Talking property standards with the housing minister

Students responsible for reporting housing issues, Gerretsen says

John Gerretsen says the Ghetto is not as bad as people think it is.
John Gerretsen says the Ghetto is not as bad as people think it is.
Credit: 
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PROVINCIAL ELECTION

John Gerretsen, MPP for Kingston and the Islands and minister of municipal affairs and housing, said the province has given Ontario municipalities everything they need to improve the housing situation in places like the Queen’s student Ghetto.

Now, he said, it’s up to students.

“What we do at the provincial level is make sure local authorities have the tools to keep properties up to standard.”

Gerretsen has come under fire for failing to enforce property standards and failing to penalize unscrupulous landlords. In February 2006, he was named “Lord of the Slums” by the Parkdale Tenants Association in Toronto.

Gerretsen said quality housing is something students need to take responsibility for.

“I always say students should take the initiative to contact property standards inspectors,” he said.

“If they want to bring attention to certain properties in their area, they’re perfectly within their democratic rights to do so.”

“Students need to think of themselves as equal to the rest of the city when it comes to their rights,” he said.

“People have a right to decent, comfortable housing, and that applies whether you’re a student or a non-student in this society.”

Gerretsen said after canvassing in the area Sunday, he found conditions in the Ghetto could be improved.

“From my observations, many of the student houses north of the University, some of them are well maintained and some of them are not.”

He said many students are silent about housing issues.

“Over the years, from my office, I have not heard from a lot of students about housing.”

Initiatives such as the AMS-run Golden Cockroach award is a great way to both encourage students to speak up and to hold landlords accountable, Gerretsen said.

When he was mayor of Kingston in the 1980s, Gerretsen said, a committee of inspectors carried out periodic “property standard blitzes,” writing up cases of neglectful landlords as well as tenants.

The program no longer exists, and he said it would be up to the city to decide to reinstate it.

He said the implementation of the Residential Tenancies Act two years ago, replacing the Tenant Protection Act from 1997, is the biggest change made recently. The new act allows all tenants the right to a hearing where they can present evidence before being evicted.

“It’s fair to say that under the previous legislation, the landlords had the upper hand.”

He said the new legislation ensures landlords and tenants have equal recourse within the system.

“It’s basically there to protect good landlords and tenants and deal swiftly with bad landlords and bad tenants. … We seem to have succeeded in bringing balance back to the system.”

Gerretsen said the changes also gave municipalities more freedom to make changes within their cities.

“The municipalities have much greater authority to deal with these things than they ever have before.”

Although it merits some improvement, Gerretsen said, he thinks housing in the Ghetto is not as bad as its reputation suggests.

“It’s unfortunate that the so-called student Ghetto area, in a lot of people’s minds, has received sort of a negative connotation,” he said. “There are a lot of good landlords.”

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