Kitchener city staff have drawn up new guidelines for land use and zoning changes for lodging houses in the city, but Council isn’t satisfied. At the Planning and Strategic Initiatives Committee meeting on October 30, Kitchener Council examined these changes, and given the mix of opinions on council, deferred their decision until the next council meeting on Monday November 6.
Several review studies, including Kitchener’s Housing for All Housing First strategy and the March 2021 Lower Doon Land Use Study, among others, encouraged the city to examine how lodging (or rooming houses) can play a role in alleviating the housing crisis. And so, at Monday evening’s council meeting, Kitchener city planning staff came back with a proposal that would remove references in the official plan and zoning regulations to minimum distance separations, lodging houses parking regulations, and geographical limitations on lodging houses.
Two delegates presented to Council in favour of lodging houses. Nelson Chukwuma from the Conestoga Student Inc.‘s Board of Directors and Martin Asling of the Yes In My Backyard (YIMBY) housing advocacy group. Both explained the importance of lodging houses to help both students and permanent city residents secure affordable housing.
In the mid 2000s, as part of then-official plan, the City of Kitchener sought to limit the creation of new lodging houses. Currently there are about 20 licensed lodging houses located across the city and an unknown but an assumed large number of unlicensed lodging houses.
One of the recommended zoning changes is to scrap the minimum distance provision, which limits lodging houses from being too close to one another. Up until now, lodging houses have to be at least 400m from one another. Martin Asling explained that this, according to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, is a form of ‘people zoning’ and is illegal in Ontario. In considering this change, Councillor Scott Davey expressed concerns about a possible overconcentration of lodging homes in an area, and he wondered what the consequences of that would be.
City staff also recommended that parking regulations be removed. Martin noted that these regulations are from an earlier time and are now out of date and no longer in line with the city’s aims.
Another recommendation from staff, that both delegates agreed with, was to lift restrictions to allow lodging houses in all residential zones throughout the city.
Affordability was a concern for many of the councillors. Councillor Bill Ioannidis asked Martin how to keep lodging houses affordable and prevent landlords from overcharging. In response, Martin listed a series of studies that have examined the implementation of lodging houses and which found that affordability stayed intact. Councillor Debbie Chapman asked Martin if he knew of any measures that could be put in place now to ensure affordability, and Martin explained how preventing the loss of lodging house supply is important.
City staff made a point to note that this meeting was not about licensing lodging homes but rather land use and zoning changes. Despite this, throughout the meeting, questions on licensing and enforcement popped up, Mayor Berry Vrbanovic asked if both the zoning and licensing could be dealt with concurrently given the importance and urgency of this measure. Staff were quick to point out that the licensing depends on removing some of the zoning and land use restrictions, and perhaps it could be done concurrently, but the changes to zoning and land use must occur before a licensing program is overhauled.
Other issues of licensing that were raised included how to incentivize landowners to obtain a licence, how licensing would be enforced, and what repercussions there currently are if landowners choose not to obtain a license.
Councillor Ioannidis expressed a preference for the four-plex housing strategy, which was passed at council previously. By the end, the Councillor noted he had more questions than answers and pushed for a deferral to the next council meeting. The deferral motion was passed and the issue will be readdressed at Council meeting on November 6.
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