Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Common courtesy for your neighbours


I have heard many ideas and concerns from Ward 6 residents over the last eight months of my campaign. There’s one issue though that has come up at every single debate, and more frequently than others at the door. That issue is student housing.

Londoners are proud of our college and our university. We know how many people they teach and employ; however, they can sometimes be a source of neighbourhood conflict for those living nearby. Ward 6 residents have reported untidy lots, buildings with heritage value left in disrepair, and safety concerns with large numbers of people sharing a single-family home.

How do we find a balance between making sure there is affordable housing for students and young people, while maintaining the character of our neighbourhoods? There are a number of things to consider.

First, there is legal precedent that more than three unrelated people sharing single home makes it a lodging house. Lodging houses are not allowed in R1 residential zones, where only single detached homes are allowed. Some neighbourhood groups would like to see this implemented in London, and in general, I support the idea. Not everywhere is an R1 zone, so lodging houses would still be allowed in higher density residential areas – places that are more likely to have the services, like transit, to support the extra people.

Fixing transit in London will also help our neighbourhoods over time. If students can get quickly and efficiently across town by bus or bike, more will be willing to live farther away from campus. That means they will get to know the city beyond the campus bubble better, and hopefully start to think of London as home. It also means that housing all of the city’s students won’t fall to just a few neighbourhoods in the same way it does now.

In many cases though, students or tenants aren’t the problem at all. Some landlords neglect their properties, putting in the minimum amount of time and money it takes to find renters. This is where we see uncut lawns, buildings in disrepair, and where we start to worry about the safety of some of our student neighbours.

I hope there aren't any properties as bad as this in your neighbourhood!

Some of these landlords aren’t concerned at all about how their properties are reflecting on the community because it isn’t their community. Many live in Toronto or even further away, and own property in London either because their children were once students here, or merely see it as a good investment. We need to make sure these property owners do their part, even if they aren’t around to live with the results.

Most of the things neighbours complain about are covered under existing by-laws, whether it’s maintaining the yard, disposing of waste, or making sure that fire safety regulations are observed. The trouble is that most of these by-laws are only enforced when a complaint gets filed.  

London can do better at holding absentee landlords accountable, for the sake of both long-term residents and renters. We can increase inspections under the Residential Rental Licensing program, and also step up by-law enforcement in targeted areas near campus.

All of these measures will help maintain the character of our neighbourhoods, while keeping all residents safe and allowing them to enjoy their community.