When Toronto Life published its story of hapless gentrifiers who displaced rooming house dwellers in their quest for a 4000 square foot Parkdale home for a family of four, it unleashed a storm of protest, from a satiric fund-raiser to the informed response of the Star’s Edward Keenan.
For many, it was a timely reminder that Parkdale, like many of Toronto’s downtown neighbourhoods, is losing its rooming houses forever. According to a recent study by the Parkdale Neighbourhood Land Trust, an estimated 347 people have lost their homes due to 28 rooming house conversions over the past ten years, with an additional 818 people at imminent risk.
But there is another story at play in Toronto’s inner suburbs. Across Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke, students, newcomers and seniors are increasingly finding a home in shared houses. For them, it is not gentrifiers who put their homes at risk – at least not yet. It is the City’s own by-laws that render any house shared by more than three renters illegal.
A chance to speak up
Last October, City Council’s Executive Committee called for public consultations in five inner suburban pilot areas where rooming houses, now called “multi-tenant houses,” are not permitted. The results of these consultations will lead to “temporary use by-laws” that would permit multi-tenant houses for three years in the pilot areas, and enable staff to evaluate and report their findings to City Council. They will also inform a City-wide licensing regime for all multi-tenant houses.
This is an opportunity for anyone who cares about Toronto’s affordable housing.
- If you live or work in one of the five pilot areas in Wards 1, 8, 33, 39, 40, 41, 43 and 44), meetings run from June 6th to June 21st. This is an opportunity to frame the pilot project in your area.
- If you live in the old City of Toronto, you can participate in one of four public meetings running June 14th – June 27th.
- Everyone can complete an online survey. The survey closes June 28th.
A complete meeting schedule, including background information, can be found on the City’s Multi-Tenant House Review webpage.
As a human rights organization, HomeComing has taken a keen interest in the future of Toronto’s rooming houses – one of the few affordable alternatives for single adults. Here are our reflections.
Rooming houses are essential part of Toronto’s affordable housing stock
Toronto has an affordable housing crisis. We cannot afford to lose any affordable homes. So when the City describes its rooming house strategy as “balancing” the rights of neighbours and tenants, we need to ensure the right to not be “bothered” by a neighbouring rooming house does not trump the right to an affordable home.
Any policies or practices that lead to tenants losing their homes — or to rents rising beyond what a single person working a minimum income job, on social assistance, or on a pension could reasonably be expected to pay — are on the wrong track.
Zoning should regulate built form – with occupancy standards preventing crowding
The City has proposed limiting multi-tenant houses to 7 rooms. But surely the number of rooms should be governed by the size of the building. Toronto has residential hotels that fit the definition of a multi-tenant house, but are home to 50 tenants or more.
Toronto has occupancy standards to prevent over-crowding, and city planning regulations to prevent house additions and extensions that are out of keeping with the surrounding neighbourhood. Why do we need an arbitrary limit?
In fact, why do we need a licensing regime at all? Why risk losing homes if a license is refused or revoked? Why not a landlord registration system like the one City Council recently approved for other rental buildings?
Human rights cannot be “consulted away”
As we talk about the details of multi-tenant houses, let’s remember the human rights considerations that protect – and must continue to protect — us all.
- The Ontario Human Right Code and the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s policies prohibit municipal zoning and licensing regimes that adversely affect the young, the old, newcomers, people with disabilities, people receiving public assistance – the very people who live in multi-tenant houses.
- There is no reason four or more adults should be prevented from living in any neighbourhood in the city, just because they pay rent separately. As the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Room for Everyone: Human Rights and Rental Housing Licensing says, “If a bylaw is meant to serve legitimate planning or safety purposes, it should be needed by – and applied to – every part of the municipality.”
- Restrictions on multi-tenant houses should be no more onerous than those for privately owned homes. For example, a neighbour’s complaint against a homeowner might result in their receiving a fine, but they would not lose their home. We have seen City Licensing Commissioners set conditions on rooming houses tenants such as “no loitering on the front porch.” Homeowners loiter in their front yards all the time!
- Multi-house tenants are members of the community with an equal stake in their homes and their neighbourhoods. Any processes that empower neighbours to “make decisions about” tenants, rather than “work with” tenants on shared goals, are just wrong.
Looking for more information?
- City of Toronto’s Multi-Tenant House Review Website
- HomeComing’s Deputation to the Toronto City Council’s Executive Committee, October 26, 2017
- Report to the Executive Committee on a Proposed Regulatory and Licensing Strategy for Multi-Tenant Houses and Consultation Plan