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Council decision to axe RRHL expansion under fire

After cancelling the potential city-wide expansion, one activist is calling council's actions "grossly negligent"

Christeen Thornton, and Oshawa resident and ACORN representative speaks with council, berating them on their decision to cancel the possibility of expanding and landlord licensing system across the city. She labelled their decision as “grossly negligent.” (Photo by Joel Wittnebel)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

During a special meeting on Jan. 8, many councillors shifted uncomfortably in their seats as members of the public lambasted their recent decision to axe a potential expansion of the city’s landlord licensing program.

Tenant advocates appeared at the public meeting, hosted by council to receive input from residents on the budget. Issues pertaining to the potential tax increase (2.29 per cent), including questions surrounding the city’s waterfront, airport, pet protection programs, rats, and staffing costs were all brought forward, but the most vocal delegations spoke to the tenant issues and the recently abandoned idea to expand the city’s Residential Rental Housing Licensing (RRHL) program.

Most critical was Christeen Thornton, a local resident, who brought forward the idea to expand the RRHL program earlier in 2017.

“When I had come to council last year, 2017, I had what I had interpreted as a really positive response to this,” she said. “I had no indication that this was something that was going to be vetoed.”

In 2017, Thornton suggested expanding the RRHL system city-wide.

Currently, Oshawa’s RRHL system only exists in the area surrounding the Durham College and University of Ontario Institute of Technology campuses in the north end. The system was put in place in 2008 and requires landlords to maintain their premises in accordance with provincial fire, building and electrical codes along with adhering to city bylaws related to property standards and zoning.

As a sort of a compromise, while the city-wide expansion was being considered, the city undertook a pilot project for proactive inspections at a trio of problem apartment buildings in priority areas of the city. The program was deemed an overwhelming success.

However, during a special meeting of council to receive the 2018 operating budget in December, an item for council’s consideration was the $300,000 it would cost to hire a consultant in order to look into expanding the RRHL system, and in a motion from Councillor Rick Kerr, the newly named chair of the corporate services committee, the idea was pushed aside in favour of a project similar to what council ran in 2017.

Thornton called the decision “grossly negligent” and said that people in the city are being impacted every day by the lack of supports for tenants. She pointed to a fire that same day which led to the deaths of four people, two of them children. It was reported that as many as 11 people were inside the residence at the time of the fire.

“The first thing that popped into my mind was whether they had working smoke alarms,” she said.

Councillor John Neal, a strong advocate for the RRHL system in the north end, spoke of the impacts that system had on landlord behaviour in the area when it was implemented, and how it almost immediately led to changes.

No directions were given following the delegations as council heads into their first round of budget deliberations set for Jan. 16.