NOW Magazine: Tenant activists take on Libs

ACORN members rally at the office of Kathleen Wynne. August 9, 2012.It’s all about the loopholes.

Back in June when the Liberals passed bill 19, an amendment to the Residential Tenancies Act limiting annual rent increases to 2.4%, they were obviously hoping to chill out tenant activists.

Fat chance. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) has just launched a campaign pointing to the bill’s chief flaws: not only is it inapplicable to buildings constructed after 1991, but it doesn’t apply to vacant units, meaning new renters can face increases of any old amount.

Last Wednesday, August 29, a small clutch of ACORN members in matching red t’s, protested in front of the office of Kathleen Wynne, minister of municipal affairs and housing on Eglinton E, the first of a number of events planned.

“New tenants definitely suffer financially, says the group's president Kay Bisnath. “There is no mechanism in place to assure that landlords keep the rental price at the same level.’’
“We want full rent control,’’ says long-time member Edward Lantz. “The act should be applied to vacant units as well as occupied ones.”

ACORN’s not the only group identifying the problem. At the Federation of Metro Tenants Association, Geordie Dent tells NOW, “We get people calling the Metro Tenants Hotline all the time complaining about rent increases and the calls have become more numerous over the years.’’

“A lot of people don’t feel comfortable leaving their apartments because they aren’t sure they will be able to find a new one at a reasonable cost. The fact that tenants do not have much choice when it comes to where they want to live needs to be changed.”

At the ministry of municipal affairs and housing, spokesperson Kelly Baker says “ACORN has raised an important issue — the need for affordable housing’’, and she points to the fact that the government created Ontario’s first long-term affordable housing strategy.

But, she points out that because the government recently passed Bill 19, there are no plans in the immediate future to deal with the problem of rent increases when tenants vacate.

The NDP’s municipal affairs and housing critic, Cindy Foster, sees the matter differently. The bill, she says, needs to be changed. “This year I will be introducing legislation to get another kick at this serious problem and hopefully make some improvements.”

That’s what Michael Shapcott, Director for Affordable Housing and Innovation at the Wellesley Institute, thinks needs to happen. “ACORN is absolutely dead on identifying this as an issue. Vacancy decontrol is a huge problem and there is no reason why the law should not be rewritten.”