Sunday Mar 26

Winter 2022

NORTHERN LIGHTS - Cross the Border and It’s Rent Control Country!

ACORN is fighting for rent control measures across Canada with notable success. Here’s an update: 

Nova Scotia ACORN won a temporary rent cap of 2% in late 2020 after a popular and boisterous campaign, and it’s since been extended (a couple times) until the end of 2023. Word on the street is that the NS Progressive Conservative government has already decided to extend it beyond 2023 and is biding its time on the announcement. 

ACORN won the Chevy Malibu version of rent control. One that sees caps placed on the leases of most tenants in the province. If a tenant vacates their apartment (willingly or unwillingly) then the rent can be jacked to any amount. Like landlords everywhere, Nova Scotian landlords exploit the policy gap.  Renovations are rampant, repairs for long tenured tenants are ignored in hopes tenants get fed up and move out. 

The Cadillac version of vacancy rent control is all but out of reach under a Progressive Conservative government in Nova Scotia, but rest assured ACORN is fighting for it!

New Brunswick ACORN won a temporary rent cap of 3.8% (along with all important eviction protections) in March 2022. Unfortunately, after a hard-fought campaign, the Progressive Conservative government announced it would let the rent cap expire at the end of the year.

NB ACORN Chairperson Nichola Taylor - who grew up in a union family in England - has become a media darling doing interview after interview with the rallying cry of Extend the Cap!

Both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were seeing unprecedented increases in housing prices and rents. Well, unprecedented for them.  Atlantic Canada is not as unique as locals sometimes think, the Acadian language, charming personalities, and live music aside.  The housing crisis Atlantic Canadians are facing has already taken place in cities across the continent over the last 20 years.

Facts are facts, even in politics: 100% rent increases are indefensible. My feeling is ACORN will force the New Brunswick government to reinstate the cap after a couple months of media stories about high rent increases.  Unfortunately, that means it will get worse for tenants before it gets better, but put money on NB ACORN making the government pay a hefty political price for letting the cap expire.

Alberta ACORN is moving fast with its rent cap campaign which is focused on getting the ANDP to put a rent cap and eviction protections on their platform.  Our Alberta leadership knows that they have no shot of winning under the United Conservative Party government, which was recently taken over by theCOVID is a hoax/crazy town wing of the party.  But with a general election in the spring of 2023 and the NDP leading in the polls, they’ve got a clear path to the endzone.

Getting the ANDP to implement Rent Control if elected is not so easy. They were in power for four years last decade and didn’t extend any basic protections to tenants. That said, ACORN - or any tenant union - was not present to demand it.  But it also should not be so hard. Our campaign has been heavily covered in the media alongside reports of average rent prices rising by 30% in the last year. Getting ahead of the problem that is housing coming in Calgary and Edmonton is as smart a policy as it is popular.

In all three provinces, the rent control campaigns have been or are foundation-building campaigns. Media attention, credibility in the neighborhoods, and historical wins are a good way to start or restart an ACORN office. 

Ontario ACORN some may want to just leave this out of this report, but I for one refuse to sugar coat the facts for our loyal readers. This is Social Policy Magazine! 

Vacancy rent control? Please. We are just trying to stop Ontario premier Doug Ford from overriding every municipal affordable housing victory we’ve ever won. Hard fought municipal tenant victories won over years of hard work by a long list of talented organizers and leaders - Rental replacement, inclusionary zoning, tenant relocation policies - are going out with the bath water since his resounding reelection this past summer.  Can’t win 'em all, but can’t we keep a few!?

British Columbia ACORN has a new premier that is a familiar face to work with.  Old ACORN ally Dave Eby is now wearing suits and ties and not taking direct calls from ACORN organizers, but he has made solving the housing crisis his core priority.  He’s got some work to do on that!

BC ACORN’s long-term campaign has been for vacancy rent control.  Many saw it as a key policy that would stop the plague of renovictions that was raging in the province.  Alas, the BCNDP passed a renoviction ban that has seemingly dealt with that scourge without actually bringing in vacancy control. A half victory that some found more bitter than sweet because it took away a campaign handle for vacancy control.

But hey, ask Ontario. There are worse things happening than winning a renoviction ban!

New organizers and leaders in BC have emerged and are starting to move on vacancy control one again. The campaign is in juxtaposition to Eby’s housing plan which is focused on increasing housing supply growth rather than the expansion of tenant rights and protection of existing private affordable units. 

Could a campaign compromise of having a higher rent cap for vacant units than occupied units get us a toehold in BC for vacancy rent controls across Canada?  If there is a place where a vacancy control win is possible, it is in BC.

The housing crisis is real. The landlords have sway, but ACORN is an antidote to their poison.  We’re on the move winning some historical and groundbreaking victories, with more on the horizon.

John Anderson is the Field Director for ACORN Canada. Since 2004 John has helped to develop the ACORN Canada operations in Toronto, Ontario, and British Columbia. He is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg.