Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The right way -- the wrong way

So what do I think of what the city has achieved with its newly revised rental by-laws. And what do I think they might have instead achieved.

Personally I am very skeptical about the revisions to the bylaw. I support the notion that those who rent should be licensed to do so.. always have. I'd have been happy to be given a license to rent to the numbers I do, but the city made that not an option. Why.. because no way am I the required distance from another house that has a license to rent. I'm two doors from such a house. I support the notion that the city should police accomodation for fire and safety -- all houses.. mine and everyone elses. While it may be financially painful I support all reasonable modifications I might be required to make to my own home or others to make it safe. I've had a fire at my house.. I now respect fire in a way that those who haven't perhaps do not.

That I now have to give particulars of all my tenants and how much I'm charging them; that troubles me. Personally I'm in now way ashamed of what I charge students; as said we are more likely subsidising them than they supporting us. But I worry about providing particulars of my tenants to the city for two reasons. The first is that it might make me liable to charges that I am abusing a confidence. I want to remain on the right side of my tenants. And politically I worry that it is the thin edge of the wedge. There have been a lot of accusations of fascism bouncing around -- I hear the word and I wonder if people know what fascism is -- but yes, the fascist movement gained its power from precisely what the city is now asking me for -- the identification of a visible (though I would argue it less visible than most) minority. On principle I do not want to aid any movement by Canada that involves it becoming more of a police state. If I got to push it would be to push Canada away from being the police state that it is becoming.. G20 comes to mind.

Criminal back ground check -- covered that. Increase in rental costs for landlords, and students, sad. Down grading of Waterloo so that it is now considered a worse place to invest in than either Kitchener or Cambridge when we were #1... enacting legislation which the Ontario Human Rights commissioner takes issue with.. all indications that the City of Waterloo imagines itself smarter than in reality it is.

But missed opportunities -- tragic. The city got it completely backwards. They always get it completely backwards; if I were a betting man I'd be betting that it is no different next time. And let me be clear -- I don't think we've a bad council in place right now. I like and would vote again for Mayor Halloran, I like and follow Karen Scian's bloggs -- she deserved to be re-elected unapposed. And I like and respect Jeff Henry. I think Ward 6 will be well served by him. But I distrust the abilities of our city to plan, or create improvement. What they touch does not as a rule turn to gold. I've seen what they are capable of; and that worries me. The desert which is Columbia St south is their mess. The inability to enforce by-laws is their mess. Northdale is their mess. The ad-hoc way in which residential cresents such as Cardill get trashed by changes to zoning is the cities fault. But the people who are at the top. They don't build the plane they fly -- they just get dumped with the responsibility of trying to land it; with as few fatalities as possible.

The city to my mind wants to remove the visible minority from the residential areas when they should if they were my sort of Canadians I imagine myself to be, be wanting to integrate those very same visible minorities into the very same communities. Instead of making their focus the minority of students who abuse police, could they not instead have focused on the vast majority who do not. Could they not have seen students as their own children, and not as some alien creature invading protected areas. This city needs intensification. It has to become more dense it can no longer solve the need for more accomodation by creating more sprawl. It's legislation should have been focused on increasing the availability of rental accomodation in residential neighbourhoods because a significant proportion of "people" like living in residential neighbourhoods. That after all is why residential neighbourhoods exist -- to be lived in.

The city also wants to address health and safety and the terrible state of some rental accomodation. I walked every street in Ward 6 and there are places I'd not want to live in. Ergo, I agree we should be trying to provide opportunity for students to avoid living in such conditions. How do you solve that problem.. the city seems to think it is solved by firstly trying to rewrite the rules as to who may rent by initially unilaterally declaring that a rental property ceased to be legally rentable when sold, and any license attached to that property null and void on sale, and in backing off on that insane strategy, is now pretty much back to the status quo. The strategy was insane because it would have jeopardised the market value of a huge swath of property in Waterloo. This would have trashed peoples savings, and futures of retirement and would have had consequences beyond those I think the city intended. On High Street every third property would have at the stroke of a pen lost probably half its market value. The risk was that banks would refuse to renew morgages on those properties, and you'd have a US style, abandonment of properties on streets that would have impacted not just on rental property values but all property values. It also could have resulted in lawsuits that I and every other resident of Waterloo would have ended up indirectly paying, and we have enough problems with funding our existing legal issues, without creating new ones. It was a sledge hammer to crack a nut that wasn't even capable of even hitting the nut. And as such it was !!NUTS!!.

My solution which I genuinely believe would have had more chance of success. Encourage additional residential owners in Waterloo to rent. Let the students move out of the bad accomodation to better accomodation. Don't remove the right of bad landlords to rent.. remove their ability to rent. For a landlord inability to rent is for a pilot what loosing wings is. We don't just loose income, we pay for the priviledge of loosing that income because we have to make mortgage payments on empty houses as well as full ones. The city tried to remove the shirts of all who own licensed properties in Waterloo (I don't). They should instead have been seeking to leave those landlords at the lower ends of the health and safety spectrum, standing utterly naked.. with crappy properties that no student would consider paying for the right to live in.

Put simply, to the extent that the city targetted the actual problem, they might then get lucky and hit upon an actual solution. But if you don't even know what the target is, chances of hitting it by luck seem pretty slim.

And in a world that needs more accomodation, my city has just enacted legislation that will discourage my neighbours from considering doing what we have done. I seriously doubt that even we would have contemplated becoming landlords if we had been confronted with -- you have to face a beauracracy to become a landlord, you have to pay fees to provide rental accomodation to even a single other person, you have to have periodic police checks, etc. etc. The tragedy of the newly enacted by laws is that they are regressive; when one might hope for progressive policies. The city has tried to make a bad situation better; almost certainly has managed to do so with its requirement that all must have a license; but has simultaneously made things worse, by promoting policies which will discourage the creation of new rental accomodation in residential areas.

Certainly some residents of Waterloo will applaud a reduction of availability of rental accomodation in Waterloo. Please to those I say reflect on the reality that one in four in Ward 6 will be directly affected by your choice to exclude them from your communities. They are the poorest, they are the most vulnerable, and least you forget they gave you your jobs at RIM, at OpenText, at Sybase.. history will say Waterloo was built by immigrants. North Waterloo would not be the North Waterloo it is if not for students.. they are our future and we are too dumb to even get it.

My tenants have started here as students and many have stayed to become valuable members of this community. Do you think those will stay who we effectively tell when they are students -- not wanted. Doubt it -- doubt it a lot.

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