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DebraW
25-04-2007, 08:07 AM
Gouging renters

Tue, April 24, 2007
By KERRY DIOTTE, Edmonotn Sun

A long-awaited report comes out today that could contain some solutions to Alberta's housing crisis.

A 15-member panel spent 45 days gathering information as part of the Alberta Affordable Housing Task Force.

Things are tough in Alberta when it comes to housing. There's not enough of it and what there is is getting hellishly expensive.

Scores of apartment buildings are being converted to condos leaving lower-income earners in a lurch.

If you don't have the loot for a down payment and are scraping by just to make your rent, there's little chance you'll be able to cough up cash for a condo.

Renters are being hard hit by other grim news. Large rent increases are becoming the norm - and there's no law in Alberta that limits how high rents can be jacked up.

It's pretty hard to find anywhere decent to live for much less than $1,000 a month in Alberta's cities.

Knowing what a crisis we've got in Alberta, the task force did its work remarkably quickly.

They travelled the province, got feedback from 800 presenters and 600 others by mail and e-mail. The report was turned in March 20 and the government sat on it until today when it's slated for release.

Some key areas the group looked at included homelessness, increasing access to affordable housing and helping low-income Albertans own homes.

It will be up to the government to take action on any of the report's recommendations.

The province has been rightfully hammered on the housing crisis by the two opposition parties, the Liberals and NDP.

NDP MLA Ray Martin was all over the Tories yesterday because, no matter what's in the report, the government has already rejected opposition calls for rent controls.

"Every renter in Alberta is in danger of being gouged because of the Conservatives' refusal to protect them from huge rent increases," Martin told a news conference. "This government has chosen to listen to the interests of the big landlords and real estate investment trusts like Boardwalk rather than those of ordinary Albertans," he said.

"In the short term, there are no other solutions to the problem of skyrocketing rents."

It is pretty hard to argue against their effectiveness, although apartment owners wouldn't like rent controls.

I've written two recent columns on the housing crunch, and the personal horror stories that have flooded in from people are head-spinning.

Reader Candace Loken's story is eerily similar to many caught in a crunch.

The Calgarian is on a fixed income and was forced to sell her condo in 2004 due to health problems.

The current rent on her 850-square-foot unit is $910, but it's being hiked to $1,390 as of July 1.

"I am on CPP disability and living on my RRSPs and savings and I do not know what I am going to do," Loken said.

"There is no doubt that the press and writers like yourself are doing all of us a favour by bringing this unconscionable rental crisis to the attention of the government and to the attention of people contemplating moving here."

Martin rightly points out that rent controls seem to be working in British Columbia under a government that's every bit as right wing philosophically as the Alberta Tories.

Stats out of Ontario, which also has rent controls, show the building of rental housing there has increased by 88% since 2000.

In Alberta, new apartment starts have dropped from 1,259 units in 2000 to 593 in 2006, said Martin.

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