The owner of 250 well-maintained and long-vacant Ontario hotel rooms is fighting two recent council decisions that will, in effect, legalize dozens of low-income hostels and rooming houses.
In November, Toronto asked officials to create a regulatory scheme that would allow these types of privately owned places to function like licensed hotels, with conditional uses and city fees.
In January, council voted unanimously to implement part of the framework, changing the name of rooming houses to “community homes.” Now the city hopes to have all 650 of these community homes counted by the end of the year.
“There has been very little local opposition to this idea,” Ian Kosminsky, the head of the Hotel Management Association of Toronto, told CTV News Canada in January. “They want it, they’re just being a bit more open and transparent about the (developments).”
But the last-minute regulations, that will apply to about 200,000 homes, did not sit well with Toronto social housing advocates.
“There is a real concern around the extent to which the government is giving up control to the private sector,” James Welton, director of the Hamilton Smokers Rights Advocacy Group, told CTV News Canada.
Critics say changes may lead to unregulated rentals, increased human suffering, and decimation of the rental housing market. On Wednesday, 16 city councillors voted in favor of the city-wide legislation, just six days after five voted against.
Within minutes of the final vote being announced, Toronto police officers descended on a library in a quiet church basement — part of a small park — where several groups of hotel residents have come to hold meetings and exchange feedback on the new regulations.
“It’s virtually turning these spaces into a glorified dormitory,” Toronto councillor Joe Cressy told reporters.
At least two units in the park were taken over by protesters, who hurled stones and used tear gas canisters, a CBC report said.
In the days before council began voting, the city faced fire and fury from the outside world as well.
The city of Rochester, New York, expressed surprise that the city of Toronto had proposed targeting community housing, tweeting that “there are problems in Toronto that need to be solved.”
“I’m angry that I know that the Mayor wants this to go through because he sees it as some kind of … financial opportunity,” Sieglinde Narkow, the director of the anti-casualty organization Agape Survivors Choir, told CTV News Canada.
“Everybody’s leaving here from the hostel, because they don’t want to come back,” Narkow said. “And I don’t want to come back.”