Last week the city of Regina held a public meeting about Rooming Houses in the city.
The meeting is part of a wider process the council is going through to try to address the dramatic housing shortage the city faces.
There have been concerns from some communities, that so-called ‘Rooming Houses’, where people rent out individual rooms (as opposed to self-contained units within a house) were leading to noise, parking shortages and other issues in their neighbourhood.
While some of these concerns are legitimate, they should be addressed directly, rather than targeting a particular type of accommodation. I’m also concerned that in some cases, these issues are used to cover up NIMBY-style concerns about having immigrants or poorer residents moving in to ‘nice’ neighbourhoods.
The meeting discussed 3 potential options for changes to the regulation of Rooming Houses:
1) Deregulate and focus on enforcing other bylaws around parking, noise, etc.
2) Minor tweaks to the existing system
3) Even more regulation that would limit the number of occupants of houses, require registration and inspections, etc.
If you’re interested, you can read the full details of the proposed options here on this powerpoint pdf.
The meeting itself was quite interesting. It was held in a Church and attracted quite a few older residents of the communities which have been most vocal in opposition to the existence of Rooming Houses.
However, there was also a large number of younger people (plus the odd older person) who were either residents, or friends of residents of Rooming Houses. The younger crowed was clearly well organized, and had come en masse deliberately to counter a lot of the NIMBY arguments coming from the other side.
They were the kind of people who have really suffered from Regina’s housing shortage in recent years. They were too young to own a home before the boom, so haven’t had any capital gain, and have seen rental costs skyrocket. They’d also be the most affected by further regulations that would restrict the supply of housing even further.
I mostly attended the meeting as part of my work, rather than as a Regina resident, and was happy to leave most of the debating points to the other attendees.
They covered admirably the issues with a regulatory system that would require the council to hire huge numbers of inspectors to ‘spy’ on houses to determine whether 4 or 5 people were living there. They also argued well that focusing on noise and parking problems directly is probably a more effective strategy.
I did, however, make a comment towards the end of the meeting that focused more on the philosophical and moral issue with regulating Rooming Houses.
I pointed out that really, the issue comes down to property rights. Either you believe that the owner of a house should be allowed to decide who lives in that house, or you believe that the community should be allowed to intervene and make that decision for them.
I was also concerned that public consultations with 3 options can very easily make the middle option look moderate and sensible, just because it’s in the middle.
To illustrate these two points I proposed my own tongue-in-cheek Option 4 proposal.
I suggested that the council could dramatically reduce the housing shortage, reduce rents for the less well off, distribute population growth more evenly across the city, and provide a little more income for retired folk, by passing a bylaw that would require anyone with an empty room in a house that they own to rent it out.
I think some of the older folk in the audience were stunned for a second – perhaps concerned that the council might actually like the idea – but I think the shock wore off as I explained that I just as opposed to this hypothetical proposal as I was to Option 2 and 3, because I support property rights, and I don’t believe that I have the right to tell other people who can live in their house with them.
While it was a bit of fun, I think it did successfully get many of those who had come to the meeting to push for more regulation, to at least consider the position of those who would be harmed by those restrictions and in my job, that’s what we aim to do – stimulate debate and get people thinking.
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