest on late rent until October 2021 when all arrears are expected to be settled.

Vendors have until January 21, the day the Market reopens after a renovation closure, to agree to payment plans for 2020 rent or they will not be allowed to continue operating at the Market.

Council expects flower, textile, and pet food vendors to continue paying rent, despite not being allowed to open under the current provincial COVID regulations.

City Council did not release the number of vendors who are behind on rent due.

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First published: December 6, 2020
Last updated: December 6, 2020
Author: Joey Coleman
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One reply on “City Council to Market Vendors: No to COVID Assistance, Pay Up or Leave”

  1. Due to Covid, the market hours are:

    “Reduced Hamilton Farmers’ Market Hours will be 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Tuesday’s, Thursday’s and Friday’s. The Market will be open Saturday’s 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM”

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