Updated June 9, 2021
Ottawa ACORN members believe that the municipal government has a responsibility to address the causes of the horrific state of housing in Ottawa and the surrounding region.
Aside from the cost of rent, the biggest problem identified by low-income families who rent in Ottawa is the state of disrepair in apartment buildings. The problems include: massive pest infestations, elevators not working for long periods of time, problems with proper heating, safety issues related to doors not locking properly, and basic repairs in apartments that tenants are entitled to but not receiving.
The Property Standards By-law has more procedural steps and delays than most by-laws in addition to any notice of violation being unenforceable. This issue has left the state of housing in Ottawa at an all time low.
While ACORN members were happy to see the introduction of new by-laws coming into effect in August 2021 on pest control and rental management, these new rules for property standards do not tackle the serious lack of enforcement.
Despite these improvements, all of the onus to address substandard housing conditions is still on tenants. Yet, many tenants do not report problems to the City because of fear of reprisal from their landlord, they don’t understand their rights, they don’t know 311 exists, there are often language barriers and/or they simply do not believe the system will work in their favour.
Our members are also deeply concerned about the cost of housing in Ottawa. In 2020, the City of Ottawa declared a housing and homelessness emergency. Minimum wage earners in our city need to spend almost 70% of their income on housing and we have over 12,000 households on the waitlist for subsidized units. Many ACORN members have been on the waitlist for years. For some it’s been nearly a decade.
It is time to address the growing shortage of affordable housing. But we cannot build our way out of the crisis. With the growing dominance of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) that use aggressive tactics to force out lower income renters through renovictions and demovictions, we are losing 7 affordable housing units for every 1 that we build.
It is time to gain greater protection for tenants. Ottawa tenants can have #HealthyHomes if City Hall starts putting #HomesOverProfit. Here’s how:
1. Proactive Enforcement Program for Healthy Homes
- Property owners must be given the list of minimum property standards that they are required to meet in addition to mechanisms to ensure property standards are met and maintained
- City of Ottawa should have access to detailed information regarding the property owner’s contact information, property description, capital maintenance plans, integrated pest management plans and building insurance
- Grading system of maintenance and upkeep that determines inspection rates by the City. All buildings should be inspected every 1-3 years depending on grade which should be posted in the common area of the building and online. If a property receives a bad grade it should trigger a full assessment and undergo annual inspections until its grade improves. This can be accomplished through a licensing or registration system similar to Toronto’s RentSafe program.
- Tenant notification boards that include service disruptions, maintenance and cleaning schedules be posted in common areas
- Property owners to pay an annual, per unit fee for cost recovery and administration of the proactive enforcement program, inspections, and enforcement of non-compliance
- City-owned corporations (e.g. Ottawa Community Housing) and non-profits would not be subject to fee, however, would still need to comply with the proactive enforcement program
2. Anti Displacement Policy
This is largely based off the Tenant Assistance Policy in place in Burnaby, BC thanks to BC ACORN’s organizing against demovictions. An Ottawa policy should include:
- In the case of the demolition and redevelopment of affordable housing, ensures rental replacements so that if the developer eliminates affordable market rental units or subsidized units, they are included in the new development for the same price and number of bedrooms.
- Units lost to redevelopment must be replaced at a ratio of 1:1 or 25% of the total number of proposed units, whichever is greater.
- Tenants who are evicted should have the first right of refusal to move back into the units created in the new development.
- Rent Stabilization: Tenants can choose between accepting temporary accommodation (must be given 3 options) of comparable size and location at the same rent they were paying before OR a rental top up should the tenant choose to find their own temporary accommodation. A rental top up should cover the difference between their current rent and median market rent for the area + 30%.
- Tenants must be given 4 Months notice
- Moving costs assistance up to $1400 dollars depending on the size of the unit for when you relocate and again when you return
- Special considerations be used for tenants with disabilities
- Continued maintenance of units while units are still occupied
- This should apply for all tenants at risk of displacement living in privately owned buildings with 3+ units (including townhomes) and any properties acquired by the City for the purposes of redevelopment and/or major infrastructure projects
3. Anti Renoviction Bylaw
This is based on New Westminister’s bylaw. Highlights include:
- Once all permits are obtained, and it is proven that tenants must vacate in order for the renovations to take place, the landlord must do either of the following steps: 1) Enter into a new lease with the tenant that is identical or more favourable to the tenant, with provision of a comparable rental unit in the same building OR; 2) Agree that tenants can move back under the terms of the existing lease AND find temporary accommodation for the tenant during the renovation period. If a landlord violates these rules, they will be fined by the City and lose their business license
- Standards of Maintenance bylaw
- Fee and tax reduction incentive program for landlords who have to do large scale renovations to their buildings.
Ottawa ACORN is also calling for a proactive education program to inform tenants about their rights/resources when:
- A building changes ownership (the City would be notified by the change in license)
- Reports from community members or tenant groups of “buy outs” or N13 notices
- When the city receives a building permit application for a multi-residential property
4. Inclusionary Zoning
- ACORN members want to see the City adopt an inclusionary zoning by-law that would ensure 35% of every new development around major transit zones includes affordable housing.
ACORN members support the City’s current definition of affordable housing as 30% of one’s income going to rent and housing utilities. However, the target income percentiles set in the Official Plan do not represent the low income families who are in the greatest need of affordable housing.
- The graphic details ACORN members’ demands for a breakdown of affordability based on housing insecurity by income percentile.
5. Rent Bank
- During COVID19, a rent bank should offer non-repayable grants to tenants at risk of eviction or who need assistance covering first and last month’s rent.
- After the COVID19 recovery period, the grants can be converted back to 0% interest loans as part of the City’s long term strategy to reduce homelessness.
6. Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs)
- Support community groups in their negotiations with developers for legally binding agreements that ensure community benefits (ie. affordable housing, local job hiring, childcare space etc) that are determined by the community.
7. $20 Million in the City Budget for Affordable Housing
8. Tenant Defense Fund
Follow the lead of cities like Toronto and Hamilton by creating a Tenant Defense Fund that would include:
- Support for the creation of a tenant hotline
- Assistance for tenant groups to dispute an AGI
- Assistance for tenant groups to challenge a demoviction/renoviction
- Assistance for tenant groups to do tenant outreach and education
- Assistance for tenant groups to file T6s and rent abatement applications over neglected maintenance
Learn more about ACORN’s tenant organizing by watching this short video:
613 746 5999 ext 2 or email@example.com