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DebraW
29-04-2007, 11:50 AM
We're not villains: landlords
Affordable housing 'not the apartment owners' responsibility'

Andrea Sands, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Sunday, April 29, 2007

The government didn't help struggling landlords during the lean years and shouldn't interfere now that building owners have a chance to make some money back, say members of the Edmonton Apartment Association.

Sonny Crowley, senior vice-president of NewWest Enterprise Property Group and a past president of the Edmonton Apartment Association, said landlords are being painted as villains as the Alberta's government figures out how to help renters in the hot real estate market.

"This is going to sound really cruel, but it's not the apartment owners' responsibility to create affordable housing in Edmonton or in any other city in the province," Crowley said.

"My responsibility for my owners and the properties they own is to get the best possible dollar out of their investment that I can in this marketplace, and that's my job."

On Tuesday, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach announced a package of plans that included limiting rent increases to once per year, rather than the current limit of once every six months.

Later that day, renters at a two-storey walkup called the Sierra were notified their rents were being hiked by up to $400. Just days before, the tenants had been notified of modest increases, some as small as $20.

The Sierra's property manager has said the second increase was a direct response to Stelmach's proposed new legislation.

On Friday, a provincial official said the rent hikes are invalid. Under legislation to be tabled on Tuesday, tenants who have had a rent increase in the previous 365 days cannot have their rent raised again for another year.

The new rules are retroactive to April 24, the day they were announced. The government is now trying to contact the Thornhill, Ont., businessman who owns the walkup.

Blair Assaly cringed when he read about the Sierra and several tenants there -- including an 86-year-old Polish immigrant -- who said rent increases would force them to move.

Assaly is president of the Ascot Group, which owns 11 apartment buildings with 420 units around Edmonton.

"Obviously, we're an easy target," Assaly said of building owners. "There's no doubt about that. No one wants to hear about the tough times we went through."

With some provincial politicians advocating rent controls in advance of Stelmach's announcement last week, Assaly said it's no surprise some owners jumped to increase rents.

"I can tell you that people in my industry are scared right now," he said. "They are scared that this is the first step and the government is going to step in and start legislating rent controls."

Both Crowley and Assaly say the free market should decide rental rates without government involvement.

Crowley, who has been in Edmonton's apartment business for 30 years, said building owners didn't get any help in the 1980s when they were burdened with huge vacancy rates.

"I remember managing an apartment building in downtown Edmonton with 16-per-cent vacancy, and no one was coming to me and saying, 'Gee, that's too bad. We should give you some money back,' " Crowley said.

No one from the Edmonton Apartment Association sat on the Alberta Affordable Housing Task Force, which recommended measures to ease the housing crunch.

"That's very disappointing," said Don Rever, an Edmonton property manager and first vice-president of the association.

"Between Calgary and Edmonton, the two apartment associations represent probably in the neighbourhood of 100,000 units with about 200,000 tenants living in them. You might think we would have some good ideas to solve the problem."

Housing advocates have said the province should have heeded the task force's recommendation to introduce rent controls.

The two opposition MLAs who were panellists on the task force -- Ray Martin of the NDP and Bruce Miller of the Liberals -- said they will continue to push for rent controls that limit how much rents can increase.

Those should be temporary limits in place until Alberta's inflated housing market stabilizes, Martin said.

"This in not the real world right now. This is a rental market on steroids."

[email protected]
© The Edmonton Journal 2007

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DebraW
29-04-2007, 11:55 AM
Urban housing portfolio falls to 'hellion' with rural roots

Kelly Cryderman, CanWest News Service
Published: Sunday, April 29, 2007

He's a motorcycle-riding northern Alberta farmer and self-described "hellion" who towers over others with his six-foot-two-inch frame, robust physique, unruly beard and hefty cowboy boots.

Ray Danyluk is not what you typically imagine when you think "politician."

But in December, the Lac La Biche-St. Paul MLA became the minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, a portfolio that has vaulted from relative obscurity to one of the most focused-upon files in government, thanks to the accommodation crunch sweeping Alberta.

"He's so doggone busy, he probably doesn't have time for a haircut," jokes his best friend, Dave Mistol, who added that under the tough-looking exterior, Danyluk is "a bit of a pussycat."

But it's fitting that Danyluk, 55, looks like a biker dressed up in a suit for the day. Danyluk was in a heated exchange with Calgary's mayor on a radio show this week, and there are sure to be further verbal brawls over conditions attached to the provincial money flowing to the province's cities and towns.

"I knew that there were challenges in the portfolio," Danyluk said this week. "Did I truly believe it was going to be as active as it was? No."

Friends and colleagues in northern Alberta say Danyluk has earned his way into cabinet, working long hours to attend meetings and events across his large, sparsely populated constituency even as he sat as a backbencher. They say his folksy, blunt-speaking nature and wit make him immensely popular.

"If anybody wants a meeting, he won't say no," said Terry LaBoucane, who served with Danyluk on a committee to negotiate a rare amalgamation of Catholic and public school boards in the area in the 1990s. "If he's got an opinion and something to say, he won't hide it."

At least part of the reason Danyluk is in cabinet is because of his close ties to Premier Ed Stelmach.

The two friends have known each other since their days in county politics, their families homesteaded in the same area and the pair often exchange jokes related to their shared Ukrainian heritage. Danyluk is a key member of the group that helped Stelmach win the leadership race last year -- delivering almost 2,500 votes in the final leadership ballot, second only to the 4,200 votes Stelmach won himself.

NDP housing critic Ray Martin said the problem with the Stelmach government in general is that the premier has built his cabinet out of like-minded rural loyalists like Danyluk who can't fully represent an increasingly urban landscape.

Before Danyluk was first elected as a MLA in 2001, he had a long history in local politics in the County of St. Paul.

He is hesitant to provide personal information to the media. He will say he was born in Calgary, and also lived in B.C. and northern Alberta as a child and teen. While he was always involved with 4-H, boy scouts and other community endeavours, he was also a bit of a rebel.

At the University of Alberta, he studied chemistry and criminology -- hoping to someday work in police forensics -- and ran his own landscaping company.

Danyluk said he can identify personally with the housing problems many Albertans are facing. His early years were far from prosperous; at times, as a young man, he struggled to pay for housing.

"When I went to university I stayed in a little basement suite that I basically had to crawl into to shut the door. I've rented in many different situations."

© The Edmonton Journal 2007

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DebraW
30-04-2007, 04:46 PM
Province blamed for rent price-gouging

Archie McLean, edmontonjournal.com
Published: Monday, April 30, 2007

Alberta’s housing crisis dominated question period today, as opposition members charged that government policies led to price gouging last week by city landlords.

“Many renters woke up on Wednesday, or Thursday, or came home from work on Friday to find notices of massive rent hikes,” Liberal housing Dave Taylor said. “Did (the minister) not realize this would happen?”

Service Alberta Minister Lloyd Snelgrove said their new legislation, which will be introduced Tuesday, will be retroactive to April 24, the day the government announced their housing plan. That means anyone who had their rent raised in the last 12 months cannot have it happen again.

Still, a landlord who raised his tenant’s rent on, say, April 23, 2006, could increase rents as much as he likes. Opposition members called for temporary rent controls to stop such a practice and stabilize the province’s rental market. But Housing Minister Ray Danyluk rejected the idea.

“This government has learned from history that rent controls do not work,” Danyluk said. “When rent controls were in place what it did was suffocate the addition of rental units in the province.”

Last week, Premier Ed Stelmach announced a plan to build 11,200 new affordable housing units around the province by 2012. It also limited rent increases to once per year.

[email protected]

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