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October 15, 2012

Demonstration at McGuinty Offices for Housing

Reuel S. Amdur

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A group of 80 demonstrators gathered on August 29 in front of the constituency office of Premier Dalton McGuinty to protest what they see as government inaction on the housing needs of low to moderate income Ontarians. The demonstration was organized by ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). Their concerns relate to a lack of affordable, livable housing, to poor upkeep of rental units, to what is seen as too generous a permitted increase in rental rates, and to the ability of landlords to charge whatever they want once a unit becomes vacant.

The fact that rent controls go by the way once a tenant moves out, serves as an incentive to get a tenant to vacate.  ACORN member Lana Bogart feels she is being victimized as a result of this loophole in rent control.  “I’ve been in my apartment for almost six years, and our landlord has put us on a month-to-month lease, and he no longer does repairs in a timely fashion.  It feels like they’re trying to get us to move out so they can raise the rent to current market rates.” 

Tina Morrin, another ACORN member, describes her experience with her last landlord.  She lived at her place for four years, experiencing seriously inadequate maintenance.  On one occasion, the temperature in her place fell to seven degrees.  Instead of improving upkeep, the landlord urged her to move, which she did.  “He then raised the rent $400, without fixing anything.” 

  1. The provincial rent guideline for those three years: 0.7%, 2.1%, and 1.8%.”

Voices in the construction and property management field argue that rent controls are self-defeating because builders are deterred from building.  However, Shapcott points out that before 1975, when there was no rent control, rental starts tumbled once government incentives were withdrawn, things like accelerated capital cost allowance write-offs and tax advantages.  It is, then, such government stimulus measures that make apartment construction attractive to entrepreneurs.  Construction of apartments for low-income people would require even more government support.  Construction of rental apartment houses just does not pay.  Shapcott again: “Investors can get a higher rate of return from other forms of property development (shopping malls, condominiums, etc.).”  We have seen a trend of property owners turning multi-unit housing into condominiums as a way of increasing profits. 

Mavis Finnamore, the ACORN representative in Herrongate, where she lives in a garden home, describes the difficulty in getting needed repairs in her development.  “Things were fine when Minto owned the property, but they changed drastically when Transglobe bought it.”  Ownership has been flipped from one Daniel Drimmer-related entity to another and management from one management firm to another.  Lists of needed repairs get lost in the process of the changes.  She got some action after Councillor Peter Hume came to look things over, and a city enforcement officer was assigned full-time to the area for a couple weeks.  CBC’s Marketplace had a program devoted to the dangerous and unhealthy conditions in Drimmer-related properties across the country.

Demonstrators displayed a McGuinty campaign door-hanger from the last election.  On it one reads, “Prohibited any rent increases if the landlord fails to maintain their buildings.”  When this statement was raised with Wynne’s office, Baker responded that the Rental Tenancies Act, 2006, authorizes tenants to ask the Landlord and Tenant Board to freeze rents on buildings that are not properly maintained.  Thus, a freeze requires a tenant initiative, and tenants are not generally that familiar with such matters. 

Wynne’s office also spoke of the McGuinty government’s investment in affordable housing.  The Wellesley Institute is not impressed, reporting that Ontario spends $64 per person on affordable housing, compared to $115 average for all the provinces.

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