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No easy fix for rental housing issues

City council deals with a lot of tricky and complicated issues, but shared rental housing has to be one of the trickiest and most complex.
Residents of some Guelph neighbourhoods have complained for years about the destabilizing effect of a growing number of houses full of university students. But what to do about it? City hall has bylaws it can enforce to help minimize neighbourhood disruptions related to such housing – and to provide a degree of safety to the occupants. It can also use zoning, although the limits of zoning power became clearer last winter when city council ended up having to repeal a zoning bylaw amendment aimed at addressing shared-rental housing problems.
A few years back, the province gave municipalities like Guelph a new tool for dealing with the issue, namely the power to license rental housing. The question now is whether Guelph should use this licensing power, as the university cities of London and Waterloo have done.
City hall staff have been working on a licensing scheme since at least last spring, and they were set to begin public consultations this winter. But their work plan hit a roadblock Tuesday when Mayor Karen Farbridge asked staff for a cost-benefit analysis of licensing – now, not later. Other members of the city’s planning & building, engineering and environment committee backed the mayor’s request.
Licensing an estimated 8,700 rental dwelling units in Guelph would be a significant undertaking for city hall. So it seems a very good idea for staff to lay out clearly for councillors the costs and expected benefits of such an undertaking, before going any further with this contentious issue. Before the committee made its decision Tuesday, staff weren’t scheduled to look closely at anticipated costs until August. The committee was right in telling staff to do it now, so council can decide what it thinks about the balance of costs and benefits.
The issue of costs is a serious one, with the potential to hit taxpayers and also occupants of shared rental housing as licence fees are passed through to their rents. And some committee members, including Farbridge, didn’t think the benefits of going the licensing route were spelled out clearly or convincingly enough in the staff report.
The committee was right to cast a skeptical eye on this report Tuesday. What happens now could be tricky.

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