Oshawa Council backs down on controversial housing bylaw

Proposed changes would have forced students out of neighbourhood near campus

The City of Oshawa backed down on a controversial proposed housing bylaw when over 450 people came out to a public hearing Monday. The proposed bylaw was widely considered to be an effort to curtail the student rental market in the neighbourhood surrounding Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology to appease residents.

The move follows months of tension in the community that led the city to impose interim control bylaws, preventing renovating properties for rental purposes, and to execute search warrants looking for leases and cancelled cheques. The conflict culminated in police raids on student houses this fall.

The new proposed bylaw would limit the number of bedrooms within rental houses in the area surrounding the university to four, regardless of the size of the house. Landlords will have to pay a $250 per bedroom annual licensing fee and carry increased insurance. The policy changes were designed to answer resident complaints about noise from student rental housing, among other concerns. None of the recommendations from students or landlords were included in the proposed changes, according to critics.

Rick Cameron, a permanent resident, described his experience sharing a neighbourhood with students at Monday’s meeting. “My house is continually used as a urinal, a toilet to throw up in,” he said. He said the bylaw should be passed immediately but pushed for it to go further by limiting the number of homes in the area that can be rented to students.

But not all residents at the meeting were in support of the bylaw change. Jeff Gauthier, a resident in the area, called the bylaw “yet another example of a knee-jerk reaction with no consideration for the consequences.” He worried that students would be forced into substandard housing if pushed out of the neghbourhood. He referred to the recent murder of an 18-year-old in a rooming house. Gauthier said council “would have blood on their hands” if a student ended up in a similar situation because they could not find safe housing near the university.

One student at Monday’s public hearing said that the months of town and gown tensions have led to negative perceptions of students, which are often unfounded. Lindsay Forkun, a fourth year nursing student, recalled, “I was on the roof putting up my Christmas lights. I had two people helping me. A neighbour called the police saying that we were drunk having a party on our roof.” The police merely laughed at the incident when they arrived, according to Forkun.

Forkun said that the bylaw wouldn’t address residents’ concerns; rather, it could make things worse. “You will be creating a lot of empty space in homes,” she said. “This means there is space for people to sleep after a party, meaning they will drink more and there will be more people at parties.”

Landlords also spoke out against the motion, complaining that they had received permits and met or exceeded safety codes when building. They were particularly opposed to the ban on basement suites. One landlord threatened legal action against the city for “misleading” him when they allowed him to build his apartments.

Over the course of the meeting, council seemed to accept that there were faults with the proposed bylaw. They cancelled next week’s vote on the changes and scheduled a further discussion meeting.

Ron Bordessa, president of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, said he was relieved that the city is finally listening to students. “I think the city heard what was said tonight and are prepared to work with students.”

“You can’t turn the clock back,” Mayor John Gray said. “Some of the streets are 90 to 95 per cent student houses, it does not make sense to force them out.” He will push for changes to the proposed bylaw.

Councillor Robert Lutczyk is uncomfortable with the bylaw as-is and said he would not vote for it without substantial changes. “We are here because of irresponsible behaviour by the few,” he said.

Lutczyk questioned how the city could differentiate between students and non-students. “How do you justify that it is okay for people to sleep in a basement but it is not okay for a student to do the same thing?” he asked. “If I own my own house, I will sleep wherever I want.”

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