How Toronto debated rooming houses for the last 10 years

Today, Toronto city council threw out Mayor John Tory’s last remaining effort to legalize rooming houses, effectively forcing the city to re-open the debate over the controversial decades-old practice. Council voted 20-3 to “disregard” Tory’s compromise on the matter. Council has been grappling with the question of legalizing rooming houses since 2010, but housing advocates have been pointing out that the issue has been one of the city’s biggest headaches over the last 10 years.

What is a rooming house?

A rooming house is any condo-style apartment that is rented out to people living away from their own homes. The arrangement was legal until June 2011, when the law was changed by the provincial government. Under that change, the city was forbidden from licensing the rooms. Toronto’s then-city-councilors initially voted against revoking the prohibition but by September 2011, they had passed a motion that the city should draft an ordinance to permit rooming houses to operate. Tory quickly signed off on the first draft.

How did the conversation start?

Toronto has about 2,500 rooming houses, though exact numbers are difficult to determine. There are about 1,700 registered rooming houses, which includes group houses and private apartments. Tensions between the city and the owner of a group house over a noise complaint in 1998 and the 2015 case of a resident killed in a rooming house fire led then-mayor David Miller to call for a moratorium on permitting those accommodations. Lawmakers also successfully pushed to stop new rooming houses from being built. Still, there was an outcry from housing advocates, including a backlash against the movement to use Airbnb for house-sitting.

Read the full story at The Globe and Mail.


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