Should Rooming Houses Become Legal?

Next week, Council is being asked to approve a staff recommendation to allow rooming houses as-of-right anywhere in the city.

Proponents see this as a way to create more inexpensive housing options in a city that is increasingly becoming too expensive for many low-income residents to continue to live in. Others see it as a way to improve a situation that is happening anyway by regulating it, making it safer for those living in them.

These are worthy objectives, but I do not think it would play out that way in places like Willowdale. So, with some discomfort, I will not be supporting the change.

Currently, multi-tenant housing (rooming houses) are legal in the former city of Toronto and parts of Etobicoke. In North York they never have been, although you might not know that from the number that operate anyway, often in properties owned by land speculators looking for an easy source of income until they flip the properties.

Would these short-term investors spend the money for improvements necessary to create something legal that would typically house fewer people and require a significant capital investment on a property that might soon be torn down? I don't think so. In fact, I believe the existence of a legal form of rooming house will make it harder to prosecute the illegal ones. Over the years, I have seen many illegal uses fend of prosecution simply by applying to become legal, with no intention of actually becoming so.

Do I think the City department that enforces bylaw enforcement would do a good job overseeing a complex set of new ones? Not when I have such a hard time getting them to deal effectively with the problems we already have.

If it is more student housing we need, that should be provided by some combination of government and post-secondary institutions.

Other forms of low income housing should be created in ways I have always supported, by providing something permanent and stable. Rooming house units, which by definition cannot contain both a small washroom and kitchenette, do not.

I do not at all care whether the people living next door to me are rich or poor, and whether they rent or own the property. What I care about is that they will be neighbours, people I can get to know, who aren't just there short-term.

- John