Some 60 unhappy residents, young and older, crowded into a meeting room at the Gordon Head Recreation Centre in late April to vehemently oppose any relaxation on the number of unrelated residents allowed in single-family housing areas.

The proposal before Saanich Council will go to public hearing later this month or in April. The GHRA open meeting was a forewarning of the opposition council will hear from Gordon Head residents, and, similarly, the residents’’ association.

Speakers stressed that they were not against students, and that they objected to being categorized as the “privileged” or as nasty Nimbys. Some were concerned that the idea of “privilege” was being used to shut down debate and cited the number of home owners in the area who rent suites or rooms to students, thus providing needed housing. They were however, extremely concerned that a change to regulations would greatly increase the number of houses bought to be run as businesses, with non-resident landlords offering multiple rooms—often substandard—for rent.

Many who spoke said their streets were already being converted to lines of dormitory houses, with enforcement of the current bylaw sketchy at best. Almost all had examples, often personal, of irresponsible behavior by renters in absentee-owner houses, some bad enough to drive owners out of their houses. With six bedrooms rented at $800 a month, noted one speaker, absentee owners would be happy to pay any minor fine levied. What would happen, asked several, if it became even easier for landlords to ignore bad behavior because even the threat of enforcement had disappeared?

Some were concerned that, as more houses were bought to be used as rental accommodation, families would begin to look elsewhere for housing, student populations would decrease and schools would be forced to close. “And when families give up on the neighbourhood, everyone gives up on the neighbourhood,” noted one resident, suggesting that such things as Block Watch programs and neighbourhood cohesiveness would disappear.

Others cited examples on their street of owners carving up houses into cubicles that would not pass inspection, and doing the work at times when inspectors would not be at work. Some were adamantly opposed to even introducing the idea that regulations should be stringent if council went ahead with the changes, while others insisted that licensing, regulation and, most importantly, enforcement of regulations, must accompany any bylaw change. If that were not possible, then the bylaw should not be changed.

Speakers were also concerned that very little time has been given to explore and investigate the idea of raising the limit on residents. “Where is the data?” asked one speaker. Postpone the vote on this, he suggested, so that it could be demonstrated with numbers and hard information if there is in fact a need, especially considering that some 1600 rental units are at the proposal or development stage in the area,

Perhaps the strongest and most important take-away from the meeting was the sense that almost no one on council had any concern for the rights of home-owners. Speakers noted that Gordon Head was developed as a single-family neighborhood, so streets are narrow, curbs and sidewalks are non-existent, parking is extremely limited, and infrastructure such as water and sewerage is designed for single-family use, while the idea that multiple residents will bike or use transit is a fantasy. “We chose to live here in Gordon Head because of the ambience and sense of community,” noted one unhappy speaker, seeing this potential move by council as contributing to the destruction of that sense of community and of the neighbourhood.