Rental Housing Licencing Update


In a surprise twist, City of Guelph staff are recommending that licensing of rental housing be abandoned, and that the city continue enhanced enforcement and education initiatives in its place.

The Rental Housing Licensing report is to be presented to the Planning, Building, Engineering, and Environment (PBEE) committee on Monday, May 5 at 2:00 pm.  Any member of the public who wishes to comment or speak to this report should contact the Clerks office at  

Read the full report here.

Although there has been success with enhanced pro-active enforcement in the last two years, licensing was never intended to deal with tenant behaviour issues (noise, property standards, garbage, etc.).  We have by-laws for these concerns.  Licensing was intended to protect tenant health and safety, and prevent neighbourhood destabilization.  Licensing is a different tool with its own distinct purpose, separate from by-laws.

There are great landlords in Guelph who comply with regulations and offer safe, clean and affordable housing to our citizens.  However, there are others who knowingly and willingly rent sub-standard accommodations to the most vulnerable in our community, and should be held accountable.

Without right of entry to inspect, and in the absence of prohibitive fines for the those who knowingly rent illegal accommodation, the abandonment of licensing is simply the status quo.  We owe our tenant-citizens better.

I would love to know what you think?   Abandon the idea altogether?  Defer licensing, and then pursue right of entry and stiffer fines?  Or full steam ahead on licensing?


Happy St. George’s Day!

April 23 comes and goes each year and Guelph, like most cities, hums along as if it is any other day.  St. Patrick’s Day gets all the partying!  St. George’s Day, not so much…

April 23 honours the patron saint of England, Saint George, slayer of dragons.  It also marks the date that Guelph was founded by John Galt, who ceremoniously chopped down a tree and proclaimed his new city.  Galt tells the story best in his autobiography:

“It was consistent with my plan to invest our ceremony with a little mystery, the better to make it be remembered. …The tree fell with a crash of accumulating thunder, as if ancient Nature were alarmed at the entrance of social man into her innocent solitudes with his sorrows, his follies, and his crimes. I do not suppose that the sublimity of the occasion was unfelt by the others, for I noticed that after the tree fell, there was a funereal pause, as when the coffin is lowered into the grave ; it was, however, of short duration, for the doctor pulled a flask of whisky from his bosom, and we drank prosperity to the City of Guelph.

The name [Guelph] was chosen in compliment to the royal family, both because I thought it auspicious in itself, and because I could not recollect that it had ever been before used in all the king’s dominions….

It may appear ludicrous to many readers, that I look on this incident with gravity, but in truth I am very serious ; for although Guelph is not so situated as ever to become celebrated for foreign commerce, the location possesses many advantages independent of being situated on a tongue of land surrounded by a clear and rapid stream. It will be seen by the map of the province, that it stands almost in the centre of the table-land, which separates four of the great lakes, namely, Ontario, Simcoe, Huron, and Erie, and though its own river, the Speed, as I named it, is not large, yet at the town it receives the Eramosa…advantages which few inland towns in the whole world can boast of at such a distance from the sea. In planning the city, for I will still dignify it by that title, though applied at first in derision, I had, like the lawyers in establishing their fees, an eye to futurity in the magnitude of the parts.”

I hope we’ve done you proud Mr. Galt.


TIF Grants: Giveaways or Good Policy?

A recent letter to the editor in a local paper decried the use of brownfield grant incentives given to Tricar, the developer who is building on the former Marsh Tire site on the corner of Wellington and Macdonell.  See letter here.

This is the not the first time I have heard the sentiment “we shouldn’t be giving away taxpayer money to developers.”   But is that really what we are doing?  In reality, grant recipients give much MORE back in taxes than they receive from the city.

The Downtown Activation Grants and brownfield grants are tax-increment financed (TIF) grants.  This means that:

a)  the grant amount is calculated based on future taxes generated from the site post-development,

b) grant money is not paid until the site begins generating revenue through new tax assessment,

c) grants are time-limited,

d) grants are earmarked for projects that have barriers to construction (such as contamination, bedrock, risk), and

e)  if the site does not generate the anticipated assessment, the grant is adjusted.

TIF grants are risk-free, pay for themselves, and pay back into the city revenue stream over the long-term. Let’s take a closer look at a project (simplified for clarity):

  • Site P is a brownfield, a former gas station, that must be cleaned up prior to development, and has been sitting vacant for over 10 years.
  • Infrastructure adjacent to the site (water, wastewater, hyrdro, roads, transit, etc.) is underutilized, but already fully paid for.
  • Current tax revenue generated by the  vacant, contaminated site is $1,000 per year.
  • The owner plans to develop a 25-unit, 4-storey stacked townhouse on the property, which will generate $15,000 per year in taxes to the city once constructed and occupied.
  • A portion of the increased tax revenue, $10,000 per year, generated from the developed site is granted back for 5 years ($50,000) is granted back to the developer in the form of a TIF grant.
  • The city still receives additional revenue ($4,000 per year) and yields the full benefit of increased taxation after five years and in perpetuity.
  • The developer receives the money after construction is complete and the site is generating the anticipated assessment.

CONCLUSION:   TIF grants are a win-win-win.  The city wins because a vacant and contaminated site is cleaned up, the developer wins because the project moves ahead and the grant offsets clean-up costs, and the taxpayer wins because increased revenue is generated and contributes to the cost of infrastructure and future operating budgets.




PD: A Wise Investment

I can’t think of a single profession that doesn’t benefit from professional development.  I want my doctor to learn the latest research on prescription medication or a new diagnostic tool.  Teachers need to be on top of new curriculum, and IT professionals should be able to troubleshoot new software and hardware systems.  An auto mechanic should know how to fix  the latest engineering under the hood of my car.

Investing in professional development is what leading organizations in both the public and private sector do if they want to recruit, retain and get the highest level of performance out of their employees.

Recently, the City of Guelph Information Technology Annual Report red-flagged PD as an area that we are sorely lacking.  During past budget cuts, PD was cut or eliminated in many departments, and we are now seeing a ripple effect.  Staff are expected to be up to date on best practices, latest research, legislative change and to establish networks with their colleagues to brainstorm, innovate and problem-solve.   Slowly, our PD budgets are being restored, thank goodness, and everyone in the city will benefit from the learning gained through keeping the best and brightest staff in Guelph.

But what about PD for members of Council?  Since they are expected to guide us forward  — on city-building, wellness, fiscal responsibility and economic development among many other things — shouldn’t councillors also be expected to know best practices, understand new regulations, share innovative ideas with colleagues, and develop their leadership and communication skills?  I think so.

Guelph city councillors receive a $3,250 limit to engage in professional development.    In the annual remuneration for Mayor and Council, it shows up as “Sundries”.  I use this line for professional development and choose wisely each year how best to enhance my skills and knowledge to serve the best interests of the citizens I represent.

Over the past years, I have used this allowance to attend workshops at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO).  I have also attended training, conferences and workshops offered by the Centre for Civic Governance, Canadian Urban Institute and Project for Public Spaces.  I have learned about new community engagement models, using social media, watershed protection legislation, Greenbelt economic development, and much much more.

In 2014, I will be attending the Livable Cities Conference in Portland, OR, which is considered one of the North America’s model cities for active transportation, parkland restoration, family-friendly neighbourhoods, cultural districts, and lowering per capita energy use.   The program can be found here:  Livable Cities Conference Program.  I use the knowledge gained from PD to make better, more informed decisions on your behalf.  I am also better able to critically read and ask for a deeper level of detail in reports and recommendations that come to Council for approval.




Blame…and Credit

Anyone who knows me has heard me repeat many times that the most frustrating part of local politics is that Council is “to blame for everything, but gets credit for nothing.” Never has this been more true than this week.

The recent judge’s ruling in the Urbacon case is a blow to all of us, inside and outside of City Hall.   I won’t sugar-coat how I feel: angry, disappointed, and frustrated to say the least.   Until I understand the reasons behind the decision, there is no point in me offering any commentary about the case.

However, it is an election year and the ripeness of opportunity was just too tempting for some candidates.  Blame was swift and aimed squarely at the Mayor and the 2008 Council.

To help you navigate the blame game, here are some facts:

  • Council does not manage or oversee construction tenders, contracts or capital building projects
  • A decision to terminate a construction contract is not a Council decision
  • The Urbacon contract was terminated September 19, 2008
  • There was NO resolution or direction to staff from Council to terminate Urbacon
  • The matter was brought to Council in Closed Session on October 27, 2008

This is the governance context under which the Urbacon decision occured.  Despite these facts, in the minds of many constituents, “the buck stops here” will always rest with Council, whether we have the authority to receive the buck or not.

But since we are playing the blame game, let’s hand out some credit too.  Afterall, 98% of capital projects are completed on-time and on-budget, without litigation.

  • The new Organic Waste facility was under-budget and ahead of schedule.  Way to go Mayor Farbridge and Council!
  • The award-winning new Provincial Court House (old City Hall) was on-budget and on-time.  Thank you, thank you very much.  Please, hold the applause.
  • $99 million in infrastructure projects completed in ONE season, $48 million funded from grants, roads kept open, on-time and on budget with no litigation.  It was the largest single season infrastructure renewal effort EVER undertaken in Guelph (remember “Guelph Remastered” in 2011?   You’re welcome, really, it was nothing.

Disclaimer:  yes, I am being tongue in cheek.  But I think you get my point.  When blame is due, I can take it, it’s part of the job.  But if vultures plan to use it for electioneering, get the facts straight, and spread a little credit too.