The spread of anti-student bylaws

Will Hamilton be smart enough to avoid Oshawa’s misguided, anti-student moves?


Last year, the City of Oshawa launched what I consider to be an anti-student campaign which began with a series of municipal law enforcement raids to harass students. These cumulated in the passing of Canada’s strongest anti-student housing bylaw.

This year, many other communities are looking at passing similar bylaws in an attempt to solve their “student problem.” One of these communities is my hometown, and current place of residence, Hamilton, Ontario. Hamilton enjoys the presence of two post-secondary institutions: McMaster University and Mohawk College.

Both institutions have large student populations and, surprise, many of these students prefer to live within walking distance of schools. This practical decision does not sit well with older residents of the communities surrounding the schools who prefer their suburban vision of the neighbourhood to the campus town vision of the students.

As the number of students at both schools has increased, there have been more encounters between the two groups and tensions have grown.

The non-student residents, or “permanent residents” as they prefer to call themselves, want a bylaw which will decrease the number of students living in “their” community.

Thankfully, Hamilton is not Oshawa and I very much doubt that a similar bylaw will pass here. At the very least, the worse practices of the Oshawa process will not be repeated here.

There will be no police raids, no ignoring of student opinion, and less of the blatant anti-student behaviour of Oshawa.

Brian McHattie, the city councillor representing the neighbourhoods surrounding McMaster, is actively engaging student opinion. He has formed a committee to look at the issue with students holding the majority of the committee seats.

Hopefully, Hamilton will not pass a bylaw similar to Oshawa’s. Right now, Oshawa is in the middle of a major student housing crisis and many students hold negative feelings towards the city. Considering the importance of knowledge workers to the economic health of a city, I hope the City of Hamilton is more wiser than Oshawa and continues to welcome young people to the city.

I wrote a solid opinion piece for The Silhouette on the topic last week. You can read it online.

RELATED: Students versus the world, Sept. 20, 2007

UPDATE: Councillor McHattie and I are discussing the issue on The Silhouette website here.


The spread of anti-student bylaws

  1. You egotistical sabotage! gooed one.

  2. The issue is not students vs the permanent residents. The issue is the irresponsilbe actions of a few students who make life a living hell for the permanent residents and the majority of students. It is not necessary to have a drunken, shouting, music blaring social event every week, yet some “students” appear to think it is. If the police and by-law enforcers crack down on the abuse there would be no issue.

    There is one well known student house that I am aware of in Guelph. They have one or two parties each semester. They circulate a notice to all of the neighbours setting out their intentions and asking for a call to them if there are any complaints. They respond immediately to those calls when the come. These students also decorate their home for Halloween – and provide goodies for the neighbourhood kids as well as dressing up themseleves and collecting for the food bank. Their house is always the best dressed for the Christmas season as well. Responsible students, sich as these, can live in a neighbourhood in harmony with the other residents.

    No one wants to live near the irresponsible students.

  3. If the author had bothered to investigate he would have discovered that the by-law in question is pro student. The intent of the bill is to ensure that students live in decent housing that conforms to building codes and fire codes. It attempts to prevent the proliferation of substandard housing where students are crammed into houses partitioned into cubby holes, with only one bathroom and kitchen for eight or more students Some basement rooms have been found to be infested with mould and mildew. I am sure parents want their sons and daughters living in housing that does not compromise their children’s health and safety and are receiving good value for their rent money.
    I live in an area of Hamilton next to the university and in recent years over half of the houses in my neighbourhood have been converted to student housing. Some of these houses are owned by responsible landlords who maintain their properties in a safe and responsible manner. Unfortunately there are too many landlords who are only interested in the money and allow their properties to deteriorate. We pay very high property taxes in Hamilton and these landlords are running businesses which earn thousands of dollars yearly, but are paying the same taxes as resident homeowners.
    In my opinion the Oshawa by-laws are a win-win situation for both students and resident homeowners. The only people affected negatively are those landlords whose personal greed outweighs their concern for their tenants and the neighbourhood in general

  4. The writer has bothered to investigate – I’ve covered the situation in Oshawa more extensively than any other national journalist, including having made multiple trips to Oshawa to see the situation firsthand.

    I was in Oshawa soon after the law enforcement raids harassing the student population. I was there as the bylaw was drafted. I attended the meetings when the bylaw passed and I’ve continued to follow-up the story.

    It is the fact that I’ve looked beyond the political rhetoric that I see the bylaw for what it really is.

    This is not a win-win for students; good houses will be targeted the same as poor houses. A good house with 6 students will be punished with a decrease in the number of renters just the same as a bad house with 6 students.

    Laws already exist to deal with poor housing; they are not enforced. Why is the city not enforcing these bylaws?

    The only real change this bylaw will make is the creation of an arbitrary limit on the numbers of young people living near the post secondary institutions.

    As I argued in The Silhouette, I fully support students living outside of Westdale. I believe students will live outside Westdale if presented with better options in other areas of the city. Instead of actually working to create the positive incentives necessary to move students into other areas of the city, the local government will create a bylaw that merely targets an undesirable demographic and wash its hands of the consequences.

    Leave it to politicians to create laws which easily fix “problems” while not addressing the true issues. The added revenue for the city is a nice bonus.

  5. Mr. Johnston,

    Thank you for the comment. Your comment is reflective of the reality in Guelph. I’ve been in the city many times and rode the late night buses out of downtown more than a few times.

  6. The Oshawa by-laws limit the number of bedrooms to four in most areas covered by the by-law. There are a few streets which are allowed more bedrooms. The by-laws do not limit the number of students. If students want to share a room that is their business. Sharing a room might be preferable to being shoe-horned into a tiny room in one of those student houses partitioned into cubby holes. Hamilton may want to set their own standards concerning the number of bedrooms.
    The by-laws are designed to prevent the proliferation of substandard housing. Take a walk through the Westdale and Ainslie Wood neighbourhoods in Hamilton and you can witness the growth of deteriorating student housing. A by-law which establishes enforceable standards would improve housing for the students and be fairer to those landlords who presently offer safe decent housing.
    Hamilton needs by-laws such as Oshawa’s to prevent the further degradation of what were once the some of the nicest neighbourhoods in the city. Property standards and safety by-laws cannot always be enforced if landlords can intimidate young students into not reporting violations or allowing inspections. First time renters are not always aware of their rights. The Oshawa by-laws by requiring licensing of rental accomodation make it easier for a city to enforce these important standards.
    I agree that the university and the city need to take more responsibility and positive action. McMaster needs to make a commitment to the city and establish a campus and student housing downtown and the city needs to improve public transit to the west end campus.

  7. Tom,

    Again, there are already bylaws in place to deal with housing issues.

    As a libertarian, I do not agree with a law that allows government agents to enter my private space at will without a search warrant.

    Yes, we need to improve the situation in Hamilton’s Westdale community. These bylaws are not the best method to improve the community; they are the easy way.

    The city needs to move quickly to build the LRT from McMaster to Downtown Hamilton. Once it is complete, I’d expect to see major developments in the downtown core which will attract the student population to move there.

    I assume we’ll meet at the city committee meeting later in the week.

    – Joey

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