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This article was published 27/3/2017 (1885 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A fire at a residence near the University of Manitoba has inflamed concerns about illegal rooming houses and unsafe rental homes near campus.
Councilor Janice Lukes and the Fort Richmond-University Heights Neighbourhood Association met Saturday morning to discuss progress in combatting problem residences and possible next steps. Hours later, an accidental cooking fire rendered a home neighbours suspect housed an unsafe number of students unlivable.
"We’re going to have an all-out war on landlords," said Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert).
Lukes has helped lead the charge in recent years, as neighbours have become increasingly concerned about homes being bought up by landlords, jammed with students, and then largely ignored. The concerns vary in severity from trash left everywhere to a lack of smoke detectors and other fire hazards. The Neighbourhood Association was formed to combat such issues.
On Pasadena Avenue, Arthur Prystenski blames the landlords, not the students.
"I’ve met some of the students," he said. "They’re basically just looking for inexpensive housing… they would like better conditions but that’s what’s offered to them so they accept it."
The University of Manitoba ranks fairly low compared to other universities across Canada when it comes to student housing, according to a January report by University of Manitoba planning students. It offers housing to just under five per cent of the total student population and has a waitlist of more than 350 people.
But the report also points to studies showing why students offered on-campus housing might still look elsewhere. The average bill for on-campus housing is $823 per month, while off campus — on streets within walking distance like Pasadena — it’s $672.
Jeremy Cole didn’t see any flames on Saturday, just smoke. Cole has lived his entire life just a few doors east of the rental home.
"It’s only really become a problem in the last five years," he said. On occasion it’s been rented to a family or two, he said, but most of the time it houses individuals. Cole isn’t sure how many exactly, although he’s "seen eight or nine people come and go."
In August 2014, a listing on MapLiv.com advertised two rooms in the basement of the home, one for $460 and the other for $500. The residence was described as having nine bedrooms. According to the City of Winnipeg’s Assessment and Taxation Department website, the one-story home has only seven rooms.
A current listing for the property on rental site houseme.ca instructs interested people to call David. David did not return requests for comment, but is, per his voicemail, an agent with Cornerstone Real Estate Inc. A person who answered the phone declined to speak about the property, saying that any questions would have to go through David.
On Monday, contractors who wouldn’t comment came and went, boarding up some of the basement windows and starting work on repairs. Three young women arrived at the home mid-afternoon, one with a large suitcase. When asked if they lived there, one said, "yes" and then, "not anymore." All three declined to speak further.
Their neighbours are grateful they weren’t hurt — or worse.
"It’s just a matter of time before one of these unlicensed places causes a real problem," Prystenski said.
Manitoba doesn’t require landlords to register properties with the Residential Tenancies Branch and housing guidelines are left to the purview of cities. In Winnipeg, more than 800 converted homes were licensed for rental purposes as of March 27. The city’s fire prevention branch only recently began conducting annual inspections of such properties at the direction of council. A spokeswoman for the city wouldn’t speculate as to how many are operating unlicensed. Councilor Lukes suspects that in the area around the university the answer is quite a few.
At Saturday’s meeting, Lukes said the neighbourhood association agreed to get more aggressive in fighting for more affordable accommodation for students and cracking down on landlords who aren’t following the rules.
The association will be pushing for the university’s 30-year Fort Garry campus makeover to include at least 10 per cent guaranteed affordable housing on the Southwood Lands. It will also be "declare all-out war" against landlords: reporting them to the Canadian Revenue Agency and finding ways to increase fines and fire inspections. "Street Captains" responsible for monitoring their own block for possible illegal rooming houses will also start conducting more patrols.
Lukes said she is also looking more closely at a possible pilot program requiring all residential residences renting out rooms near post-secondary institutions to have a license. Similar programs are already in place in a number of communities in Ontario, including Oshawa.
"It’s such a complex problem," Lukes said, and "the community is trying to work together to find a solution."