There is a lot more going on with this Landlords dispute with the City than I had considered.
There is a centralized core of landlords who are the organizers, an association for landlords, an alliance with tenants and they have a very active group of supporters who come out to meetings or who can contact politicians as required. Moreover, to identify themselves, they wore red shirts to the Licensing Commission meeting presumably to mean STOP. They also have money and seem prepared to spend it to protect their investment.
All of this effort seemed to be directed to the Licensing Commission meeting last Tuesday. The landlords seemed to believe that licensing fees are going to be charged and that they were:
Obviously, in a time of high vacancy rates, the last thing that a landlord would want would be a new “tax” or licensing fee imposed on them which they would have to pass on to a tenant. The last thing that a tenant would want to do would be to pay out more money or alternatively have to move into a unit that was not as good as the one that he/she lived in since the rent was cheaper.
Accordingly, this matter should all be over considering this story in the Star:
“Landlords win licensing tiff with city
Applause ended the Windsor Licensing Commission public meeting at city council chambers Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008.
Hundreds of landlords crowded into city council chambers Tuesday night erupted into applause when the Windsor Licensing Commission accepted a report that no further regulations be imposed on their sector.
The group was worried that the commission would follow the lead of other cities like Oshawa in imposing limits on the number of bedrooms for student housing, written tenancy agreements for each tenant and other regulations.
But city licensing director Diane Sibley told commission members that the requirements would result in an “onerous licencing regime for business owners.”
There is one slight problem. On the Agenda at Council on Monday night there is this item:
The “Council Question” asked
“that with regards to Town & Gown Association Committees, can Administration take a look at how other Ontario Municipalities (that host post secondary institutions) form working committees with all stakeholders and recommend a model to Council that will aid the residents, students, university, college and other tenants to live a healthy, safe community”
Shades of the infamous Agenda Item #5 that the City tried to sneak through until citizens caught them!
Administration, notwithstanding all the work that has been imposed upon them, not only answered the question but recommended an approach. Mind you, they only wanted whatever they were suggesting to last for a year because of Service Delivery Review. Accordingly, the working committees would do all kinds of work and then disappear it would seem.
I could not believe that Administration had done all this work and contacted different cities just to do something that was so short term. Why?
The whole way this was being presented seemed very strange to me in itself. What if the Committees worked at something outrageous? Where would one go to object or to provide information if they were no longer around?
I noticed again that Landlords were excluded by Administration from these Committees. Why exclude a group that is a key stakeholder when you are looking at students as tenants. Whether you like landlords or not, they have invested a good deal of money into their properties and yet they were being ignored. How could anyone not include them especially after their big victory at the Licensing Commission?
However, that is not all that what was surprising to me. It was the fact that it looked like the whole issue of landlords, housing and students was being raised again after it had been dealt with supposedly the week before. What gives?
I happened to talk to one of the landlords who was at the meeting in front of the Licensing Commission. The landlord told me that everyone there was quite surprised about how easy and quick it was to have the Motion introduced and passed that nothing further would be done. It all seemed so cut and dried.
I understood the game then. It was the old diversionary tactic. Make them think they won on something insignificant. Then hammer them subsequently because none of them would understand what could be happening next to them. After all, who wants to give up another night, especially if you have to sit at City Council and listen to all of their nonsense. It would have been expected that few landlords would show up given their supposed massive victory on the previous Tuesday.
Something was going on but what was it? I thought that the Landlords were off the mark believing that it was a tax grab. It had to be something a lot more than that and bigger but what.
I looked more closely at the Report. Not only had the Landlords been excluded but the University and College had not been consulted at all yet. They were going to be spoken to afterwards.
This was bizarre. Administration had not talked to key stakeholders and yet was suggesting that Council make a decision on a Committee. How could Council possibly do so without being provided with the facts so that they could make an informed decision? Seriously, the Report of the Licensing Commission had said that, in effect, there were no issues with respect to student housing after they had undertaken a blitz of an area near the University and yet someone thought that a Committee ought to be formed to deal with the issue. And without talking to key stakeholders.
Whatever was going on was obviously directed against landlords and was something that was to earn the favour of residents, especially votes for the next election. I cannot help thinking about politics with everything that is going on in Ottawa.
Given the fact that the Working Committees were only going to be around for one year, it had to do something. Given that this is the City of Windsor, that meant the members had to do all kinds of studies, assisted naturally by Administration who would give them direction as they had with the Heritage Study and Sandwich CIP.
Here is what I think this is all about from what I have been able to discover.
The object of the exercise is to cater to the single family house owner. After all, they make up a lot more voters than the few landlords and transients students do. My guess is that the object of the exercise is:
Eliminate multiple unit homes and make them all single detached dwelling units in compliance with the Zoning By-laws focusing on the University and College areas;
Develop an extremely strict enforcement regime with additional enforcement officers to ensure compliance and to close down illegal units, probably with some form of licensing of for "acceptable" units under the guise of safety so that no one can complain
Fire Dept and other regulatiry authorities will also play a role in closing down homes
Penalties for non-compliance will be very costly
Make it difficult and costly to get a licence to rent in the first place with annual inspections
Provide alternative, lower-cost attractive housing in a prime location to the students who would otherwise be displaced by the closing down of the rental units.
If I was a landlord anywhere in the City, because this is citywide, I would be pretty upset. Effectively, the City would be trying to put me out of business and destroy my investment by giving my business to some third party developers who would be asked to provide housing competitive to mine for students. In other words, the City would be helping my competitor put me out of business and would provide all the muscle to do so at my own expense as a taxpayer too!
Why this is so outrageous and unfair, it seemed like something that the City might do to the Ambassador Bridge Company to pressure them.
I thought about it some more and wondered why the University and College had not been consulted yet. They should have been very easy to approach. After all, Eddie worked with the President of St. Clair College re the Cleary and revitalization of the downtown so they were buddies. Dave Cooke was Chair of the Board of the University. Not only did he try to bring the Engineering Complex downtown as Eddie had hoped would happen but he was also the head guy looking into the feasibility of Eddie’s Canal vision.
Then it hit me. How could I be that forgetful. I knew it was all about. Bear with me on this, it is a bit complicated.
The object of the exercise is to get rid of students from certain areas of the City notwithstanding that Licensing has said there are few problems. Move them out... It does not matter what the reality is; that is not what people believe. Play on people's fears.
The fact that a few landlords lose their investment is troublesome. However, most would be mollified by a bureaucratic “exit strategy” that would be described as an effort to help them protect their investment. Presumably they would be forced, or rather “encouraged” to convert their homes back into a single-family unit. Then they could sell the home if they wanted to recover their funds. Of course they would be selling in Windsor’s dismal real estate market.
So they lose some money. Win some, lose some. That’s what happens when you make an investment.
Now these students would have to live somewhere because they had been displaced. Here comes the genius of the idea. Move them downtown! Wasn't there supposed to be student housing right next to the downtown Engineering Complex?
Where would they go downtown? How about the lands owned by Mr. Farhi? The poor man came to Windsor at the worst possible time with all of our economic woes. He might be happy to get out and sell at a good price.
I know he wanted to build this luxurious condominium on his prime piece of property downtown but look at the mess that the economy is in. Other condos in good locations are having trouble selling units. Builders even offered big discounts to try and get rid of them. Frankly, it might be difficult for him to get financing for a Windsor condo project with the mortgage meltdown. Getting rid of the property might not be such a bad idea for him. Heck, he had a 3 year holiday in paying City taxes since the property has technically not been transferred to him yet that is running out.
He is a developer after all. Why wouldn’t he sell his land with a building constructed on it for student housing for the people who are displaced from the rental units to either the University or St. Clair College or both. He could sell everything and perhaps not have to pay much in property taxes this way. It would be a terrific location right on the river, close to downtown and right next door to the bus terminal. Express buses could take the students right from their home to either the University or St. Clair. The location would be right beside the Greyhound terminal as well so that it would be easy for them to go back and forth between their school and home. It would be ideal.
Can you feel it? We are revitalizing the downtown. We are building something there. Why, the downtown would be even more exciting than it is now with the Keg restaurant and the St. Clair students.
There is more obviously. While the City was unable to get the Engineering Complex downtown, there still was talk of moving the Law School there or perhaps the another stand-alone School. St. Clair was still interested in moving more students downtown if they were able to get control of the Capitol Theatre. I am certain that Eddie’s University and College head honchos would help him revitalize the downtown by moving parts of their schools there because they were willing to do so in the past.
I can just see this area around the Art Gallery being a focus of higher education in Windsor with joint cooperation between the University, College and the City. Stick a Museum nearby and tie it into the Armouries project for the Symphony and we have a cultural centre too now.
"St. Clair College president John Strasser and Mayor Eddie Francis have been kicking around ideas for a second downtown facility, potentially with museum and hall of fame components, that would enable the college to build on its success in transforming the money- losing Cleary into the St. Clair Centre for the Arts with close to 500 students and instructors. "
Wait a minute, there is even more to this. Now Dave Cooke has a reason for supporting Eddie’s Canal vision. Remember what he said before:
“If you want to revitalize your downtown, you build things downtown."
He fears the "urban village" touted for the Western Super Anchor site is merely a sop to minimize opposition to moving the arena from downtown. "What marketing studies have been done? Where's the business plan to show us this is even viable? Show us the goods...”
My goodness, we would be building downtown. The student housing, the educational buildings and the support services they require… those are “the goods.” I can see it now. Dave would have a reason to be excited too.
That would be the basis upon which the canals would be built. That would be the focus of our new revitalized City Centre.
Did you notice all the seniors' stories in the Star the last few days? Maybe the Editors figured it all out too before me. All those rich seniors that we are trying to lure from Toronto, Ottawa and the United States would have a reason to live downtown. Developers would flock here to build the housing units for them as well as all of the University and College professors, teachers and students who would want to live near the school.
That is it. It all has to be part of a huge package deal that will be introduced to us. I can hardly wait to read Dave Cooke's Report which I have heard is already finished.
Get everyone on the Working Committees, without those pesky landlords who might get screwed and object, to provide us with the dream that can be sold to us before the next election. Whether our Mayor will still be Eddie, or if he does not run, then Dave Cooke (as Henderson said “if we're very lucky, Windsor's next mayor), it does not matter.
The first step in all of this is to close down those rental units and force students out. Create the need to build student housing downtown and everything follows from that. Make a captive market for the new units. Now I understand why this Committee, without landlords, needs to be set up and for one year only. It is like an informal Community Improvement Plan for Sandwich but without the fuss and muss.
Landlords have been warned. They had better prepare for a big fight.