City seeks to unload expense of response team on region

By Jessica Brando

The City of Ottawa is planning to scrap its funding for the Rooming House Response Team on June 30, hopeful the regional government will pick up the tab.

The city currently gives about $65,000 to the program annually. A planning and economic development committee draft proposal recommends shifting this responsibility to the region.

“The study team felt it was effective,” says Nancy Walker, co-ordinator of the 18- month-old project. “It’s valuable, but unfortunately we were advised that the city doesn’t have the money to continue funding it.”

The draft proposal was discussed at a regional planning and economic development committee meeting on April 7.

The city created the Rooming House Response Team to identify and solve problems associated with rooming houses. The team is the last step before licensing of rooming house operations is implemented. Licensing could limit the availability of rooming houses for low-income people. The City of Ottawa put licensing plans on hold until the success of the team could be measured.

While the city says it lacks funds, it is questionable whether the region has money to spare for the project, says Coun. Elisabeth Arnold, who is fighting to keep the team funded by the city.

“The staff report recommends that we stop funding, insinuating that the region’s going to pick it up. I don’t think they’re in the business right now of expanding their services. We shouldn’t be withdrawing from our co-ordinating role.”

Tracy Sutton, executive director of Housing Help, a program that helps people find inexpensive housing, says it is important for the response team to stay in business.

“It is improving and maintaining the stock of inexpensive housing and trying to make (the city) a decent place for people to live,” she says.

Most often it is neighbors who complain to the city that landlords are not requiring their tenants to obey bylaws. Walker says it is the poorer tenants who are vulnerable in this situation. She hears complaints that they are evicted with little notice and are not told why.

Getting the main players in a dispute to confront each other in community meetings is part of the team’s job.

The team also plays a vital role in co-ordinating services that are frequently used in rooming house disputes. These people include the police, the fire department, property standard and zoning officials.
“Sometimes these properties had a bunch of things happening and we had no one to look at the big picture,” says Paul Weber, the team’s community worker.

Regional coun. Diane Holmes says she thinks that the response team’s role in co-ordinating services is essential.

“It helps to keep the chaotic life of a rooming house down to a minimum,” she says. But Holmes adds that the services provided by the team should not be fully taken over by the region. “Perhaps you could see us co-funding something here, but I don’t think it’s legitimate to ask us to take over all the funding.”