Pressure Builds on Ontario Liberals for Urgently-Needed Rent Controls

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Pressure Builds on Ontario Liberals for Urgently-Needed Rent Controls

Although there's few details, Ontario's housing minister vows that legislation is on the way.

As the city’s housing crisis reaches a unwieldy desperate climax, NDP MPP Peter Tabuns has stepped up with legislation to close the 1991 loophole, which exempts rental units built after that year from any rent control.

Unregulated rent increases at condos—the bulk of rental housing that’s been built in the past 26 years—have left even the city’s more elite tenants alarmed and in precarious positions.

As with all private members bills, it is highly unlikely Tabuns’s rent control legislation will be passed.

Tabuns said his bill “is a first step, not the end of what has to be done.”

On March 15, Housing Minister Chris Ballard promised that that the province will soon unveil new rent control guidelines to address the skyrocketing cost to rent in and around Toronto.

There are around 110,000 people in Ontario living in housing with zero rent controls, the CBC reports.

Although there’s no timeline for the government rent control bill, nor many details about what it will contain, Ballard told Torontoist he would “be bringing forward legislation that will include an expansion of rent control along with a number of other very important amendments” and that he expects to introduce it “as soon as possible.”

“While we welcome MPP Tabuns’ attention to the issue, we are moving forward with our substantive, ongoing review of the RTA [Residential Tenancies Act],” states a communications assistant for Ballard in an email.

It’s still not clear if Ballard’s bill will completely close the 1991 loophole.

Torontoist contacted a number of Toronto-area Liberal MPPs, by phone and email, to ask if they would support rent control legislation.

Most either failed to respond to a request for their position on Tabuns’s bill, or the request bounced around from one staffer to another. Some failed to respond completely.

A staffer for Dipika Damerla, MPP for Mississauga East-Cooksville and Minister of Seniors Affairs, responded by email, saying that, “in speaking with Minister Damerla, I can tell you that she is supportive of the position taken by the Minister of Housing.”

Toronto-Centre MPP Glen Murray’s team wrote that as a cabinet member, Murray was unable to comment on a private member’s bill. Halton MPP Indira Naidoo-Harris’s office wrote that they “understand Minister Ballard’s office has been in touch with you on your inquiry as he is best suited to respond.”

Ballard told Torontoist he’s been working on his overhaul of the Residential Tenancies Act since taking over as housing minister in June and is “just coming down to the final stretch” with his own rent control proposals.

At a community meeting about rent control at the Bethany Baptist church on Pape Avenue Monday night, Tabuns spoke in a victorious but cautious tone.

“Even the government is beginning to say they’re going to do something about rent control,” he told the audience of around 80 people. “Now, don’t bank money on that, that they will do something without critical pressure.”

Councillor Mary Fragedakis (Ward 29, Toronto-Danforth), who has introduced a motion calling on Toronto City Council to support Tabuns’s bill, was at the meeting alongside Toronto ACORN’s Kemba Robinson, Euridice Baumgarten of the Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations, and Bhavin Bilimoria, a lawyer with Flemingdon Community Legal Services.

All five speakers stressed that the community should get organized and take action. Residents should push elected officials to respond to tenants’ concerns, they said.

The frustration was palpable, with attendees murmuring assent each time a speaker acknowledged high rents, poor living conditions, and landlord-friendly regulations.

After the floor was opened for questions, one person asked why Tabuns didn’t hold such events more frequently. Polling the room, Tabuns found overwhelming support for the idea and said he’d work on it.

“Things have been left up to landlords to do what they’re supposed to do,” Robinson said. “And they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do.”

ACORN Canada, which advocates on behalf of low and moderate-income people, is advocating to have the 1991 loophole scrapped. The group wants to see affordable housing in all new developments, rent control on units rather than individual leases, and a total end to above-guideline rent increases.

One resident spoke to the fact that lifting rent controls on newer buildings was intended to foster further rental development, saying she’d lived in the area for 33 years and had seen just three new residential buildings in her area since rent controls were lifted, and none of them were apartment buildings.

“So it seems to me it doesn’t matter whether we have rent control or not,” she said. “They’re not going to build them.”

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