Community conversation moves housing issue forward

Community joins forces to tackle illegal rental houses around U of M

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/02/2015 (2737 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The longstanding issue of illegal rooming houses in Fort Richmond was addressed by the community as a whole for the first time this past month.

On Jan. 31, approximately 200 residents, community members, and stakeholders in the Fort Richmond area attended a “community conversation” on the topic of rental housing surrounding the University of Manitoba.

St. Norbert city councillor Janice Lukes co-ordinated the community meeting after seeing first-hand and hearing from residents about the issue while door-knocking during the election campaign.

Supplied Photo Approximately 200 people from the Fort Richmond area attended a community conversation on rental housing around the University of Manitoba on Jan. 31.

“This is the first time anyone has ever done anything. No other MLA or councillor has done anything about this and we need to do something about it,” she said.

According to Lukes, there are a number of homes in the area (but no firm estimate as to how many) that have been converted into multifamily dwellings without the appropriate permits and zoning, and some homes have converted back yards into eight-car parking lots.

The issues with the rooming houses are twofold, with student and tenant safety being one concern and neighbourhood aesthetics and standards another.  

“There’s a lot of frustrated people out there and I don’t want everyone to be frustrated with me, or the city or the university, but I wanted them to talk amongst themselves and speak to the problem,” Lukes said.

The community conversation included presentations from University of Manitoba representatives and city zoning and bylaw enforcement agents. After the presentations, participants formed groups and came up with the top five challenges and opportunities presented by the situation.

“We did really recognize that the bylaws could use some more teeth in them,” Lukes said, adding that enforcement is difficult when many landlords are often absentee and sometimes living outside of the country.

At the Jan. 12 Riel Community Committee meeting, Lukes put forward a motion to study best practices at other college and university towns to see what can be done to address the issue. The motion has since moved forward from the standing committee on property and development.

The University of Manitoba sees close to 30,000 students register each year. There are approximately 1,300 students living in campus residences and about 5,000 international students enrolled at the university.  According to Lukes there are three or four licensed rooming houses in the area.

Brendan Hughes, executive director of student engagement with the U of M, said the meeting was the first time the university has met with the community to address the topic in at least four years.

Hughes said the issue has been on the university’s radar on an anecdotal basis.

“We weren’t aware of any particular issues or complaints,” Hughes said.

Both Hughes and Lukes agree that the next step is educating students on their rights and responsibilities as tenants and the rights and responsibilities of a landlord. They are also hoping to make support resources available to students in multiple languages.

“Those students who may not be as familiar with the Residential Tenancy Act might be forced to pay all their rent up front for one year; they may be told that those are just the conditions,” Hughes said.

Over the next two weeks more information will be appearing on Luke’s website, janicelukes.ca, including presentations from speakers and responses collected during the meeting. City administration is expected to report back on best practices in other college towns at the beginning of April.

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