Future of Toronto rooming houses in limbo yet again after delayed report, advocates say

·3 min read
Experts say rooming houses are a key tool in addressing Toronto's housing crisis. But a delay in getting a report to council on how to regulate them across the city is the latest obstacle following years of debate on the issue. (CBC News - image credit)
Experts say rooming houses are a key tool in addressing Toronto's housing crisis. But a delay in getting a report to council on how to regulate them across the city is the latest obstacle following years of debate on the issue. (CBC News - image credit)

A delay in getting a report to city council is the latest disappointment following years of slow progress on the legalization of rooming houses throughout Toronto, housing advocates say.

According to an update going to the Planning and Housing committee on Tuesday, a report on how to best regulate multi-tenant housing throughout Toronto won't come until early next year to give staff enough time to tackle the slew of questions, consultations and studies that city council requested in October.

But Geordie Dent, the executive director of the Federation of Metro Tenants' Associations, says he's lost faith that a finished report in the hands of council will spur them to act.

"All you're going to get next year is a bunch more questions," said Dent.

"The only thing that's missing in terms of the rooming house debate is political will."

Jon Castell/CBC
Jon Castell/CBC

Since at least 2008, city council and staff have explored how to get rid of the patchwork of rules that make rooming houses legal in some parts of Toronto and illegal in others. Advocates say the latest delay is upsetting given the city's housing affordability crisis, especially since rooming houses are among the least costly homes in Toronto — and particularly helpful for marginalized communities such as seniors, low-income earners, students and newcomers.

"We've been waiting for years and hoping for a decision," said Dania Majid, a lawyer for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario (ACTO), a legal clinic.

"We are probably not surprised that it's been delayed once more, but we are definitely disappointed."

Mayor John Tory says the matter is "politically complicated" and requires extensive work to get right.

"We have to do these things as quickly as we can, but it is necessary to do them with the confidence of the residents of the city," Tory said at a news conference last Thursday.

CBC
CBC

The last time the issue was in front of council last year, Tory moved to delay a vote on the issue, saying the proposal as it was constructed did not have the votes to pass.

"I can assure you that the supply of housing, the supply of affordable housing, of all different kinds, is very much at the top of everybody's agenda," said Tory.at that time.

Legal action still on the table

Illegal units often come with concerns about their safety, upkeep and maintenance, Majid says..

In 2021 alone, the city received 988 complaints about rooming houses and issued 145 notices. A majority of complaints and violations concerned illegal multi-tenant homes.

Majid says ACTO has a provincial appeal on the city's multi-tenant framework that's still on the books at the Ontario Land Tribunal and is prepared to press forward if council doesn't adopt the changes on its own.

"If people don't have safe and adequate housing where they reside, it will have a trickle effect across across our society, and we all pay a price for that."

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