A group that advocates for tenants in London, Ont., who are struggling with affordability says rent control for all units is among its top demands for the next political party to form Ontario’s government.
The report found average rent for all property types in London had increased by 18 per cent from March 2021 to March 2022, the highest increase observed in Ontario.
Across Ontario averages, London was followed by Hamilton, Toronto and Etobicoke, which saw annual increases of 15.9 per cent, 14.3 per cent and 9.5 per cent, respectively. Nationally, Vancouver, B.C., saw the largest yearly hike, with average rents rising 29.9 per cent since 2021.
Pauline Salisbury, who rents a home in northwest London, was subject to two rent increases last year, both of which were above provincial guidelines as Ontario was under a rent freeze at the time.
The province currently has a set of guidelines for each year that dictates how much rent can be increased. This year’s guideline is set at 1.2 per cent, while last year’s was set at zero per cent, due to the rent freeze issued by the Doug Ford government amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, landlords can implement an above-guideline rent increase so long as they successfully apply to the Landlord and Tenant Board.
In 2018, the Ontario government introduced legislation that scrapped rent control on new builds that are occupied for the first time after Nov. 15, 2018.
As a senior, Salisbury said that she receives about $1,100 each month through the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, but that her monthly rent now exceeds that amount, meaning her fixed income can’t keep up.
“Seniors only get so much money from Canada Pension and Old Age. It doesn’t cover all of our rent and what little bit of savings we have, we have to dip into it, so if I live another 10 years, I’ll be a bag lady,” Salisbury said.
“I’d like to buy new clothes, but I can’t. Every now and then, I wouldn’t mind having a treat, take myself out for something to eat, but those things you just can’t do.”
Salisbury is scheduled to attend a Landlord and Tenant Board hearing at the end of the month as part of her landlord’s application to implement an above-guideline rent increase, but finds herself intimidated with the hearing’s virtual format, adding that she doesn’t have a cellphone. In-person board hearings were closed in response to the pandemic.
“I do have a computer, but the only reason I got it was because my son moved away and we used to FaceTime each other. I play games on it and I have email, but other than that, I don’t know anything about it,” Salisbury said.
Issues surrounding rent affordability have also been experienced first-hand by Betty Morrison, 47. She was renting in southeast London before her landlord decided to sell the house she lived in. The new buyer wouldn’t let her stay and Morrison was given two months before she’d be kicked out, leaving her in a time crunch to find a new place.
Through the help of a local non-profit and other various supports, Morrison was able to move into a new place, but not after being homeless for about a week.
Before leaving her old home, Morrison said she also had trouble paying for rent, which exceeded her monthly allowance from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) by more than $1,000.
“It’s hard to even support when your shelter doesn’t get covered fully and you’re having to take that out of your basic needs,” Morrison said.
“There’s a lot of times where you have to decide whether you’re paying the bills or going without food. It’s not easy.”
Since its launch in October 2020, Morrison has been the leader of London ACORN, the local chapter of a national tenant advocacy group, as she looks to help others in her shoes. Since then, she said she’s lost count of how many people she’s met who are going through issues with rent affordability, including her own children.
Salisbury joined the group when she received a notice for her board hearing at the end of May.
On Wednesday, the group will take part in a national day of action, being held by other ACORN chapters across Canada, where they’ll voice their demands. It’s scheduled for 2 p.m. outside the homes at 295-321 Westminster Ave.
“What we’re asking for is vacancy control, so that landlords cannot increase rent exponentially between tenants, bring all units under rent control so that everybody is covered and ban above-guideline rent increases,” Morrison told Global News.
Morrison said the group also wants to see increases in the money doled out by social assistance, such as ODSP and Ontario Works.
London ACORN also wants the LTB to resume in-person hearings to help folks like Salisbury.
“There’s a lot of tenants out there who either do not have internet, (or) do not have time to sit on the phone waiting, and it’s making it very difficult to get to the hearings at the Landlord and Tenant Board,” Morrison said.
So far, the Ontario Liberals, the Ontario NDP and the Green Party of Ontario have promised to reinstate rent control on all units.
In an email to the Canadian Press last week, a spokesperson for the Progressive Conservatives defended the decision to remove rent control on new units, saying it actually served to spur more building.
“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,” Gillian Sloggett said in an email.
A full list of promises made so far on the campaign trail can be found on Global News’ promise tracker webpage.
The Ontario election will take place on June 2.
– with files from The Canadian Press’ Liam Casey.