Category Archives: Affordable Housing

Bring Rooming Houses Out Of the Shadows, NOW

NOTE: On November 8th, 2016, Toronto City Council will be discussing a proposed consultation plan for a regulatory and licensing strategy for rooming houses.  Rooming houses are a viable affordable housing option for low income single adults.

Dear Councillor Carmichael Greb,

My Church, Fairlawn Avenue United Church, has alerted me to the fact that City Council will soon be considering a proposal for further consultations on a pilot attempt to start new rooming houses. I find the proposal a very timid and tentative step for five small areas, so need you to hear how I feel about rooming houses.

There has already been much consultation that has given direction to what needs to be done. We don’t need more consultation, and we don’t need to wait to implement what the consultations taught us in the whole city. We need to immediately:
·         bring existing rooming houses out of the shadows, into all neighborhoods (even on my street),
·         make rooming houses desirable places to live, and
·         enable conscientious landlords to invest in them and/or bring them up to acceptable standards for health, safety and the neighbours.

We need more well-managed rooming houses, across the city, now. They will not be neighborhood blights, rather assets. Hear my story: 45 years ago I, as a young engineer, met my future wife, a young nurse who was living in a rooming house. Even back then rooming houses provided low-cost housing solutions in a high-rent city. It was a respectable place, in Forest Hill, but has since reverted to single family. Government policies and regulations seem to have made them bad places to live in, invest in, and for neighbours. So Governments can return rooming houses to their necessary role in addressing the urgent housing shortage in the community. We have far too much real estate that is largely unoccupied, while park benches and ventilation grilles provide homes. In my mind there is an extreme urgency to solve this housing problem and City Council has a duty to ensure its policies and rules do not trap people on the street while ringing Council’s hands about needing senior level government funding for new affordable housing. Available space is sitting right there, under Council’s nose, in under-utilized houses.

I see the proposed tentative pilot for 5 narrow areas as an act to defer badly needed action. I expect the proposed pilot will be a failure because it will only grant temporary licenses for new rooming houses. What landlord would invest to establish a licensed house, and pay inappropriate development fees, if the license may not be renewed regardless of how well he/she runs the house? The tentative nature of the proposal coming to Council reflects excessive anxiety about neighbour concerns that rooming houses attract drugs and petty crime. Yet the report identifies a number of strategies to avoid such problems, both in the existing stock and any new stock.

So I encourage Council to press forward to implement new rooming-house-friendly policies, regulations and supports across the city, NOW, so we can bring rooming houses out of the shadows. City staff has been through the consultations, and its report shows what is needed. So please:
1.      reject staff’s proposal to study and then conduct a 3-6 year pilot, and instead,
2.      direct staff to present within 2 months a detailed plan to implement the ideas they have already harvested. That detailed plan with all its legalities might be the subject of one last two-month consultation before launch.

Thank you

John Cowan

The following are worth checking out:

Opening the Window Blog:

Toronto Star article:

From Rooming Houses to Rooming Homes – 20 minute video by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives: