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Spiking rental rates in Calgary prompt calls for rent control

A two-bedroom accommodation in Calgary was up more than 25 per cent in February, compared with the same month in 2022.

More Calgarians are struggling to make ends meet, not only in the rising cost of food or fuel but in where they rest their heads.

On March 22, Calgarians gathered at the Residential Tenancy Dispute Resolution Service (RTDRS) building in downtown Calgary to lobby for a rent cap at 1.5 per cent. In Alberta, the Residential Tenancies Act covers most rentals in the province.

Year-over-year, the average rent of a two-bedroom home in Calgary in February of 2023 was $1,920, according to Rentals.ca. That’s a 25.1 per cent increase compared with the same time in 2022. The site did say that increases are softening, and are not double-digit for the first time since June 2022.

Citizens are asking to cap the rent prices and emulate the policies British Columbia has in place for the housing market.

The ACORN Action Group is a community organization of low and moderate-income people focused on fighting for public policy to moderate high-rent prices. Calgary is their newest chapter.

Vanessa Badger, Chair of ACORN in the Calgary East Chapter, has been living in the Forest Lawn area for 35 years. She was raising awareness of the inequalities faced by racialized and low-income people, especially when it comes to securing housing.

“Some days I don’t even eat so my son can eat,” said Vanessa Badger, Chair at the East Calgary ACORN chapter.

“I’m there [East Calgary Chapter] and I want to stay there because that’s the low-income area and I know there are a few others here in Calgary, but rent is coordinated around the city. It’s all about rent control.”

According to Badger, the displacement high rent causes in low-income people disproportionately affects Indigenous, racialized and disabled citizens, making it difficult for them to keep up with the market’s prices.

“I’m going through a rent increase in May, and I get $1,500 on my Alberta works. There’s going to increase my rent to $1,200. So, me, my husband and my son are going to be living on $3,000 a month, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to pay my bills,” said Badger.

Jonathan Parks, a member of the Green Party of Alberta and a protester on Wednesday, also asked Calgary city council to consider gentrification, with more people being displaced by development due to insecure housing.

“We need rent control. People are getting rent increases that are pushing them out of their apartments, we have to match the B.C rent control cap now,” Parks said.

Councillor says city can do more with their land

Ward 11 Coun. Kourtney Penner posted to social media earlier this week, noting that it might be time to revisit a conversation on rent control. She said she’s receiving emails from residents saying their rents are increasing between $300 and $600 per month.

“If we’re going to run a campaign on affordability, then we need to talk about that not just at the grocery store, not just at the fuel pumps, we need to talk about the actual cost of living and for many people that is they are needing a cap on the amount that rent can go up in an increase,” she said.

Penner said that the city is exploring how to use city land for more non-affordable culturally-sensitive housing options. Recently, the city made three surplus parcels available at below-market rates for affordable housing providers.

“The biggest thing that we can do is unlock land for those for those non-market housing providers and give them the tools that they need to remove walls in order to build faster, which allows them to take advantage of things like federal housing programs,” said Coun. Penner.

Kavin Sheikheldin, a former executive of ACORN Action Group and founder of Alberta’s Landlord/Tenant Complaint Facebook group wants to set a limit on how much rent and available land in Alberta is made available for people in the province, especially for those who cannot afford high rent.

Although high rent prices primarily affect racialized communities, the housing crisis is being felt citywide, Sheikheldin said.

Sheikheldin said she was evicted from her home in the 210-unit Bridgeland Place after the city decided to decommission the subsidized Calgary housing complex in March 2021. It was then she decided to join the movement toward affordable and accessible housing options. 

Sheikheldin said that one of the best things tenants should try to do while the city establishes plans for fair housing is to attempt to pay rent on time.

“I want tenants to learn that they should still pay their rent on time, when it’s due, even if the landlord didn’t do what the tenant requested them to do [fixing or adding to the rented property],” said Sheikheldin.

“If the tenant wanted to report the landlord, the landlord can maybe make up stories saying the tenant didn’t pay rent. It’s also important for people to pay via MasterCard, debit, etc. because they’ll help prove that payment went through.”

At a news conference the same day of the protest, MLA Jeremy Nixon talked about increasing affordable housing options. Nixon also said the government had no plans to establish a rent cap due to its ineffectiveness in long-term housing options.

“No rent control is not on the government’s radar. We understand that rent prices are going up, [we] believe this is a supply-demand challenge that we’re facing in our community and that’s why we’re focused right now on increasing the supply of affordable housing,” he said.

Nixon says rent caps can have an immediate impact but longer term, these create long-term challenges.

A 2022 UBC study did show that rent control does improve housing affordability. It also said that the positive impact on low-income citizens outweighed the negative impact on the wealthier.