Ontario election 2022: How will the parties help renters amid housing crunch?

As many parts of the province deal with a hot housing market, what are the provincial parties promising this election campaign to help support renters? Nick Westoll reports.

As communities across the province try to deal with soaring housing costs, most of the Ontario election discussion has involved helping current and aspiring homeowners. But what’s being done to help renters?

“Being a tenant right now we feel like we’re abandoned,” Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, the chair of the East York chapter of Acorn, told CityNews in an interview on Tuesday.

“We have not been fair with renters … Renters are the ones who sell you coffee in the morning, renters are the ones who clean the city, renters are the frontline workers.”

In Toronto, there is no shortage of tenants. According to data by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), there were more than 265,000 private apartment units across the city. Looking at the 2016 Census, approximately 1,125,440 out of 2,691,665 people in Toronto identified themselves as renters.

The CMHC data showed the citywide average price for a one-bedroom apartment is almost $1,450 and a two-bedroom unit is a little over $1,700.

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Ruiz Vargas said several issues are making life increasingly difficult for renters, such as the 2018 decision by the Progressive Conservatives to lift the controls on rent increases on new units setup after Nov. 15 of that year along with other long-standing issues such as ‘renovictions,’ a lack of new social and co-op housing and purpose-built rental buildings, not enough rental allowances for ODSP recipients, unfair bidding processes, and buildings falling into disrepair.

“The lack of respect is unbelievable. Call your superintendent and you see how they answer … ‘if you don’t like it, move out.’ It’s like the wild west here in Toronto,” she said.

On Friday, CityNews contacted Ontario’s four major political parties that had MPPs elected during the 2018 provincial election to ask about commitments relating to renters.

CityNews asked specifically what is in each party’s 2022 platform to address issues tenants face as well as what policies would be enacted to deal with ‘renovictions,’ higher annual rent increases in units setup after 2018, new emerging types of housing such as tiny homes, homeownership aspirations for low- and middle-income earners. We also asked what specific outcomes each party hopes will be achieved by the end of the upcoming term of office.

Responses from the parties

Here are the verbatim responses CityNews received from the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, the Ontario NDP and the Green Party of Ontario. A response wasn’t received from the Ontario Liberal Party by our deadline.

Ontario PC Party

“Del Duca-Wynne’s failed housing plans discouraged building and made finding rental units harder.

We made changes to stimulate the construction of new rental housing, and our approach is working. In 2020, the year after our government’s housing supply action plan was released, Ontario had over 11,000 rental starts. Last year rental housing starts were the highest in 30 years.

Plus, to put the dream of home ownership in reach, we are introducing systematic changes to help build 1.5 million new homes in Ontario. Again, our plan is working with over 100,000 new homes started last year, the highest in 30 years.

The Del Duca-Wynne Liberals presided over runaway home and rent prices, and when they had the opportunity to support building more homes faster they voted NO.

While Doug Ford and our Ontario PC team said YES to historic supports for renters, including stronger tenant protections from bad faith evictions including renovictions and over $3 billion in funding to help sustain, repair and grow community housing and address homelessness in Ontario, Andrea Horwath and the NDP also said NO.

Only Doug Ford and our PC team are getting it done and building more homes for Ontarians, ensuring renters are protected, and keeping costs down.”

Ontario NDP

“An NDP government will bring back real rent control for all apartments, eliminating the financial incentive for landlords to squeeze out tenants to raise the rent. We will also ensure that Ontarians pay what the last tenant paid by scrapping vacancy decontrol. We will help 311,000 households pay the rent. We will create a portable housing benefit, as recommended by the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association (ONPHA) and Co-Operative Housing Federation of Canada, to assist tenants who can’t afford their rent in addition to basic necessities for themselves and their families. And NDP government will fix the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB) and restore the right to in-person hearings. We’ll end Doug Ford’s unfair “evictions blitz,” and make sure tenants and landlords can get prompt and fair hearings before the board.

“In addition to the NDP’s existing commitments to protect renters from gouging, the NDP will also ensure tenants can move back into their apartment after renovations at the same rent price. We will stop unfair ‘renovictions’ and bad faith ‘landlord’s own use’ evictions. An NDP government will crack down on landlords who exploit loopholes in the law to seek evictions or unfair, above guideline rent increases for repairs or renovations that aren’t needed, or those who evict tenants by pretending they or a family member needs the unit.

“The NDP’s target is to make renting more affordable for everyone, and give renters more security. Renters in Ontario have been squeezed for too long, with Liberal and Conservative governments allowing the greediest developers and a few bad faith landlords to gouge tenants and throw people out of their homes to make a buck. Too many Ontarians are stuck living in rental units that are run down or even unsafe, because their landlords are not being held to account and they can’t afford to rent anywhere else. Doug Ford cancelled rent control, allowing the market and cost of living to spiral upwards. Landlords can always raise the rent for the next tenant (called vacancy decontrol). So, a lot of people live in fear, worried that their landlord will hike their rent or come up with an excuse to evict them so they can charge the next tenant more. Ontario is home to many good landlords, including landlords who are everyday working folks or seniors who rent out a basement apartment. But we know there are a few bad apples, sometimes very large companies, who take advantage of loopholes, and take advantage of their tenants. Our plan aims to make sure tenants are treated fairly, no matter who their landlord is.

“Too many people are giving up on their dream to own a home and this is heartbreaking. The housing crisis is forcing people to love communities they love, and live further from their support systems and workplace. An NDP government wants to change that. We want to allow Ontarians to make their dream of home ownership come true. We will increase the supply of new homes by spurring at least 1.5 million new builds over 10 years, making it easier to buy, and strengthening homebuyers’ protections. We will end exclusionary zoning and update growth policies to increase the supply of affordable housing in pedestrian and transit-friendly neighbourhoods. We will establish Housing Ontario, that will finance and build at least 250,000 affordable and non-market rental homes over the next 10 years, operated by public, non-profit and co-op housing providers in mixed-income communities. And we will help first-time home buyers with their down payment.

“The Ontario NDP supports “tiny homes” and the exploration of other innovative ideas to address housing affordability.

“Andrea Horwath’s NDP will spur the construction of 1.5 million homes over the next 10 years — a combination of starter homes, rental homes and affordable housing. We’ll support the construction of new options like granny flats, and invest in green renovations through the Green New Democratic Deal to update older buildings to help people update their existing properties to meet new needs. And we’ll create a new Residents’ Rights Act so homeowners can easily and inexpensively convert an unused garage, basement or a floor of their home into an affordable rental home.”

Green Party of Ontario

“Ontario Greens have the strongest and most comprehensive housing plan of any party. In fact, the NDP have had to adjust their housing plan multiple times just to keep up, and the Liberals even endorsed our housing plan at their convention.

We will provide security and support for renters, build purpose-built rentals, and implement creative housing solutions for renters to achieve home ownership, to ensure everyone has an affordable place to call home– all while protecting the environment, stopping the sprawl and protecting the places we love.

The following key policies from our plan should answer [the] questions:

• Build 182,000 new permanently affordable community housing rental homes over the next decade
• Strengthen rules and penalties for renovictions and bad faith evictions to keep apartments affordable.
• Establish a clear system for above-guideline rent increases that governs which renovations are necessary and can qualify for an increase in rent.
• Develop and support alternative homeownership pilot programs such as cohousing, tiny homes, and rent-to-own to assist low and middle income first-time homebuyers.
• Reinstate rent controls on all units to regulate rental increases year-to-year and implement vacancy control to limit rent increases between tenancies.
• Extend financial support to 311,000 Ontario households via the portable housing benefit.
• Update and strengthen sections of the Residential Tenancies Act that deal with the state of repair for multi-unit buildings to ensure tenants have homes that are safe.
• Allow single family dwellings to be divided into multiple condominium units to create more attainable home ownership opportunities within existing neighbourhoods.
• Update zoning to allow for triplexes and fourplexes as of right to increase rental development opportunities within neighborhoods.
• Prezone for midrise and missing middle on transit corridors and avenues to fast-track building rental developments in close proximity to transit.
• End blind bidding to ensure that the home purchase process is transparent.
• Consult on and develop a down payment support program to help low and middle income first-time homebuyers
• Increase incentives and streamline the application process for first-time homeowners to add affordable rental units to their primary residence to help pay down their mortgage.
• Provide nonprofit housing providers with the support and access to capital needed to purchase private rental buildings to maintain affordability in perpetuity and explore preemptive right-to-buy for nonprofits.
• Partner with nonprofits, co-ops, and community land trusts to use public land for permanently affordable rental housing and attainable home ownership options through low-cost long-term leases”

Ontario Liberal Party platform highlights

• End ‘two-tiered rental market,’ bring back rent control for all homes
• Create ‘legal framework’ for rent-to-own agreements
• Build 1.5 million new homes (138K ‘deeply affordable’ homes, 78K community housing homes)
• Extra $15M annual funding for OLT, LTB to deal with backlogs
• Improve multi-tenant housing safety, better state-of-good-repair standards, higher fines for negligent landlords

Meanwhile, Ruiz Vargas said there’s room for all to do better on housing.

“We need more boldness. We need to really look at housing as the number one priority,” she said.

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