Fredericton council turns down request to expand rooming house

Several low-income Fredericton residents will have to find somewhere else to stay.

City council has denied a zoning amendment to increase the number of people living inside a downtown rooming house.

Keith Young asked council for an amendment to allow 12 residents to live within a three-unit converted dwelling at 244-246 Charlotte Street.

A city inspection last summer prompted by a complaint found there were 14 residents living in five units, even though the building is legally only allowed to have eight residents in two units.

City council voted 8-1 against the rezoning during Monday night's regular meeting.

Coun. John MacDermid, who voted against the motion, said the application has created a conversation in the community about the place of rooming houses and the affordability of housing.

MacDermid said the city received several letters from residents, both for and against the proposal.

"This isn't about council, from my perspective, looking at this as a rooming house is inappropriate," said MacDermid. I think it's a question of is it appropriate for this particular neighbourhood, and what guidance do we have to make that determination. There's no doubt that there's a need for rooming houses."

But MacDermid said this particular rooming house has been operating in violation of zoning requirements since 1996.

Coun. Steven Hicks, who voted in favour of the motion, said he understands Young made a mistake, but council had an opportunity to make it right.

"All this would do by defeating this is it's one step backwards," said Hicks. "We're going to have more people homeless."

"Obviously in a perfect world, we're not having this conversation here, but we live in a far from perfect world here in Fredericton. Most things look great on the surface, but every night our homeless shelters are full, we have people down on the riverbanks, we have homeless people."

After the meeting, Young said he's sad and disappointed by council's decision, adding that it will be tough to decide who has to leave.

"I suppose I'll address it with who's been there the longest with me," said Young. "Really, I don't want anyone to go, but that would probably be the start."

Young said he's been in violation of his zoning for about six years, when his parents passed away and he allowed more people to live in the ground floor unit where they had lived.

"Looking back, I suppose I should have addressed that at that time," he said. "It was a mistake, and I thought that the council would definitely make that mistake right that I committed."

"We do have a need for homeless people and they need places to live. My particular unit, in my opinion... is well-maintained and there's sufficient for a number of people there."

Ken Forrest, the city's director of growth and community services, told council that the tenants would be given "an appropriate amount of time" to find other accommodations.