Toronto’s mayor loses by-election bid after opposing a plan to legalize rooming houses

Story highlights The mayor was defeated in a local race for by-election by a gentrifying gay politician.

Tory campaigned on a platform to legalize rooming houses in the city.

Elected councillors defeated by an openly gay candidate said they won’t back down on the issue.

TORONTO — Proponents and opponents are splitting views over a proposed by-law that would legalize rooming houses in Toronto.

On the one hand, powerful groups like the Ontario Rental Housing Coalition are staunchly opposed to the proposal. On the other hand, Toronto city councillors who won an upset victory over Tory said that they will push forward with the proposal no matter what happens in the by-election, which is being held at the end of September.

That election pits Tory against Liberal contender and former municipal politician John Tulloch. On Wednesday, Tory announced that he had lost that race and that he would be stepping down from his post as mayor.

It is not clear whether the opposition’s stated opposition to the proposal will persist even if it goes through the general election or if they intend to change their position once they sit in office.

The proposal was submitted by the council’s progressive faction earlier this year. Tory said that the by-law is in response to one of the city’s most pressing problems: the spike in homelessness and evictions.

In October 2017, 3,500 new roomsing houses were registered with Toronto in a two-year period. Currently, none of those new homes have been built to meet those market demand.

More than 1,000 people have been displaced from single room occupancy hotels in Toronto in the past three years alone.

According to research commissioned by the city, this trend has led to long-term displacement of households and financial hardship. The research shows a 40% increase in displacement since 2006, primarily due to the “mismatch” between the occupants and the conditions and land of the homes.

Various studies have stated that there are other causes of displacement in the housing market, but the Rental Housing Coalition puts most of the blame on low-income renters. It blames overcrowding, lack of landlord support and the presence of toxic sites in what it calls “degraded” homes.

“When rents are affordable, people have a chance to stay in their homes. This study shows that the deck is stacked against low-income renters and families who can’t afford rent,” said TLC CEO Neera Mahtani.

Tory had previously opposed the proposal, and on Wednesday, he took to social media to criticize the opposition group, saying that the city would not tolerate any threats to human rights and an attempt to overturn the vote.

On Wednesday, Tory issued a strong response to the suggestion that people who have low income would be displaced if the by-law were passed.

“If anyone is using that argument to get them to reverse their position they need to stop. It is not my position. It is wrong and they will not be able to repeal a by-law that is 60% completed and has no other option,” he said.

Opponents like the Rental Housing Coalition say that Tory is on the wrong side of history.

“This will result in a massive increase in existing rental housing to be unaffordable or, at the very least, set people back,” Mahtani said.

“There is a movement for fixing homelessness, but not for increasing inequality and displacement at the most vulnerable in our society,” she added.

According to Mahtani, if the proposal were approved, about 4,500 existing spaces could be converted to rooms for rent and between 400 and 600 people would be added to the city’s homeless population. She said that some of the existing rooms are converted into condos and other houses that the units are able to resale.

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