Thursday, September 16, 2010

City Putting the Squeeze on Renters

Unless you have eight people living in your two bedroom bungalow, you can probably take a sigh of relief after reading that headline. Yes, as alluded to in previous comments made by councillors in recent months, including ones made in my award-eligible series “Better Know a Ward”, the horseshoe revisited rules governing shared rental housing at their meeting last week.

"Guelph is a wonderfully diverse city and an outstanding place to live," said Guelph’s Executive Director of Planning, Engineering and Environmental Services, Janet Laird in a press release. The problem, she says though, is that in recent years shared rental housing has increased and be concentrated in certain neighbourhoods, particularly neighbourhoods in the Old University area and the south end of the city. The effect is that many long-term residents are moving out, which leaves many neighbourhoods as little more than ghost towns between the months of April and September.

In a marathon meeting last Tuesday, council heard from over 20 delegations on the matter, from student representatives to landlords to neighbourhood groups. One of the most contentious issues was putting new restrictions on rental properties. In the end, council approved a new zoning by-law, a new two-unit house with six or more bedrooms must be at least 100 metres from any other two-unit house, lodging house, group home or emergency shelter. Additionally, a new lodging house must be at least 100 metres from any other lodging house, two-unit house with six or more bedrooms, group home or emergency shelter.

So what does that mean? Well it means a new standard for 20 per cent of the rental units of the city. Councillor Lise Burcher wanted to make an amendment to make it five or more bedrooms rather than six, but city staff said that this would impact negatively on 80 per cent of the rental units in the city, and the proposed amendment was dropped. Still though, staff recommendations take into account lodging houses and restricting them to one kitchen, in order to prevent accessory apartments from being constructed inside them.

Aside from the simple by-law changes, the city is also working with the University of Guelph on an education and awareness campaign. Last Saturday, as part of the U of G’s Right Foot Forward event, teams of students, City Staff, University Staff and community members spent the afternoon knocking on doors in areas with a high number of rental housing units in order to ensure renters understand the responsibilities associated with their property. They also received information about waste sorting and recycling, transit, property maintenance, parking, noise and tips to keep parties from getting out of hand.

Also this month, the City will enhance its by-law compliance and enforcement program to increase compliance with noise and parking by-laws. Residents will see more by-law compliance and enforcement staff in residential neighbourhoods, and increased service levels during peak times, according to a city press release. This combined with “zero tolerance” measures to curb littering, noise, underage drinking, and public urination means that the city is working harder than ever to attack the problems that come back every fall with the student population. Will it work? Well, let’s ask the guy I saw peeing in the alley between Molly Bloom’s and Scotiabank last Wednesday night. On second though….

Nature Wins!

To all my tree-hugger friends out there, here’s a bit of news to make you smile. The demolition of a large chimney at the Trafalgar Building was called off last week on account of a rare species of bird called Chimney Swifts taking up residence in the chimney. The birds were identified as Chimney Swifts by a Canadian Wildlife official who noted that the bird is known to make nests in certain types of chimneys at specific times of the year. Demolition in the chimney, which has been redundant a while anyway, has been postponed indefinitely. I guess it’s a good thing that the bird wasn’t a Jefferson Salamander. Boom! Be sure to tip your waitresses.

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