How the student housing licensing plan was killed by the city

Posted August 11, 2014

More than five years ago, residents complained about homes in single family-zoned areas that were being used as dormitories for students. These premises were being used for “kegger” and other uncivil acts that spoiled the tranquility of the neighbourhood

In 2013, the city staff was instructed to investigate and propose a control program to solve the problem of rowdy behaviour and illegal selling of alcohol. A series of public meetings were held in which the public input was overwhelmingly in favour of some form of licensing of the affected properties.

Most of these student lodgings are located in wards five and six, represented on council by four of Mayor Farbridge’s devout supporters.

Let’s back track a bit. There is a powerful political action group known as the University Neighbourhood Group operating in ward five. This organization has been around for years but is currently controlled by a small group of individuals including ward five Councillours Leanne Piper and Lise Burcher plus council candidate, Cathy Downer. Piper and Burcher are employees of the University of Guelph.

The two pillars of their existence are heritage and the environment.

Due to proximity to the U of G’s main campus, most of the estimated 6,000 households rented to students are located in wards five and six. This represents substantial income for those owners of households who rent to students at an average of $450 to $500 a month each.

In the past 24 months there has been a flurry of applications and approvals of large-scale, privately developed student housing complexes. One of the largest is to be built at the intersection of Stone Road and Gordon Street by Varsity Abode. Both the city and the university initially opposed the application. The Ontario Municipal Board adjudicated the matter and the city was ordered to proceed with the project.

Why was there such opposition? The city was facing irate single-family homeowners who complained their neighbourhoods were being abused by student parties and misbehaviour.

Non-residents owned a number of these converted student lodgings. In some cases, the parents of a student would buy the house, convert it to a student-lodging house, and finance their child’s four-year university courses through rentals.

For years, Waterloo faced the same problem as Guelph. But when larger scale rentals were being built by the public sector at a fairly rapid pace, the number of private home student housing units fell dramatically. Students preferred the new housing units that were managed professionally and came with many amenities.

This is what’s slowly happening in Guelph. Despite the protective screen put up by the landlords to maintain their student cash cows and the action of the University Neighbourhood group to protect these landlords, the trend is now in place.

But this will take time. The university is expanding and there is a growing demand for housing. The U of G is not interested in providing additional student housing on campus as it backed out of a joint plan with a private developer to build more student accommodation.

But the usual games are being played at city hall, as the Varsity Abode project has yet to break ground some 18 months following its initial application.

In the meantime, the rental-licensing proposal has been killed. In its stead, is a staff plan to seek a warrant from a judge to investigate conditions in a student lodging suspected of overcrowding and lack of safety measures.

But nothing will happen until next spring, providing the new council hires a new bylaw enforcement officer to chase the judges for warrants allowing them to investigate defined suspect lodgings.

The people who live near these offending homes say all the city has to do is enforce its own bylaws. In Mayor Farbridge’s eight years in office, that has not happened. And now we know why.

The real problem is the core of councillours, including the mayor, who won’t interfere with this abuse of neighbourhoods, where many if their supporters are cashing in.

So with 22,000 students about to arrive, there is nothing that can be done to commence the “warrant” system until the new council approves the 2015 budget in the spring.

There is now strong suspicion that undue pressure was brought on the staff to dump the licensing proposal. There is ample evidence that these student lodgings are a problem in many parts of wards five and six. Both the police and the bylaw department know the locations.

If you buy a single family home and convert it into a five to ten bed student lodging, then that’s a business. Like other businesses in the city, it should be licensed.

A “kegger” is when the organizers purchase kegs of beer and resell it at $5 a cup.
At one large gathering this summer, there were an estimated 150 students attending. If the average purchase of beer was $20 that’s a gross profit of $3,000.

That’s a violation of the Liquor Licensing Act in which the sale of alcohol must be approved by special permit. It also demands that a person must be 19 in order to consume alcohol. It is a blatant abuse of the rule of law but no one in the administration seems to care.

This yet is another reason why GrassRoots Guelph researched and delivered a petition outlining mismanagement, the financial errors, omissions and overcharges of taxes by the administration. The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, at the time, rejected the petition but never revealed the reasons for her decision.

Her own staff confirmed the accuracy of the numbers and data in the petition.

The Ombudsman of Ontario is now investigating.

For more information contact grassrootsguelph.com.

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2 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

2 responses to “How the student housing licensing plan was killed by the city

  1. Hello this is kinda of off topic but I was wanting to know
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