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N.S. housing minister considering ‘all our options’ to address housing crisis

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia’s new government stays firm on not extending rent control' Nova Scotia’s new government stays firm on not extending rent control
WATCH: Temporary rent control measures put in place by the former Liberal government are set to expire in February. The Progressive Conservative party has not yet put forward any solutions to help tenants struggling to afford rent, but is standing firm that rent control will not be extended. Alicia Draus reports. – Sep 2, 2021

Nova Scotia’s new housing minister says next to health care, housing is the most important challenge the province is facing, and says he is very concerned about what is happening in the rental market with some landlords planning significant rent hikes once the temporary rent control measure is lifted.

Rent control was first brought in by the Liberal government last November during the pandemic. A cap of a two per cent increase was implemented as a way to prevent renovictions in the middle of a pandemic. The policy is set to remain in place until Feb. 1, 2022 or whenever the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted.

On Thursday, John Lohr told media he is watching “what’s happening very closely” and “looking into what can be done.”

“I’m very concerned about what I think are egregious increases in rent and we’re looking at all options,” Lohr said.

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When asked to clarify if rent control could be extended, he stood firm to the party line. “We’re not open to that option.”

Read more: N.S. premier designate says he’ll drop rent control when state of emergency lifted

However, the party later backtracked.

In a statement to Global News later on in the day, the press secretary for the Premier’s Office, Catherine Klimek, said rent control is indeed still being considered.

“As the state of emergency continues so will rent control. At the same time, we are being briefed on the housing situation and we are exploring all our options,” she wrote.

During Premier Tim Houston’s first COVID-19 news conference on Aug. 24, Houston said he didn’t plan to extend rent control measures once the provincial state of emergency is lifted. He said he didn’t believe it was a solution to the housing crisis.

“What I want is more housing stock in this province and we will take the steps to make sure that happens,” he said at the time.

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As the February 2022 date draws nearer, some tenants have received notices that their rent will be increasing as soon as the rent increase cap expires.

Read more: Meet a Halifax-area man whose rent could soon increase from $790 to $1,650

 

NDP Leader Gary Burrill says government’s stance lacks foresight.

“It is as though they thought that somehow while supply is being addressed that landlords are going to hold off on submitting dramatic increases, when in fact we know that is not going to be the case,” said Burrill.

“We don’t disagree that supply is the answer to the problem, the question is what is going to happen to all those people who are going to face the dramatic increases before supply is brought forward?”

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin says while it was his party who initially decided on the February 2022 expiration date, it was never meant to be a firm date.

Click to play video: 'Urgent housing solutions needed if more refugees are to be brought into Nova Scotia' Urgent housing solutions needed if more refugees are to be brought into Nova Scotia
Urgent housing solutions needed if more refugees are to be brought into Nova Scotia – Sep 1, 2021

“Yes (rent control) should be removed at some point, but not until our supply gets better,” said Rankin, noting that it could take a number of years for that to happen.

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As the debate over the housing crisis continues, the province’s newest housing minister admits that he himself is a landlord and has been “most of his adult life.”

“I think it helps me understand both sides of it,” he told reporters Thursday. “I think a landlord has a responsibility to tenants; I’ve always operated that way to provide good service.”

While Lohr could not say if his position as a landlord put him in a conflict of interest with his role as minister of housing, he says he has requested a meeting with Nova Scotia’s conflict of interest commissioner, Judge Joseph Kennedy, to discuss it.

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