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Rent hike threatens poorest tenants

Hamilton Spectator - August 30, 2001, p.A5
by Deborah Churchill

Hamilton housing advocates fear a rent increase of 3.9 per cent - the highest in almost a decade - will hurt the city's most vulnerable citizens.

Peter Hutton, of Dundurn Community Legal Services, denounced the hike as "terrible news" for tenants who are already struggling with rapidly rising rents and a lack of affordable housing.

"A lot more people are going to be facing eviction and very difficult choices," said Hutton, a community legal worker. "This is going to force more people into substandard housing or leave them homeless."

Under the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing's 2002 rent increase guideline, landlords will be able to raise rents by 3.9 per cent starting January 1. That's up from 2.9 per cent this year.

The provincial guideline, announced in a government publication Saturday, refers to the amount a landlord can annualy boost the rent for a sitting tenants without making an application to the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal.

It is calculated using a formula that takes into account the costs of running an apartment building, including maintenance, hydro, heating and taxes, averaged over three years.

Advocates on either side of the issue have already begun exchanging barbs.

Some, like Hutton, say the increase puts money into the pockets of landlords at the expense of tenants. He said the guideline gives landlords a right to raise the rent, but does nothing to ensure the cash is put into the property.

Property owners tell a different story.

John Bruno, executive director of the Hamilton and District Apartment Association, says the latest hike falls far short of the amount actually needed to make up for cost increases experienced by the rental housing industry.

He said he 3.9 per cent hike does little to help landlords - many of whom saw their heating bills double over the past year - recover their losses. {typist's comment: This statement is blatantly false as under the Tenant Protection Act, landlords can apply for rent increases on top of the guideline amount, and for utility and tax increases there is no maximum and it is on top of the guideline that already includes utility cost increases.}

Bruno thinks most people understand the plight of property owners and will be able to absorb the increase.

For those who can't, he said, there are places they can turn. "People who are struggling should go into social or subsidized housing. There are locations for people to go who cannot pay their rent."

That's not necessarily true, warns Ward 2 Councillor Andrea Horwath.

She said the rent hike comes at a time when most major cities in the province, including Hamilton, are experiencing a housing crisis. The increase "makes a very bad situation much worse," she said.

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