Podcast: Rent control, vacancy control and the strategies MPP candidates would use to address the housing crisis

The Progressive Conservative-led government ended rent control for new builds this past term, the other major parties all propose to bring it back.

Peterborough is one of the toughest places in Ontario to find an affordable home to rent. A report from earlier this year put Peterborough at the very bottom of Ontario cities for rental vacancies, with only a one percent vacancy rate. The same report also showed that the average rent for vacant units was increasing at a much steeper rate than the average rent for occupied units. 

Because of these pressures in the local housing market, Peterborough Currents invited all of the major party candidates in the Peterborough area running this 2022 provincial election to speak to their positions on a handful of specific housing policies. Three candidates accepted our invitation: Greg Dempsey of the Liberal Party, Jen Deck of the NDP and Robert Gibson of the Green Party. 

Listen to these candidates speak to policies like rent control, vacancy control and working with housing not-for-profits in this episode of our podcast.

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Ayesha Barmania 0:11
Hi there, you’re listening to the Peterborough Currents podcast. My name is Ayesha Barmania. And Will Pearson is here joining me today–

Will Pearson 0:16
Hi there.

Ayesha Barmania 0:17
–for our last episode in our series on the provincial election, which is just a matter of days away. And so, Will, you asked all the candidates who agreed to interviews about their housing platforms, and just want to know, why was that important for you to ask about?

Will Pearson 0:32
Well, housing is just one of the issues that I focus on most closely. I care about it a lot. And so I was always going to ask the candidates about housing. In particular, in these interviews, I focus on issues facing renters in Ontario. And I chose that because, you know, when it comes to questions of like, housing affordability and things like that, all three levels of government kind of have responsibilities and kind of have to work together. But when it comes to sort of the issues facing renters, in particular, things like rent control, the Landlord Tenant Board, those are all like provincial jurisdiction. And so I thought that in this provincial election, that’s what I would focus on. So that’s kind of the focus of these interviews.

Ayesha Barmania 1:18
Mm hmm. So before we hop into what the candidates had to say, what do you think we need to know to understand what their platforms are?

Will Pearson 1:25
Well I think it’s helpful to understand the context of where we are at in terms of rent control in this province right now. Because a lot of the parties are proposing rolling back some changes that happened under the PCs. And so maybe I’ll give it like a little bit of a definition of rent control, and sort of a history of like, where we’re and at the context right now. Does that sound good?

Ayesha Barmania 1:44
Yeah, go ahead.

Will Pearson 1:45
So before the Progressive Conservative government, there was rent control in place that basically made it so that landlords could only raise the rent within a tenancy by a particular percentage each year, and that was set by the province. So the province would say, hey, landlords this year, you can only raise rent by 1.5 percent, for example. There were all sorts of like loopholes for getting around that, for example, if a landlord made some capital investments, or did some repairs, they could apply to increase the rent by even more than that per year. And to be honest, landlords get around that because tenants don’t really know how to navigate the system, often. But it was in place. And there was a change made by the Progressive Conservative government, which rolled back rent control for any unit that was occupied for the first time after 2018. And so all new buildings being built right now don’t have that rent control in place. And I bring this up, because the three major opposing parties, the Liberals, the NDP, and the Greens are all proposing to reinstate that rent control.

Ayesha Barmania 2:53
So that’s a rent increase while you’re still living there. So if I’m a tenant in a unit, and next year, my rent is gonna go up, it would be limited to a certain percentage that the government says, but if I’m living in a building built after 2018, that wouldn’t apply to me. That’s right?

Will Pearson 3:09
Yeah, you got it. And I encourage you, and I encourage listeners to, to check that percentage every year on the internet, because you can hold your landlord to it. A couple of months ago, my landlord sent me an email saying, I’m raising the rent by $50. I sent him an email back saying, you can only raise it by I think it was $28. And he responded and said, Oh, yeah, that’s right. And so you should check it and make sure that your landlord plays by that rule.

Ayesha Barmania 3:38
And there’s another piece that comes up in the interviews about vacancy control. Is that right? Can you talk about why that’s different from rent control?

Will Pearson 3:46
Sure. So rent control only applies as long as you’re living in your unit. And so once you move out, and a new tenant moves in, the landlord can raise the rent as high as they want. And that is where we see rents raising the most, the most quickly in Peterborough. It’s in between tenancies. And so that’s why you hear all these stories of people moving out, and their unit, all of a sudden, it’s being rented for 20-25% more. And so that’s, you know, that’s really driving a lot of the increased rent in our community right now. And previously, in Ontario, if you, you know, turn back the clock, like, almost 30 years, there was rent control, even in between tenancies, and that’s called vacancy control. And so that means that even when someone moves out and a new person moves in, there’s still a limit on how high rent can be raised. There’s still some provinces in Canada that have some form of vacancy control Quebec as an example. But Ontario hasn’t had it for I think since 1996. And but in this election, two parties, the NDP and the Greens, are promising to instate a form of vacancy control. So they’re going one step further in terms of limiting, limiting rent increases in Ontario. And so that’s that’s another thing that I wanted to, to ask candidates about.

Ayesha Barmania 5:10
Great. Well, I think that’s all I think we needed to go over before we get into hearing folks speak. So anything else you want to add before we hear from Greg Dempsey of the Liberal Party, Jen Deck of the NDP, and Robert Gibson of the Green Party?

Will Pearson 5:23
No, those were the only issues that I thought needed a little bit more explanation before we listened to answers. I think all the other questions and answers are pretty, pretty self explanatory.

Ayesha Barmania 5:32
Great. Well, let’s hear it.

Will Pearson 5:36
Cool, so you said that housing was one of your biggest priorities, so let’s talk about that. And I want to focus particularly on the experience of renters in Peterborough. In this community and in all of Ontario, the data around residential evictions is pretty spotty. It’s not something that we track very well. But the indicators that we do have suggests that there’s a significant wave of evictions happening in our community right now. Last year, my colleague, Brett Throop wrote about how the hot housing market in Peterborough is displacing renters as property buyers move to evict tenants after they purchase homes. And as we know rent has gone up so much recently that once you get evicted, it’s really hard to find a place that you can afford because the rents have just gone up so much as you’ve been living in your old place. The legislation that governs evictions is provincial jurisdiction. And I’m wondering what you would do to address residential evictions in Peterborough and Ontario?

Greg Dempsey 6:35
Yeah, no, you’re absolutely right, Will. It’s a huge problem. We have a number of Trent students who are working on our campaign and they’re talking about having to find housing for the next year, a year in advance, because there is just no availability for anybody who is on a fixed income, who’s on a low income. Anybody, in fact, who’s on a middle class income is having a hard time finding an affordable, safe place to live in Peterborough. I agree with you that evictions are a big problem, we see a lot of landlords abusing the system, using loopholes including to do renovations or saying that they’re going to be moving into the place in order to evict renters because of how quickly rents have increased. We also see the defunding of the housing board. And so when there is a complaint from a renter, or even from a landlord, we just can’t get a hearing and can’t have our voices heard. Those are all huge problems. I think it needs to start with increasing the supply of safe, affordable housing. I’ve said many times that I think the province needs to get back into the business of building housing, but not million dollar houses that are paving over the Greenbelt or farmland, we need to build housing in the places that people want to live. And that is safe and affordable for folks. And that has the services like transit access to grocery stores and other things that people want so that they can live their lives without relying on their cars and can walk and use their bikes. And so I’m really excited about our proposal, which will build tens of thousands of affordable units for people to live in. But it’s not going to be enough and I agree that evictions and folks who are really housing insecure, is another big problem. And so that’s why we’re going to be making housing a human right across the province. And that’s something that means a lot to me as somebody who’s a social justice advocate, how we actualize that human right of housing is going to be a longer term process. I’m looking forward to talking to stakeholders and others in the community that have lots of really great ideas. But I think it really sets the tone for what we want to do on housing. And that is to make sure that everybody can find a safe place to call home, because it has so many impacts on everything that we are doing. From how from healthcare and education and, and basic human rights. Having a safe place to call home is pretty much everything.

Will Pearson 9:03
What’s your party’s position on rent control and vacancy control in particular?

Greg Dempsey 9:08
Yeah, those are two really important issues. So you’ll know that Doug Ford changed the rules on rent control, to create a two tiered system where rent control was available for some but not for those who are moving into new buildings. We promised to change that policy back and reinstate the previous system of rent control. It’s not perfect, of course, because many landlords can apply for exemptions. I don’t think the adjudication of that process always works in the way that it should. But it’s certainly going to be a first step. And the other problem that you talked about, of course, is empty houses. So we promised to put a substantial tax on to people who leave homes unoccupied. This will apply mostly to investors or people who are flipping homes for profit, because we want people to use it or lose it. We have so many people who desperately need a place to call home. And we have lots and lots of houses that are sitting empty, because there is so much profit in renovating homes flipping homes or just keeping them as investments. And so we are going to be putting both attacks on on resident houses that are sitting vacant, but also a tax on foreign ownership too, because we know that lots of people are coming into even coming into federal court and now looking to invest their money in our housing market. And that’s just creating a complete lack of supply for the people who actually want to live in those homes.

Will Pearson 10:35
So rolling back those changes to the rent control will make it so that within a tenancy rent can only go up so much. But with vacancy control, it will still be the case that rents can be raised as much as the landlord wants in between tenants. Do you have a position on vacancy control and whether there should be limits to how much rent can be increased in between tenancies?

Greg Dempsey 10:57
Yeah, so I think reinstating the changes to rent control were really, really important. And I’m really proud of them. I think that it’s a step in the right direction. But I agree that in between tenants, there is a real problem, especially with the skyrocketing price of the houses, we don’t have a policy plank on that in the platform. But that’s certainly something that I’m happy to look at. And I know from my own time as a renter, that this has happened, right where I moved places, and then the rent was almost double what I was paying before, because they had gone up so much. And so I’m happy to look into that. But I do think that the number one thing that we need to focus on is ensuring an adequate supply of housing that is affordable for people. Because if we have a great supply, then the rents are going to go down. And it’s as simple as that. And so that’s really what I think we need to focus on number one, but I’m absolutely open to looking into how to prevent those rents from skyrocketing when tenants change.

Will Pearson 11:55
The last question about housing, what role do housing nonprofits, housing coops and publicly-owned housing play in your vision for how to respond to the housing crisis?

Greg Dempsey 12:07
I think their role is absolutely essential. We know that there are so many people who are struggling to find a place to live. If you think about what the Ford government’s approach is, it is to give all the power to developers and land speculators and those who are looking to pave over the Greenbelt and farmland and hope for the best basically. Cross our fingers hope that by then building a lot more million dollar mansions in Peterborough-Kawartha, that somehow the benefits of that will trickle down. And we know from experience that that hasn’t happened because of course, four years ago, they promised lower house prices. And we’ve seen the average price of a home across the province rise almost half a million dollars. I mean, it’s absolutely out of control. And so that’s why nonprofits have a huge role to play. I’m so impressed with the work that the Mount has done, Habitat for Humanity. They’ve done really, really important work, but they deserve a partner in the province. They deserve somebody who is going to be willing to listen to them, work with them, make sure that there is funding for their projects, but not just funding, but actually partner with them so that we can work together to build that kind of affordable housing. The market has worked for people who have a million dollars to spend. The market has been disastrous for people on fixed incomes, ODSP, Ontario Works and other programs. It’s just not provided the housing that we absolutely need. And that is where it is up to the province, I believe, to work with those nonprofits to make sure that we have that stock of housing that is affordable for people who want to live in Peterborough-Kawartha.

Will Pearson 14:00
I’m wondering what you would do to address residential evictions in Peterborough and Ontario?

Jen Deck 14:09
Housing, housing is about dignity. And it’s about safety. It’s about mental well being it is. It’s an essential. It’s an essential part of life. Absolutely. The landlord and tenant board, we need to address the issues around the landlord and tenant board. Doug Ford’s eviction blitzes are unfair, and we need to make sure that tenants can have hearings that are fair and prompt. We’ve also we want to bring back rent control. I will say I just door knocking. I’ve been struck by how many vacant houses and I know that no university is over and college is over. And so kids maybe have moved away but then it seems way too many houses. I’ve lived here for 30 years. I’ve never seen so many houses sitting vacant. So I absolutely what you’ve described resonates with me, we want to build 25— 250,000 new homes, we want to really work on improving and increasing the number of those middle houses, the duplexes, the townhouses, and the and the low rises. Because density, of course, makes so much sense in so many ways, it’s, you know, easier to get your, you know, to travel if you don’t have so far to walk and food can be closer. So density is is a great solution for housing. And we also want to crack down on speculation. We don’t want to, you know, foreign buyers purchasing the houses just to let them sit vacant, as a as an investment, as an investment property. So, you know, there’s a number of things that we want to work on, we’re also talking about assisting tenants who can’t afford their rent, in addition to the basic necessities for themselves and families, that’s the affordable housing benefit. So really, we’re trying to tackle housing from a lot of different angles. And if you look at the platform, and really think of it in a more holistic way, you know, all the ways that we’re trying to tackle poverty, by by providing free dental care by including mental health in OHIP. These are by expanding PharmaCare. These are all things that are very expensive in people’s lives that sometimes they put off spending the money on, I just talked to somebody this morning, who said that her doctor wants her to have more vitamin D, but she can’t afford to buy over the counter supplements like that, because she just you know, it’s between that are buying food. So by taking a bunch of those costs off of people’s shoulders, that’s going to give them a lot more flexibility about finding, finding housing, even though it is arguably too too expensive right now.

Will Pearson 17:03
You mentioned bringing back rent control. I was just wondering if you could give details on sort of what the NDP ‘s proposal is around rent control?

Jen Deck 17:10
Do you know, I’ll be honest with you, I’m not gonna pretend that I know all the details of this plan. I’m not a memorizer and regurgitator. But in reading the section on housing, I was impressed at how many different ways we’re tackling this problem. And also just looking throughout the document. It’s all about compassion and, and social justice. And so you don’t even you know, you can’t really get the full sense of how we want to tackle housing without looking at the full and complete document.

Will Pearson 17:40
Yeah, so just, we can keep talking about rent control. It’s okay, if you don’t know that there’s specific proposals, but bringing back rent control is one thing, but that will if you bring back rent control as it was before it was rolled back by the current government, that will protect tenants in their existing tenancies. It will limit how much rent can go up year by year, but it doesn’t limit how much rent can go up when tenants move out.

Jen Deck 18:05
Yes, but that is actually addressed in the platform, I can tell you that there will be there will be strategies in place to prevent landlords from doing what is it called rent evictions. So that they can turf out tenants to supposedly renovate and then hike the taxes or the the rent that is definitely addressed in the platform.

Will Pearson 18:27
Cool. You also mentioned the the LTB and making that a little bit more accessible. Two of the frustrations that I’ve heard recently from both tenants and landlords are about the just like the delays in the Landlord Tenant Board hearings right now. And then something I hear from tenant advocates is around the shift to digital hearings and what that means for access to justice for people that don’t have access to internet. And I’m wondering if you could speak to those two issues?

Jen Deck 18:53
Absolutely. And again, I’ll I’ll bring it back to education that I know best. You know, I mentioned it before, but the the move towards of all virtual things really does leave a number of people out. And the NDP is committed to restoring in person hearings. And, and and working on the promptness for both tenants and landlords to get fair hearings.

Will Pearson 19:22
What role do housing nonprofits, co-op housing and publicly owned housing play in your vision of how to solve the housing crisis?

Jen Deck 19:33
Oh they play a huge role. Throughout this document compassion and caring but also consultation we know that there are amazing organizations already running that have the expertise that know their demographics. They know their clientele and they know what their what their clientele needs. And so it’s not about a top down approach of saying, This is how we fix the problem. It’s about going to those to those experts that are already on the ground, and consulting with them, and also funding them so that they can do their great work. Greenup is a great example of that, where they are providing services in a variety of ways to the community, they already know what the issues are, we need to consult with them. And we need to support their organization so they can do their good work. I was just talking with the Alzheimer’s Society this afternoon. Similar idea. They have, they’ve already done all the hard work of figuring out how to fix problems, we need to listen to them, and we need to support them. And so the NDP absolutely wants to harness all of the good work that’s already happening in our communities.

Will Pearson 20:59
I’m wondering what you and your party would do to address residential evictions in Peterborough and Ontario,

Robert Gibson 21:07
The Green Party would strengthen rules and penalties for renovictions in bad faith, increase funding for the Landlord and Tenant Board to hire additional adjudicators and transparency to the appointment process, and eliminate online hearings. This will address delays so that both landlords and tenants have timely access. And implementing a multi-home unit tax as well as a vacancy tax so that people don’t sit on houses or property and leave them vacant or buy up are so many that adds the cost to housing. And supporting tiny homes is one action that can be taken as well as our freezing urban boundaries within municipalities. And investments in $1 billion a year or to build 182,000 affordable community renting homes. And renters should have supportive housing. So 60,000 – I mentioned that number earlier. And then those are people on disabilities often these people not able to walk so doubling ODSP—

Will Pearson 23:24
I’m gonna I’m gonna stop you there, Robert. We’ll get to that. I’m going to ask about that later. Yeah. Yeah, let’s keep talking about housing. You’ve touched on a couple of my follow up questions. I wanted to ask somebody we can move a bit quickly through this section. But what kind of changes would you like to see to rent control in Ontario?

Robert Gibson 23:48
Yeah, well, there should be regulations, improved regulations on rent control. That should be more clear– harder for people to rent unfairly? And the guidelines should be transparent for rent control.

Will Pearson 24:22
Are you in favor of vacancy control, which is when there’s limits on how much rent can be raised in between tenants?

Robert Gibson 24:32
I’m not. I’m not familiar if that’s in the Green Party platform. But I’d have to look into that.

Will Pearson 24:45
Yeah, that’s fine. My next question is we’re going to be about the LTB, and you’ve already answered them. They were about some of the challenges renters are facing at the LTB. Well, firstly, both renters and landlords are frustrated with the delays at the LTB right now It’s really hampering people’s access to justice. And then tenant advocates that I’ve been speaking to have been talking about how the shift to online hearings restricts access to justice for low income tenants. And my next questions were, firstly, whether you’d go back to in person hearings, and you’ve already answered that and said yes. And also. Yeah, what you were going to do to speed up the process at the LTB? I think you said you wanted to hire more adjudicators.

Robert Gibson 25:28

Will Pearson 25:30
Hey, what, what role do things like housing, nonprofits, housing co-ops and public housing play in your vision for how to address the housing crisis?

Robert Gibson 25:41
Yes, well, the Green Party did research on this. And they found that nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity have played a huge role in affordable housing. And most of the existing housing that has been built has been built by nonprofits. Peterborough used to have a co-op housing out of Sadleir House. I know that that’s not the case anymore. So it’d be good to look up why that organization no longer exists. Or if the government can support them, and we will make it easier for nonprofits to buy property or remove restrictions. Some of the restrictions, lower some of the taxes for them. But yeah, yeah, to answer your question, they play a significant role.

Ayesha Barmania 27:33
Okay. Those were candidates Greg Dempsey of the Liberal Party, Jen Deck of the NDP and Robert Gibson of the Green Party interviewed by my colleague Will Pearson. Thanks for listening to today’s episode. You can find the rest of our coverage of the provincial election on our website. Big thanks to Will Pearson for bringing us these interviews, and thanks so much to the candidates for their time. Big big thanks to Erika Nininger who provided the music in this episode. You can check her out on Bandcamp. 

And one last thing before I let you go, Peterborough Currents is currently fundraising to sustain our operations over the summer. We’re at a tricky point in our business growth where our start-up grants have run out and we’re facing scaling back our operations so we don’t completely run out of money in the next couple of months. Our goal is to reach 80 new donors by the summertime, and we’re actually really really close. If you like what we do, help keep us going. Head to peterboroughcurrents.ca/supportus to donate. And thanks so much to everyone who has already. The show of support has been like really overwhelming.

Anyway, that’s all for now.  I’m Ayesha Barmania. Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you more soon. Bye.

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