The City of Regina has recently begun consulting residents about the subject of “Rooming Houses,” which are homes in residential areas in which both the owner and renters are residing. If all renters in a home are relatives, then it is not a Rooming House.1 The City has asked that comments on the subject be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org by the 19th of July, 2013.
Certain community associations and residents within the city have asked that the city heavily regulate rooming houses – effectively requiring them to be businesses in order to operate. On the other side, some residents are asking for the exact opposite: the removal of the rooming houses clause from the Zoning Bylaw which is currently thwarting many people’s attempts to legally provide rooms for rent in the city.
I decided to contribute to the discussion by writing to the City. Here is what I said:
To Whom it may concern,
I would like to encourage the City to adopt “Option 1 – Eliminate the Rooming House Definition” as its response to the current discussion on Rooming Houses. I will try to briefly lay out my reasons here.
First, the complaints that are being made by community associations and some residents are, to my knowledge, entirely covered under bylaws other than the Rooming Houses clause. Noise is covered in the zoning bylaw, and disorderly conduct by neighbours is covered in the criminal code. Overuse of parking or high traffic volumes are existing problems, but they are very distinct from the legality of rooming houses. Currently, the same amount of traffic and parking can happen legally with a large family living in a home, so the opposition to rooming houses alone is really just a form of discrimination intended to exclude people who do not (or cannot) live with their direct relatives.
Second, direct regulation of rooming houses would be an incredibly bad economic move. Regina is experiencing its fastest population growth in the last thirty years, and houses are essentially being built as fast as they possibly can be. Constraining the supply of current and future rentals in the city is undesirable because it would render effectively homeless the large number of people who currently live in such arrangements and those who would have taken advantage of such arrangements in the near future. We already have a labour shortage because of the boom. A move like this would have many effects, but it would certainly drive people away from the city because the vacancy rate would drop even lower (in fact, it would be definitively negative if current rooming houses were shut down). There is a simple causal path from rooming house regulation to economic slowdowns in Regina.
Not only should we not be regulating rooming houses further, they should be explicitly legalized so that more Regina residents feel that they have the freedom to rent out parts of their own property and thus contribute to the ongoing influx of human and financial capital that is taking place during this boom. Raising the vacancy rate and spreading population densification around the city is desirable because it will take some of the pressure off of the areas that are currently seeing dramatic increases in density (including via rooming houses). In one stroke this will reduce the intensity of the problems regarding traffic, parking, noise, and overcrowding in some areas while also improving the vibrancy and economic solvency of other areas of the city which up until now have not seen significant densification. Diversified and decentralized growth of Regina’s working population in this manner could help undo some of the ‘hollowing out’ that has taken place during the last several decades, during which Regina has seen the number of residents per dwelling unit drop from about 4.5 to 2.3.
It is my recommendation that the city explicitly legalize rooming houses and at the same time embark on a determined effort to protect those aspects of the commons that Reginians clearly care about, such as traffic reduction, safety, noise, and the on-street parking near their homes. In this way, the City can strike a balance between the freedom of house owners to do what they want with their property and the desires of neighbourhoods to defend those things they cherish in their locales. Paradoxically, allowing densification throughout the city will alleviate, rather than exacerbate, the problems of intensive densification that are being voiced by some residents and community associations. Their interests are best served by the City ensuring that all of Regina remains a vibrant, civilized, and welcoming city to live in. Free-form densification, within reason, of residential Regina is a fundamental key to its long-term prosperity.
For more information on these points, and the statistics underlying them, please see the document Transforming Regina – Planning for 2040 and beyond.
Thank you for your time,
Benjamin Harack MSc BSc BA