City launches rooming house repair program

AB_Rooming_House_Announcement.JPGOne year after a fatal fire in Kensington Market, the city has announced a $5-million program to upgrade safety conditions in rooming houses.

The investment, which is being made with provincial and federal affordable housing funds, will be used to make health, safety and accessibility improvements to rooming houses and bring them up to fire code. The city estimates that 400 tenants in 30 buildings will benefit.

Councillor Ana Bailão made the announcement Thursday afternoon in front of the building on St. Andrew St. where a blaze killed two people and injured 10 others on March 20, 2014. The city alleges the building was operating as an unlicensed rooming house, and its owners are now facing charges.

Bailão, who is council's housing advocate, said the goal of the program is to prevent similar tragedies. "We are committed to doing all we can to make sure rooming houses continue to be safe and healthy options for lower-income people seeking a home," she said.

Rooming houses are dwellings in which multiple tenants rent rooms at low cost and share amenities like bathrooms and kitchens. They are permitted in the preamalgamation municipalities of Toronto, York and Etobicoke, but are prohibited in Scarborough, North York and East York. Some housing advocates see them as an important part of the city's affordable housing mix.

In Toronto roughly 5,000 people live in 214 licensed rooming houses and 48 "bachelorettes" in Parkdale. The licensed facilities are regulated and face yearly inspections. But it's believed many more people live in unlicensed houses, which are not inspected.

The city hopes the repair funding will encourage landlords who don't have licences to come forward and obtain them.

Councillor Joe Cressy (open Joe Cressy's policard) says his Trinity-Spadina ward is dotted with illegal rooming houses that aren't up to code, including one building recently discovered on Dundas St W that was housing dozens of people. Some of the tenants were living in units only 42 inches high.

Cressy expressed hope that the repair program would help ensure more low-income housing is made safe and regulated. "Where you live and how you chose to live should never be a death sentence," he said.

The city began public consultations on rooming house regulations last week. A report is expected at Mayor John Tory (open John Tory's policard)'s Executive Committee in June.

[This article was re-posted from the Toronto Star April 17th]

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