Ottawa·ELECTION 2018

Sandy Hill residents make rooming houses a municipal election issue

A Sandy Hill organization is demanding better heritage protection for neighbourhood residences in an effort to keep buildings from being transformed into student rooming houses.

Residents say rooming houses are harming important heritage buildings

Residents in Sandy Hill are calling for better heritage protections for homes such as this. (Radio-Canada)

A Sandy Hill advocacy organization is demanding better heritage protection for its neighbourhood residences in an effort to keep buildings from being transformed into student rooming houses.

Action Sandy Hill said its members are frustrated that important community buildings are becoming rooming houses, which often have more than a dozen rooms, for students attending the University of Ottawa.

Often times these buildings are heritage homes and important landmarks in the community, said François Bregha, a member of Action Sandy Hill.

He said his organization is asking municipal candidates to commit to better protection for homes in the neighbourhood. 

"We want a commitment to create incentives and tighter regulations, which would encourage developers to build two- or three-bedroom apartments," Bregha said.

François Bregha, from Action Sandy Hill, would like municipal politicians to do more to stop the proliferation of rooming houses in Sandy Hill. (Radio-Canada)

Politicians respond 

Thierry Harris, who is running for city council in Rideau-Vanier, said regulations need to be rethought in order to attract tenants who are not students.

"It's to bring young professionals... [people who want to have families and] want to invest in a neighbourhood with a future, not a neighbourhood where we're going to try to make money quickly by destroying heritage homes," the candidate said in a French-language interview with Radio-Canada. 

Thierry Harris, who is running for council in Rideau-Vanier, says rooming house regulations in Ottawa need to be rethought. (Radio-Canada)

Coun. Mathieu Fleury, the Rideau-Vanier incumbent, said there are already well-established rules to limit rooming homes in the area. 

"In the last eight years, every year, we have done a zoning study to protect the community in Sandy Hill," he said. "There's been an employee dedicated to protecting Sandy Hill for eight years."

Coun. Mathieu Fleury, the incumbent for Ottawa Rideau-Vanier, pushed for a bylaw to prevent the construction of any new rooming houses. (CBC)

In July 2017, the City of Ottawa passed a bylaw to prevent the construction of any new rooming houses for one year in a handful of Ottawa neighbourhoods, including Sandy Hill. 

At their meeting on June 13, councillors voted in favour of extending the ban for another year. They also amended a zoning bylaw to change and clarify the definition of a rooming house.

New student residences

While the University of Ottawa reiterates that its primary role is not to provide accommodation, it plans to remove the oldest residential towers on campus and build new ones within six years.

That is an ideal opportunity for the school to build more rooms in order decrease the need for rooming houses, Bregha said.

Jacques Frémont, the university's president and vice-chancellor, said he considered this avenue, but also expressed reservations.

"We're a campus that's grown a lot in the last 10 years. We don't want to grow anymore," he said.

With files from Audrey Roy and Martin Robert