By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The possibility of creating a licensing system for rental units in Oshawa’s downtown was turned down by Oshawa city council, marking the second time councillors have quashed the idea of expanding licensing for landlords.
The idea, brought forward by Councillor Amy McQuaid-England during the city’s final day of budget deliberations would have seen $60,000 being put toward a public input process “on the creation of a licensing system in the Oshawa downtown area for implementation in the 2019 budget.”
McQuaid-England’s motion points to a number of factors as to why Oshawa’s downtown should have such a system, including the fact that 61.4 per cent of households are rentals, the highest number of any part of the city, it has been listed as a priority neighbourhood by the Region of Durham’s Health Neighbourhoods mapping system, and there are a high number of different types of housing (two-unit houses, duplexes, triplexes).
However, the idea was eventually voted down with only Councillors Gail Bates, John Neal and Doug Sanders supporting the idea.
“I believe council had an opportunity to come in with a responsible tax increase and still provide some help for residents across our city,” she said. “It was a disappointment that they voted against opportunities that would have helped tenants and homeowners while encouraging safer and healthy housing. It should have been a high priority to equalize the funding and opportunities for better protections for residents across our city.”
Councillor Dan Carter, the chair of the city’s finance committee, defended council’s decision to put aside the idea, noting city staff would not have the ability to take on the extra work over the coming year.
“I take all communities, all the communities that are struggling with hardships or hurdles very seriously,” he says. “You heard quite clearly from our commissioner, based upon the resources that they have and the complexities of introducing something new, they did not have the capacity to deliver that.”
With that said, Carter points to the other programs the city offers in an effort to assist tenants, including public meetings, a tenant brochure and now a second mail-out along with resident tax bills that will encourage them to register their second-units if they’ve split their homes.
Councillor Carter, also a landlord in the city’s downtown, says he consulted with the city clerk ahead of any discussion on McQuaid-Englands motion to ensure there was no conflict of interest for him to take part in any vote.
“I took proper direction from our clerk to make sure,” he says. ““In this circumstance, based upon the interpretation of the Municipal Act, based on asking for advice…I felt that I made the right decision…If not, I guess someone is going to hold me accountable and I’m going to have to defend myself.”
Expansion of landlord licensing has been a hot topic in the city over the last few months, dating back to early 2017 when the idea of expanding the city’s Residential Rental Housing Licensing system across the city was introduced.
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.
In 2017, 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.
Tenant advocate Christeen Thornton appeared before council after the decision and called the action “grossly negligent” and said that people in the city are being impacted every day by the lack of supports for tenants.