Following a fierce, and sometimes racially charged debate on a motion to legalize rooming houses in Toronto, Mayor John Tory was defeated.
There are dozens of rooming houses operating in the city that house a little more than 1,000 units of housing. Over the years they’ve been tolerated, especially by those housing advocates who have argued they provide affordable housing to low-income people.
Tory, however, has proposed changing the bylaws to lift restrictions that make it illegal for people to sell rooms in these homes, thereby allowing them to manage and use their properties more effectively.
Some supporters of legalizing the homes say the changes will keep them operating – theoretically forcing the owners to pay the bills for the properties if they do not. Critics say the move would spark an influx of renters and inflate rents.
It is a double-edged, deeply divisive issue that has come up in dozens of cities across the country, and produced significant upheaval in cities like Ottawa, Montreal and Edmonton, where opposition to the proposed move cut to the core of what it means to live in a “fair city.”
Why it matters
In an era of explosive growth in social housing housing, Toronto is considered one of the country’s leaders on the issue of “social housing and how it should be managed,” as Councillor Adam Vaughan put it.
City policy, introduced under Tory, encourages the urban renewal of underused neighbourhoods – typically economically disadvantaged areas – and puts $40-million into bringing marginalized residents into the fold. The goal of this policy has been making housing more accessible, not to create a “black eye” for the city, as the debate has been described.
Tory, an opponent of shrinking social housing and emphasizing greater private housing, argues that private owners shouldn’t be able to shift rent income between rooming houses and those are building their own homes in neighbourhoods long devoid of affordable housing.
It has been a political headache for the Mayor, who campaigned on a message of affordable housing. “I’m not going to do everything in my power to encourage social landlords to evict people from their homes,” he said in 2015.
The current ruling Tory’s council proposal has divided the city in its centennial year.
The debate over the Mayor’s proposal to legalize rooming houses heated up last week at council, triggering a standing vote in which any member who wanted to have a say could vote in favour of removing the existing restrictions.