The City of Ottawa’s Community and Protective Services Committee is hearing deputations on November 15th, on the recently released recommendations in the Rental Accommodation Study. Read on view the Alliance’s deputation.
My name is Emilie Hayes, the interim Executive Director of the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa. The Alliance is a member-driven coalition of localorganizations and individuals collaborating and advocating to prevent and end homelessness in Ottawa.
Over 34% of Ottawa residents live in rental housing. With shelter visits at all time highs and over 12,000 people on the social housing waiting list, more and more people are reliant on the private rental market for housing.
However, the City of Ottawa’s Rental Market Analysis describes a rental market under pressure. Between 2016 and 2018, the rental market has grown by approximately 1% while renters have grown by almost 3% in that same period. This has led to sharp increases in rents – a 7.8% increase in apartments and 11.3% increase in houses. If we continue on this trajectory, it is projected that by 2031, there will be a gap of up to 19,000 dwellings for the population in search of housing, resulting in an additional 25,000 households living in unaffordable dwellings.
The City’s 2018 progress report on the 10-year Housing and Homelessness Plan noted that 42% of renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent, and the vacancy rate has decreased to 1.6%.
It is clear that attention needs to be placed on the private rental housing market as a key provider of safe, adequate and affordable housing in Ottawa. We applaud the City and By-law Services for the leadership in studying this issue and developing recommendations for a new regulatory framework for rental housing and are grateful for the opportunity to offer our comments.
Many Alliance members spend a great deal of time and resources working with tenants who are living in substandard housing in a reactionary system. The Study’s recommendation to shift toward a proactive approach to property standards enforcement is critical. We support recommendations to expand staff capacity with the addition of 2 FTEs and to increase responsiveness through active monitoring of rental properties. We hope that over time, a strong emphasis on proactive inspections will result in better housing for our most vulnerable tenants in Ottawa thereby also freeing up limited resources of our members to also do more proactive work with their clients.
Many of our members also support rooming house tenants, most of whom access housing in the private market. This form of housing is often one of the only affordable options available to tenants, especially those who are exiting the shelter system. However, research by one of our members has also found that rooming house tenants are experiencing dire living conditions, spending 45-72% of their income on rent and over 80% of tenants having experienced bed bugs or other infestations.
As a result, we are encouraged to see a focus on pest and vermin control in the Study and the recommendation for a collective development of these standards with the community, public and private sectors.
Our members have also called for a transparent tracking mechanism to monitor rental housing quality. We strongly encourage the City to create a public listing on their website for confirmed property standards violations searchable by address and the name of the property owner. This not only holds landlords accountable for addressing property standards violations, but also equips tenants with the ability to understand and track how their complaint is being addressed.
Many of our members also struggle to support tenants to make property standards complaints. Many vulnerable tenants face multiple barriers to making a complaint to By-law and yet agency staff are currently unable to serve as advocates for their clients or make complaints on their behalf. We are encouraged to see the recommendation to add an additional field to the current database system to assign an advocate to speak on behalf of vulnerable clients.
We also support the recommendation to develop a website for tenants with resources on their rights and information on tenant advocacy and legal services agencies. However, we would like to caution the City that a large proportion of those tenants most impacted by problematic landlords and who have limited capacity to advocate for themselves, also do not have access to a phone, computer, or internet. As a result, we strongly encourage the City to explore supplemental strategies to educate tenants about their rights, including print materials in multiple languages.
Given the strong evidence compiled by ACORN Ottawa on the success of universal licensing in other jurisdictions, we feel a pilot of a licensing program in Ottawa is warranted. However, it is also important to keep in mind that licensing alone will not solve poor conditions in rental housing. Multiple approaches and strategies are needed to ensure safe and adequate housing in the rental market.
The Alliance also supports the regulation of short-term rentals. As noted in the Report, over 1000 units have been identified that could potentially be returned to the long-term rental market, which would almost double the vacancy rate, provide relief to high rental rates, and stop this trend from taking away even more rental units.
We thank By-Law Services for leading this study and look forward to continued dialogue with the City to ensure that necessary improvements to quality do not further impact on affordability. We also look forward to working with By-law Services as they develop the regulatory framework.