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Tenants say Centretown rooming houses have their issues

Your Community Health Centres

by Ash Abraham

As the City of Ottawa deliberates on how to best improve rooming houses, tenants say life inside the buildings remains grim.

“I can’t sleep, because roaches run over my face at night,” commented Centretown resident Paul, who preferred not to use his full name.

Rooming houses provide an affordable option for low-income tenants. Paul pays $600 a month for his room, which allows him to live downtown and easily access public transit.

“I live next door to a guy who snorts speed. I have to listen to him going psychotic at two in the morning,” said rooming house tenant Thérèse Germain. “The whole place is crawling with bedbugs and mice,” she added.

Fifty-five percent of all rooming houses in Ottawa are located in western Centretown. Accordingly, many tenants seek the services of the Centretown Community Health Centre (CCHC) and Somerset West Community Health Centre (SWCHC).

“Rooming houses serve a particular population. We want to see the tenants’ health and safety protected, but we don’t want to see the houses disappear from our neighbourhoods,” said CCHC staff member Aleksandra Milosevic.

Last fall, CCHC and SWCHC partnered to draft a report on the negative effects rooming houses were having on their clients’ health.

The report found that tenants frequently chose not to lodge complaints about their homes, fearing that their landlords would evict them.

“One of the main challenges right now is that the city will not accept third party complaints,” said Milosevic. “The affected person has to make a complaint. Many of our clients do not have the capacity or fear repercussion from landlords.”

Since the report was released, health centres, rooming house residents, and frontline workers have formed an advisory committee that is working closely with the City of Ottawa. The committee is looking to initiate a process for tenants to safely lodge complaints without fear. The committee is also working with Ottawa Bylaw.

Somerset Ward Councilor Catherine McKenney is hoping to assign a bylaw officer to focus on problematic rooming houses. “It takes more resources,” McKenney said.

“Right now, there are different bylaw officers going into rooming houses. They have to look through each file, check if the problem has been addressed, and see what has been asked for in the past. Whereas having one bylaw officer whose sole responsibility is to proactively work in rooming houses would mean they know the issues, know where to go in, know how often to go in, and will stay on top of it.”

To learn more about our programs, please contact CCHC @ 613-233-4443 or SWCHC @ 613-238-8210.

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