The city’s review of multi-tenant housing regulations, which encompasses fraternity and sorority houses surrounding U of T, has opened up a rift between the residences of these houses and the communities that surround them. The outcome has been a six-month-long deliberation process at City Hall between students in Greek life housing and their neighbours regarding changes to the way these multi-tenant houses are licensed.
Issues of excessive partying, lewd behaviour, and improper garbage disposal have been raised by members of housing associations around the U of T campus, with local residents citing problems such as “numerous fires” and “numerous sexual assaults” occurring at nearby fraternities.
In a recent public meeting, city staff presented six possible solutions to provide the public with a general idea of what could be suggested in January and then voted upon in February, when the Executive Council meets.
The six solutions
The first solution is one that was initially proposed in a letter from Ward 20 Councilor Joe Cressy in early June: that fraternities and sororities should no longer be exempted from the housing regulations that all other multi-tenant buildings are required to follow. This suggestion is what first sparked the debate over the status of these houses in September. It is believed that for fraternity and sorority houses to be fully compliant with multi-tenant housing regulations, they would have to fundamentally change their operations, putting their continued existence in jeopardy.
Decades of tension between fraternities — more so than sororities — and surrounding residents have come to light from residences in the neighbourhoods that surround frats and sororities in the wake of Cressy’s letter.
This tension has spawned a few of the proposed solutions, which directly target the relationship between Greek life residences and their neighbours. Three of these solutions are community-led meet and greets with Greek house residents, proactive community outreach to fraternities and sororities before school starts, and the establishment of a community working group consisting of both Greek and non-Greek residents to help bridge the gap and improve communication between the two groups.
Along the lines of communication, another proposed solution is creating a contact list within the neighbourhood so that residents have a number to call to voice their complaints.
The last of the solutions is the establishment of proactive enforcement of bylaws within the area during peak times of activity. One major concern for this solution is that the city may lack the resources for full enforcement. In addition, according to a comment made during a public consultation reported by Toronto Community Houses, “many fraternities and sororities are dry and/or have education on alcohol and housing.”
Speaking to stakeholders
University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Vice-President External Anne Boucher was initially skeptical of Cressy’s original proposal, stating that it appeared to have the intention of slowly removing fraternity and sorority houses from the city. However, Boucher said she was repeatedly met with the assurance that the city is simply looking to ensure that Greek houses are safe and regulated.
Boucher said she was presented with a detailed presentation of the licensing change and is convinced that the proposal truly aims to improve the safety of Greek housing. She wrote that “this change specifically would not harm the operation of Greek houses.”
Boucher said that while some of the other solutions look to solve long-standing residential grievances such as noise complaints, they fail to really address how Greek houses could be made safer.
The Annex Residence Association’s David Harrison highlighted the long-standing tension between Greek houses and their neighbours, saying that “clearly, the Greek group didn’t see any need for change to their status or additional rules and regulations.” He insisted that the residents he represents find the enforcement of some form of regulation on Greek housing to be the most pressing solution.
City staff will develop a summary of consultations in a report to the Executive Committee in early 2018.
The Inter-Fraternity Council, which represents the majority of U of T fraternities, declined The Varsity’s request for comment.
The U of T Panhellenic Association, which represents the majority of U of T sororities, did not respond to The Varsity’s request for comment.