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Rooming house pilot project proposal panned at Scarborough meeting

Rooming House meeting

Carol Laubitz tries to ask a question during a public meeting on a proposed plan to license rooming houses in her neighbourhood Wednesday, June 21 at the L’Amoreaux Community Centre. – Dan Pearce/Metroland

Rooming House meeting

About 200 residents attended a public meeting to listen to the city’s plan to license rooming houses for three years Wednesday, June 21 at L’Amoreaux Community Centre. One of the pilot neighbourhoods is in northwest Scarborough and another is Highland Creek. – Dan Pearce/Metroland

Rooming House meeting

Ward 39 Councillor Jim Karygiannis talks with Klaus Lehmann, city planning manager, before a public meeting on a proposed pilot project to license rooming houses Wednesday, June 21 at L’Amoreaux Community Centre. – Dan Pearce/Metroland

David Lackey says he’s “maintained and invested in” his house for the 26 years he’s lived in northwest Scarborough. And he fears the recent influx of rooming houses will change the character of his residential neighbourhood.

“It’s a pride of ownership that we have in our area that we’d like to maintain,” he said, noting that rooming houses are generally not well maintained.

“It’s a short term milking of their property, and those are meant to be single-family houses, not businesses,” he added.

Lackey was among about 200 people who attended a public consultation meeting Wednesday (June 21) evening at L’Amoureaux Community Recreation Centre on a plan to legalize and license rooming houses (or multi-tenant houses, as the city is calling them) in parts of Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York.

After an introduction and question period, those in attendance then divided into several discussion groups, and The Mirror spoke  with several people individually.

“I came to protest the legitimacy of commercial rooming houses in residential areas,” Lackey said.

Russell Mustachi, vice-president of Heathwood Ratepayers’ Association, said his whole community is also “totally against” the plan.

“They’re trying to turn a single-family residential area into a slum area,” he said.

The city has put together a zoning and licensing proposal to better regulate rooming houses, and the executive committee in October 2016 directed city staff to consult on the proposed approach.

Licensed rooming houses are legal in the old City of Toronto, York and parts of Etobicoke.

City staff are proposing a temporary use bylaw for three years to allow multi-tenant houses in five areas where they are currently not permitted. One of the “pilot” neighbourhoods is northwest Scarborough while another is Highland Creek.

“I felt the decision has already been made, and they’re doing this (meeting) just to make us feel good,” Janet Martin said after the meeting. “It’s just a snow job, to be honest.”

Not all residents, though, oppose the plan.

“I do support development and economic growth so if rooming homes is the way to go, certainly as long as there are rules and regulations around rooming homes that will respect the residents in the community as well as provide financial benefits for the homeowners themselves, I don’t see why not, especially in this very hot housing market,” Connie Tang said. “Everyone deserves to make a living with their investments.”

Ward 39 Councillor Jim Karygiannis told the crowd he doesn’t support rooming houses.

“The people who are living in rooming houses are the most vulnerable people that we have: new immigrants and students, and they‘re living in horrible conditions.”

In a follow-up interview, Karygiannis said if rooming houses were to be legislated, he would want his residents to decide how many to allow in his ward.

“There’s got to be a limit.”

The councillor noted 60 to 70 per cent of rooming houses are owned by “foreign buyers.”

He said he also wants to see a “hefty penalty” of at least $200,000 for operating an illegal rooming house.

Ward 41 Councillor Chin Lee said his first plan is not to support rooming houses. “My Plan B is to see what the residents are willing to put up with if the pilot does go through.”

City staff will report back to the executive committee before the end of the year with recommendations. The committee will then decide to refuse, approve or amend the recommendations, and its decision has to then be taken to city council for approval.

“We believe that there’s an ability to allow rooming houses to be in those (proposed) areas under tighter regulation of the bylaw, which would then allow for us to license them, exact some inspections, ensure the safety of the residents that are there,” city planning manager Klaus Lehmann said. “There seems to be a need in the area (for rooming houses) so we need to address those elements.”

But longtime area resident Carol Laubitz suggested not many rooming house owners would want to be licensed. “Who is going to say, ‘I own a rooming house, I voluntarily go and get a permit and then I will claim my additional income voluntarily,’” she said. “Who will actually go and do that?”

Laubitz said she originally believed if residents fought against the growth of rooming houses, the problem could come to an end.

“Obviously now there’s no end, and the city is endorsing it (rooming houses),” she said.

Klaus stressed the city is taking a consultative approach on the issue.

“There is no decision to go ahead at this point,” he said. “We really are looking for input from the communities, and unfortunately there are just far too many people that won’t accept that.”

This was the last public consultation meeting on the issue.

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