Newly imposed rent control won't solve N.S. affordable housing shortfall: landlords

·3 min read

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's major landlords' association says a two per cent annual cap on rents brought in by the Liberal government won't solve the shortage of affordable housing and may even make it worse.

Kevin Russell, executive director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia, said in an interview Thursday the temporary protections for renters introduced on Wednesday are acceptable as a short-term measure during the pandemic.

But if the measure stays in place after COVID-19 subsides, landlords will struggle to maintain and upgrade their buildings, leading to a decrease in the housing available for low-income tenants, Russell said.

Housing Minister Chuck Porter has said the cap will be in place until the province lifts its state of emergency order or Feb. 1, 2022, whichever comes first.

Porter has also announced that landlords will not be able to obtain an eviction order for renovations, informally known as a "renoviction,'' for the same time period, because he said people shouldn't be forced out of their homes during the pandemic.

Russell represents 155 members of his association who manage multi-unit apartments, with a total of roughly 45,000 units across the province. He said his members need the ability to raise rent by more than two per cent in cases where tenants leave and new ones replace them.

Over time, he said, a two per cent annual increase, "doesn't allow proper reinvestment into the property to bring the units up to new standards." He said that is particularly true for older apartment buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s that house lower-income tenants.

A more fundamental issue, he said, is the need for government to make a major investment in non-profit housing and use the private sector to build the units.

Community groups want to see the measure prolonged beyond the immediate crisis. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now issued a statement Wednesday saying temporary rent control will be meaningless if landlords can continue to raise rents and drive tenants from their homes once the pandemic is over.

Diana Devlin, executive director of Welcome Housing and Support Services, said in an interview she believes the rent caps should continue until there is an increase in the supply of affordable housing.

The non-profit charity organization has been trying to help 32 tenants evicted from apartments in the north end of Dartmouth who have been paying rents of about $600 a month for one-bedroom units, she said. "There just aren't any kind of units here for my kind of folks," she added. "There's no deeply affordable housing."

"The solution to our problem is more money to non-profits so we can build and develop."

Devlin said she'll be watching to see what solutions the newly created Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission recommends. "I'd imagine at some point in the future the rent cap could be re-evaluated, once the right supply of housing is put in place," she said.

Following a cabinet meeting Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil said he recognized there has been a shortage of affordable housing caused by the population and economic growth in the province.

McNeil, however, who plans to step down in February, said he remains doubtful that permanent rent control is the way forward. "There are those who believe rent control should be in place forever," he said. "I'm not one of those, but I do believe and did recognize that something had to come into play at this time."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2020.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press