City Council Wrap-Up: Rooming Houses Disappear

This Week at City HallThe municipal election was almost a year ago — meaning we’re 10 days shy of one quarter the way through this council’s term — but I don’t think I’ll feel like this group of councillors has fully arrived until Ward 4’s Burnett stops mentioning how he’s a new councillor every time he takes the mic for more than a couple seconds. Last night’s moment of subtle self-deprecation* came as he was closing debate on a recommendation that the classification of “rooming house” be removed from the zoning bylaw.

That was the big contentious issue on the council meeting agenda and the one that was full of the most surprises for me.

If you follow the twitter account I use to live-tweet council meetings (@PDCityHall) you might have noticed my tweet-per-minute ratio last night was lower than usual. Thing is, I hadn’t read any of the reports before the meeting so I was really struggling to keep up with what was going on. Every second was a moment of discovery and wonder. It was like I was watching a council meeting without even seeing the trailers before hand.

What a roller coaster of emotion! I should do that more often. (Of course, as I learned, it makes paring things down into bite-sized 140 character chunks a lot more difficult.)

Anyway, try to imagine my astonishment when I discovered what staff was recommending about rooming houses. Back in July when the city was holding consultations on the rooming house issue, I came out in favour of the deregulation option in an article in the paper. (A piece which kicked off possibly the longest discussion, in terms of word count, that’s ever happened on our website.)

Here we were three months later and city administration was also coming out in favour of dismantling the current rooming house regulations. And what’s more, council voted to pass the recommendation.

I’m not used to backing the winning horse in a city council discussion.

Of course, things are a little more nuanced than simply “deregulation carried the day.”

The proposed changes to the zoning bylaw also include adding two new building classifications “Short-Term Accommodation” and “Residential Homestay.” Basically what these will do is require anyone who is using their house as, for lack of a better term, an informal motel to make a development application as though they were a bed & breakfast. Apparently, there are people who are advertising their homes online as residential motels and renting out rooms for short periods of time. And that’s been causing a lot of grief to many of their neighbours. By adding these two definitions to the zoning bylaw, that trade should be much more tightly controlled.

But if you’re just renting out rooms in a house you own to people so they have a place to live, or if you decide to get some roommates, you’ll now just be governed by the same rules that apply to home owners and apartments.

Also on last night’s agenda was a motion from Ward 1 councillor Barbara Young requesting administration report on the possibility of developing a long-term plan to repair neighbourhood streets. Young pointed out how most of the calls she receives are about the need for street repairs. And she mentioned how she was even recently stopped in an airport in Vancouver by someone from Regina who wanted to bend her ear about this issue.

I’ll be curious to see what conclusions city admin will offer in this report because my understanding is that the problem with Regina’s residential streets can be traced back to too little money being invested in them.

Last time I wrote on this was back in Nov. 2011 during the 2012 budget process. Here’s what I wrote then

Also looking very much the same this year is the line item for road renewal – work that’s a big priority for Reginans by all accounts. The city will be spending another $17 million fixing streets and sidewalks in 2012. That’s up a touch from the $16.8 million budgeted in 2011 and the $15 million budgeted in 2010 and 2009.

I spoke to Nigora Yulyakshieva, manager of roadways preservation, back in 2009 and she said what was being budgeted then for road repair wasn’t enough.

She’s saying the same thing for 2012.

“Right now at the city we concentrate on taking care of the arterial roads, the high traffic roads,” she says. “We don’t have enough money to look after the residential areas.”

In a press conference after the budget launch, Mayor Pat Fiacco defended the money the city is spending on roads: “One might say, why don’t you make it $18, 19 or 20 million? Well, there’s that balance again of what it is that citizens can afford. But we almost did $17 million last year but this is $17 million that’ll go to additional roads that are going to be fixed. So it’s fixing roads that haven’t been fixed in the past.”

True. But our roads are continuously aging. And construction costs are always going up. According to Yulyakshieva, to get the roads right up to snuff, she’d need $20 to 30 million a year.

“We can always do more,” says Ward 4 councillor and Regina Planning Commission chair Michael Fougere. “But how we can afford to do that on the tax base? We’re trying to balance that off with an aggressive recapping and fixing of streets.”

Things haven’t changed much since 2011.

In the 2013 budget, council allocated $18.1 million to the street infrastructure renewal program. That’s up from the $17 million in 2012 and the $16.8 million in 2011.

But that’s a far cry from the $27 million that the 2011 capital budget indicated we’d need to be spending on road renewal by 2013. (That figure’s from the Public Works Division’s Capital Program Summary chart on page 15 of the 2011 Capital Program report.)

So I think it’s grand that council is getting behind the idea of improving the condition of our residential roads. I just wonder where they’re going to find an extra $10 million kicking around to do the work.

I also wonder, if this is the number one complaint that councillors receive, why have they never raised the street renewal budget above the $16 million to $18 million range? I suspect it has something to do with operation capacity. Too few crews in the city to do the work needed, perhaps? Or maybe the asphalt plant isn’t churning out enough black top?

Hopefully this report Councillor Young’s requested will finally solve these mysteries.

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FOOTNOTE
* Here’s the quote [emphasis mine… obviously, since I’m quoting Burnett speaking at council and not something he wrote]: “One thing I’ve discovered very quickly, being a new councillor, is that if there’s an issue that doesn’t sit well with the public, we hear about it very quickly.”

And don’t think I’m running the guy down for frequently mentioning his novice status. I think it’s a champion strategy…

itsmyfirstday

Author: Paul Dechene

Paul Dechene is 5'10'' tall and he was born in a place. He's not there now. He's sitting in front of his computer writing his bio for this blog. He has a song stuck in his head. It's "Girl From Ipanema", thanks for asking. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @pauldechene and get live updates during city council meetings and other city events at @PDcityhall.

9 thoughts on “City Council Wrap-Up: Rooming Houses Disappear”

  1. I am mostly please with how this turned out. Far better then I had anticipated. And I have no boat nor shall I kick off a huge debate this time!

  2. It takes some time, believe me, before a neophyte elected official feels like (s)he has anything like a handle on the job, so I can relate to Councillor Burnett’s situation.
    Good on Councillor Young for requesting a long-term street repair plan from the administration, too.

  3. I think the rooming house decision is short sighted. The concept of deregulating housing sounds wonderful, until you realize that the people renting out low end housing are never charitable idealists who will voluntarily provide wonderful safe housing at low prices. That market caters to slumlords and scofflaws, and deregulation will just sanction their behavior and change the enforcement situation from nearly impossible to fully impossible.

    A root cause solution would be to have and enforce minimal standards for housing. Instead we went completely the other way. Not only that, but council has (not surprisingly) legitimatized a trick their real estate interests can use to keep the housing market overpriced: seduce buyers with tales of gold at the end of a rooming house rainbow.

    Paul (again) missed the point that we already did have rooming house permissions in some areas and this desperation move is to open it up to all areas.

    But someone who dropped a half mill expecting a certain kind of neighborhood is going to be unhappy when a slumlord/sluminnkeeper operation opens next door and devalues the hell out of their home.

    Some such people came forward to be ignored by council (again). The only difference is the Prairie Dog crowd is cheering council, based on the well-intentioned (but misplaced) belief that this will somehow help the housing crisis.

    People seem to be under the misapprehension this is a deviation for council. Wrong, it’s another consistent step in favor of the real estate industry and continued bubble pumping.

  4. The road situation isn’t hard to figure out, for those of us who have paid attention over the years.

    Aggressive privatization of city work has erased millions of dollars worth of effectiveness from the system, converting it into private profits.

    And even without those huge losses, the quality of work has collapsed. This isn’t surprising given that a private contractor has no reason to do lasting work as it just threatens repeat business and their future profits.

    Way back when the city did this work, there was an incentive and pride in a street and sidewalk that would last more than a couple of years. We had a dull mayor who was so lame with his boring debt free financial statement and (yawn) annual balanced budgets.

    We had lifetime public servants who knew how and why to build strong base layers, how to make sidewalks that last a few decades, not a few seasons.

    Now, the private pavers use the cheapest and least motivated labor to do lazy unpacked layers with thinner material. And the leftover management layer at the city barely even supervises this low quality work, nor do they even have the knowledge or experience to know better anyway.

    The solution (which would never fly in the current political climate) is for a city to recreate and maintain an internal non-profit public works department. The savings would go back into infrastructure, the construction would last longer, and it would offer a career path and incentive to do longer lasting and more cost effective work.

    However the buddy club that runs Regina would go nuts, as it would hurt their profits and threaten their ability to control the mayor’s chair by fully funding his campaign fund.

    John Hopkins would come out with a factually bankrupt pre-purchased report.

    Councilors who moonlight in the housing industry would also see their profits cut, so of course they would hire a professional misinformation campaign corporation to tell citizens that internal public works is nothing more than union leeching and that the ‘free’ market can make it more efficient (while sucking millions in profits out of the system).

    Once any thoughts of non-profit core services are defeated, we could go back to blaming our decimated public works division on imaginary boogey monsters like ‘fat’ (but somehow unfunded) union pensions and demon soil.

  5. Adam – your ‘boat’ is that this now legalizes your previously illegal rental operation. Of course you would be pleased, as would anyone who profits from the real estate industry.

    It also serves to legitimize the practice (you claimed) where your father sells real estate by pumping up the side income potential for borderline borrowers.

    Even some who don’t profit directly like it as they believe it will help with housing.

    I said, and continue to say, that this merely serves to help inflate the already bulbous real estate bubble. Hopefully you and your father are right and our bubble is a special bulletproof one that will never hurt anyone.

  6. Dear Poster identified as “Reader”,

    There was not massive deregulation as you’d like to peddle it here. The only regulation that has been stripped away is the ridiculous regulation that if a homeowner lived in the house and rented that very same house it was illegal. They did not deregulate anything else. They did not deregulate building code, fire code or anything else regarding health and safety.

    You refer to slumlords and scofflaws which in both cases were not “Rooming Houses” as defined in the bylaw. Nothing has changed in regards enforcement either. You do realize that tenants have the authority to invite the inspectors in for an inspection right?

    Reader, why don’t you post up an ad for an empty bedroom in your house and see if that “Tales of gold” at the end of rooming house rainbow is a tale or not.(Next time I list a room I think I might try that. I’ll accept payment only in gold or silver, lol.)

    Paul did not miss the point. In fact I think he has done some of the best reporting on this issue of all the media outlets covering it. Hats off to Paul for this coverage. This was not a desperation move either. It was a logical move to make.

    Reader, you are missing the point. Slumlords don’t operate in the half million dollar home neighborhoods. They operate in slums.

    Some people* need to get a reality check.

    Reader, I have no boat, lol. This move now legalizes what should have been legal all along. And is commonly practiced in this city. I am pleased with how this has developed indeed. Anything that legalizes some freedom is a good thing.

    It was you who claimed that there was real estate pumping by adding in extra side income. It was I that claimed otherwise. I told you last time that the mortgage brokers can’t use rental income from your primary residence to qualify you for a home. I learned that from my own Mortgage broker when I dealt with her getting the mortgage for my property. But I suppose you know better then the trained mortgage brokers right?

    Reader, it will help with housing. If 5,000 people would rent an empty bedroom that they have in this city right now it would end the housing crisis.

    You continue to say that this merely serves to help inflate the already bulbous real estate bubble without having any facts grounded in reality. In fact you continue to say things even after being shown directly otherwise. Nothing really stops you from saying a bunch of wrong things though. You can keep it up.

    We’ll see what happens with this housing bubble. I am confident I have a good understanding of it.

    Adam Knutson,
    Happy on my boat!

    Told you I wouldn’t start the big long debate in this thread. I let someone else start it! ;)

    And the * from earlier
    *Some people also said many mean untrue things to me after the council took their vote. They greatly entertained me.

    I believe it was Mrs. Black(Wife of Brian Black who is a major anti-Rooming house fellow) that said, “I hope you enjoy your money you greedy bastard. Your not in it to provide these people accomodations just the money!”

    Some of the other entertaining and untrue quotes from that night.
    “You don’t look like a taxpayer to me”-Some older fellow.
    “You’re greedy”
    “You’re a scammer”
    “You’re entitled, you’ve got entitlement problems”
    “You’re an A**hole”-middle aged lady…Maybe she is right. That’s subjective right?

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