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New Report Recommends Rooming Houses Be Allowed Throughout GTA

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We could soon see more rooming houses throughout the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). 

new report to Planning & Housing Committee recommends Council permit multi-tenant houses throughout the city with a new regulatory framework. Right now, such dwellings are only permitted in Old Toronto and other parts of Etobicoke and York regions. 

In a multi-tenant house, four or more people rent rooms and share a kitchen and/or washroom. 

“The framework uses a human rights lens and ensures regulatory oversight to protect tenant life safety and create liveable, well-maintained and affordable places to live that are part of complete communities,” reads the report. 

The move comes at a time when the city’s affordable housing crisis is only getting worse with each new tent erected in Toronto’s parks, most of which have become a refuge for the city’s most economically disadvantaged. Offering affordable shared accommodations, the availability of widespread rooming houses is an overdue move in our current climate. 

Once life in Toronto returns back to normal(ish), rent prices are only going to increase back to global city prices. Yet, the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in Toronto has only widened with the relentless pandemic. Rooming homes offer a relatively attainable option for diverse communities, including students, seniors, new immigrants, and low/moderate income residents. Currently, however, they are only permitted in certain parts of Toronto where the zoning permits. In some areas, owners must have a licence to operate multi-tenant houses.

According to the Rooming Houses bylaw, in what’s formerly known as the City of Toronto, multi-tenant houses are permitted and need to be licensed. Meanwhile, in York, multi-tenant houses are permitted but do not need to be licensed. In Etobicoke, only parts of the region permit rooming houses. In the former Cities of East York, North York, and Scarborough, multi-tenant houses are currently not permitted. 

“Current zoning and licensing by-laws for multi-tenant houses are fragmented and have not been harmonized since amalgamation,” reads the report. “The most current zoning regulations in the city-wide zoning by-law, 569-2013, remain un-harmonized and under appeal.”

The zoning regulations and definitions for the use also vary across the different zoning by-laws.

“Due to this lack of harmonization, people continue to operate unlicensed multi-tenant houses throughout the city, to meet demand,” reads the report. “Residents are seeking affordable housing options where they work and have community ties, even if they are not permitted or in some cases are not safe. Unlicensed operations can result in inadequate and unsafe living conditions for tenants, as well as nuisance issues and wider community safety concerns for neighbours.” 

As highlighted in the report, the first step to achieving safe, liveable and affordable multi-tenant houses starts with the recognition of these multi-tenant houses in zoning and licensing by-laws, which then enables regulatory oversight and effective enforcement. “This recognition improves City zoning by-laws and reduces the risk of human rights violations and discriminatory actions,” reads the report. 

With the exception of denser residential-commercial zones or apartment-filled neighbourhoods, the rooming houses would be capped at six dwelling rooms a home, which share a bathroom or kitchen. Landlords would be required to submit floor plans as well as names of occupants of any rooming houses they operate to ensure that occupancy levels and fire safety requirements are up to par.

The proposed bylaw, however, includes some puzzling elements. Essentially, it requires more parking spaces per unit than washroom facilities (we don’t get it, either).

As it stands, the item will be considered by Planning and Housing Committee on June 28, 2021 and will be considered by City Council on July 14, 2021. 

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