I want to start by saying that we can end homelessness. It’s a systems issue, and it needs systems-level solutions. Maintaining the crisis is expensive, and solving it is the economical solution.
Municipalities across Canada are seeing the effects of systems change, with Waterloo seeing a 60% reduction in family homelessness and Edmonton having a 43% reduction in overall homelessness as just a couple of examples. These communities don’t have more housing, more resources or fewer challenges. They have taken an approach that focuses on a common vision, real-time data and coordination across agencies and the municipality. In order to change our course in Ottawa, we need to work together to Stop the Loss, Create More, and Preserve the Quality of Affordable Housing.
Strong municipal policies to strengthen tenant protections against renovictions and demovictions are a powerful tool at the City’s disposal to stop the loss of existing affordable housing. These policies should strengthen enforcement of existing renoviction and demoviction by-laws and include the following conditions:
- The landlord must have received approval of all permits with the City in advance of issuing a notice to tenants of renoviction or demoviction
- The City would be responsible for providing information to tenants on their legal right to compensation
- Ensure tenants who are temporarily displaced during renovations or demolitions are rehoused at the same rate of rent, similar to the Toronto Demolition Control By-Law.
Comments on the Staff Report: Review of tools to prohibit or prevent renovictions
The staff report takes some steps forward toward stopping the loss of existing affordable rental housing. The Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa supports the recommendations to ask the Province to update the Residential Tenancies Act to protect existing tenants and affordable rental housing stock, and to direct staff to explore the adoption of a By-Law to prohibit without replacement the full or partial demolition or conversion of residential housing of six or more units without a permit. There is another tool we would recommend the City consider.
1. Building Permit Questionnaire
In addition to the focus on demolition control, another key area within the City’s purview is Building Permits. Many renovictions will require the City to Issue a Building Permit. We would recommend that the approvals process include a questionnaire asking if the space to be renovated includes rental housing and if tenants will have to be relocated for the work to be completed. For example, is this rental residential space? Will tenants have to be relocated for work to be completed? What is the duration of the relocation? Will tenants be given first right of refusal at their existing rents?
The answers to this questionnaire could trigger a requirement to properly inform tenants of their rights and who they can contact for legal advice. We would recommend that the City take on the responsibility of informing tenants, rather than the property owner / landlord. The Building permit has to be posted for the duration of the work, and here too, there could be a different format that adds information if it’s a rental residential space – including the answers provided in the questionnaire and City contact details for any questions from the tenants. This would provide a new level of transparency for tenants.
2. Housing Ombudsperson
Additionally, we would recommend that the City could play a key role in protecting the rights of tenants and prohibiting and preventing renovictions by assigning an independent Housing Ombudsperson to implement the right to housing in line with the federal commitment to housing as a human right. The Ombudsperson’s work would include reviewing submissions of violations of the right to housing, monitoring progress in meeting timelines and targets of the 10 Year Plan, and giving City Council recommendations to fulfill its human rights obligations.
Altogether, the staff report takes some steps forward toward stopping the loss of affordable rental housing and addressing the housing and homelessness emergency. This is an important opportunity to make systems-level change toward ending homelessness, and I would encourage members of the Planning Committee and Community and Protective Services Committee to push for strong tenant protections and stop the loss of affordable rental housing.
Thank you for this opportunity.