London Free Press: Two councillors join LifeSpin push to crack down on unsafe housing in city

Posted February 11, 2021

Two city councillors are pushing to tighten rental licensing rules and crack down on housing units in need of repairs, overrun with pests, or with lingering health and safety issues.
Those challenges and other housing woes are in the spotlight in London, where a new advocacy group is fighting for tenant protections, joining a decades-long effort for safe, affordable housing from the poverty-fighting team at LifeSpin.
“This is not a war on landlords. We have an issue we need to fix. We need to do our job to implement policies that help everyone in the community,” Coun. Arielle Kayabaga said. She represents Ward 13, which includes London’s downtown.
“There’s a lot of people who have reached out to me and didn’t even know where to file a complaint or to look up a property’s history.”
Kayabaga and Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih want to expand city hall’s rental unit licensing bylaw to include apartment buildings and townhouses, which are now excluded from those rules.
Their motion — expected on March 2, along with a public meeting — also includes random city hall inspections to ensure buildings are safe and not falling into disrepair, plus a bid to make information about a property’s history more available to Londoners.
“This motion is basically to support tenants, and make sure they’re living in healthy and safe environments, and their buildings are being maintained, and they don’t have to be evicted for asking for standard repairs to be met,” Kayabaga said.
It follows Salih’s attempt in 2015 to publish fire code violations, a bid that ultimately was unsuccessful.
Londoners can check on city hall’s website, through the property inquiry system, if an owner has been ordered to fix a safety issue — called make-safe orders — or if a building has a do-not-occupy notice on it.
Kayabaga and Salih want people to know they have access to those details.
But there’s no public list with all the buildings under those orders, city officials say. As of last month, there were 66 make-safe orders and three do-not-occupy orders still open, a city hall official said.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Nawton Chiles, co-chair of ACORN’s London chapter, calling the motion a “good start.”
The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) bills itself as a group of low- and moderate-income people working on social and economic justice issues.
Chiles said there’s more to be done.
ACORN “members are complaining that they have things to report, but they can’t do it because they’re worried about retaliation from their landlord, or they don’t know how to actually submit a complaint to the city, or that they have submitted a complaint to the city and the city really hasn’t done anything.”
Meanwhile, LifeSpin plans to launch a survey Feb. 22 that will list and map vacant, abandoned and derelict properties throughout the city in its ongoing bid for new measures to improve London’s affordable housing stock.
The agency, which helps and advocates for low- income residents, is sending the survey to its 8,000 clients and will encourage members of the public to do the survey as well.
The survey and map will show the extent of the problem across London, which LifeSpin will present to city hall in a report this spring, executive director Jacquie Thompson said.
Right now, most inspections and orders for derelict housing are triggered by complaints.
“To the city we’re saying, ‘We are going to give you the addresses. These are officially the complaints. Go check them out,'” Thompson said.
Some derelict housing is owned by slum landlords, but some is because landlords can’t afford to repair buildings, Thompson said.
“The city needs to go in, and do the repairs so that the people living there can do so in safety and charge the landlord for those repairs and add it to the tax bills,” she said.
If the landlord can’t pay the tax bill, the city can foreclose the property, “and then we will have more low-income housing owned by the City of London, up to code and safe. There is housing all over this city that needs to be brought up to code,” Thompson said.
Initial mapping has identified more than 20 properties, Thompson said.
“You see a lot of boarded-up homes on the map right now are owned by developers because they’re buying up property and not boarding them up according to the bylaws. They’re just sitting there years on end and that’s housing that somebody could be living in.”
LifeSpin presented a report in 2019 calling for more measures to improve affordable housing in London, including repairing derelict and vacant properties.
It seemed to accomplish little, Thompson said in a Free Press feature on derelict housing published earlier this year.
A house at 689 King St. was included in the April 2019 report and was the subject of several emails from Thompson to city hall officials in the summer of 2020.
On Nov. 22, a fire in the house saw one woman sent to hospital and four others treated on site for smoke inhalation. Firefighters rescued 20 cats.
Fire officials said at the time the blaze appeared to have started in a boarded-up area at the back of the house, which wasn’t habitable but was occupied.
Article by Randy Richmond and Megan Stacey for London Free Press



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