Rooming Homes and Boarding Houses

My memoir-like book, The Factory Challenge and Energized, explores the idea of renting out rooms in homes (or apartments) and brokering second mortgages. I come from a family with members who have engaged in both activities.

After the Second World War, renting rooms out of one’s residence was very common in cities like Toronto. If you’re interested in a short history of it, you can read it here. The long and short of it is that engaging in this real estate business was an excellent way to “get ahead” financially. The logical next step for many was to extend second mortgages to other people who were in need. This could be done by tapping in to the equity in one’s home and refinancing it.

A distinction must be made, though. Boarding houses insinuate that boarders were given warm meals and had their laundry taken care of. Room rentals were simply that—rooms available to single people, or the working poor. With the advent of the modern suburb, cheap houses, however, were more affordable to the middle class and many families moved to bedroom communities, where the cost of a spacious home was not prohibitive.

Now, rules have changed, but many people choose to own rental properties or rent out apartments, often in the basements of their homes. It is a wonderful stream of passive income, and can work quite well to pay off one’s mortgage and reach out to people in the community. My father always took on church people through word-of-mouth at our church. It worked marvellously. Slowly, we are seeing the gentrification of the city cores and return of families to inner city milieus.

Welfare has also changed the name of the game, as government-sponsored lost-cost housing has sprung up in more recent times. In addition, the boarding house concept has been supplanted by apartment complex high rises. People who have succumbed to addictions, or who experience chronic unemployment are often relegated to boarding houses. My aunt, who is a Reverend in the United Methodist Church, and my cousin, both have been actively involved in the Boarding Homes Ministry of downtown Toronto. This is such a great program, and it extends care to the downtrodden and those who have been relegated to the fringes of society. But this is exactly the people whom Jesus asks us to serve. After all, every one of us are broken on some level. We are to go to the highways and byways, proclaiming the Kingdom of God is here—this is the year of the Sovereign Lord’s favour (Matt. 22:9; Lk. 4:21, 14:23).


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