Party plans to fight housing costs

By Joshua Goard-Baker

Those on the streets are increasingly finding themselves unable to pay for the rising costs of life in Canada’s wealthiest province.

With the coffers overflowing, the time for change seems at hand, with a major reinvestment of Alberta’s fortunes into the lives of its impoverished residents and an aversion of what the Alberta Liberals, New Democratic Party and Greens all believe is a crisis. All three parties agree there must be an increase in the amount of affordable housing available for low-income Albertans.

In the eyes of NDP candidate Julie Hrdlicka, we are experiencing a crisis, one that needs major government involvement in order to solve.

“People say you’re blowing it out of proportion,” said Hrdlicka. “There’s no blowing out of proportion. This is a crisis, these are peoples’ lives. In Alberta, we have the highest rates of working people accessing the food bank. People working every single day, trying to pay for rent, trying to support their families, but still having to access the food bank. These people are working so hard, but they still can’t put food on the table.”

Solving this problem includes implementing rent guidelines, according to Hrdlicka. Things such as rent controls would limit the amount rent could be increased by a maximum of seven to eight per cent once a year. The plan would also include building more housing units and putting a hold on condo conversions across Alberta.

“Condo conversions are eating up the rental market for those who can’t afford wealthier places to live,” said Hrdlicka.

The NDP plan would also change the province’s treatment of homeless individuals. Hrdlicka explained taxpayers are footing the bill to care for the homeless at a price tag of $30,000 to $40,000 per individual, but the costs of getting these individuals off the streets and housing them in affordable units are “much less.”

Alberta Green Party leader George Read explained implementing a model such as those of successful cities like Montreal and Vancouver is the best way to solve the problem. Read believes the government needs to option out its affordable housing units, thus alleviating itself of a large portion of the economic responsibilities.

“Partnering with non-profit groups like housing cooperatives or poverty groups, to have them sustain or maintain those housing options [is necessary],” said Read. “As a result, they don’t have the ability to sell things off because it is managed by someone and they don’t have the long-term infrastructure costs because someone is managing the property.”

In the end, Read noted he believes the government has created the problem.

However, according to Calgary-Varsity Progressive Conservative candidate Jennifer Diakiw, the government has already taken steps in the right direction in order to rectify the problem of affordable housing.

“It is absolutely a priority for this government,” said Diakiw. “The premier has made building communities a priority. An affordable place to live is key to that. Affordable housing is one of those extraordinarily complex issues. Homelessness also comes into that and our government has made a commitment to end homelessness in the next 10 years.”

The PC government has allocated $285 million in new funding, that will be going towards housing. Diakiw explained she believes rent controls don’t present a viable option as a solution to the problem going forward. She stated that all the studies done show rent controls don’t increase quality of housing or available supply.

“[Rent controls] tend to discourage investment in new construction and the maintenance of the existing units,” said Diakiw. “That was a recommendation that was not accepted from the affordable housing taskforce.”

Under the Stelmach government legislation has been implemented limiting rent increases to once per year, according to Diakiw. Further, a landlord must give one year’s notice before they can convert a rental property into a condo.

However, Alberta Liberal Calgary-Varsity incumbent Harry Chase believes that without a rent cap, we will experience much more of what he terms “economic evictions.”

“Supposedly the government was going to require a one-year notice on condo conversions,” said Chase. “But instead, people just jacked up the rent to such a point where people were forced out: economic evictions.”

Chase noted that in order to stabilize the market the government must implement a two-year moratorium on all condo conversions, on top of instigating rent caps at 10-12 per cent, once a year. This two-year period of stability would provide people the ability to get out from under the rental accommodation, in essence, allowing those individuals the time to save money for a down payment on a mortgage, he explained. Chase also stated changes to the municipal acts also need to be implemented.

“[We need] to make it easier for municipalities to have approved fire code safe secondary suites, sometimes referred to as grandfather suites,” he said. “The government–federal and provincial–should be providing land for affordable housing and developments.”

All of these options would help recovery from what Chase terms “the crisis situation” Alberta is currently experiencing.