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Liberals unveil tenant-aid package

Affordable housing, strong rent controls, emergency funding outlined in policy aimed at renters

Globe and Mail - Tuesday, November 26, 2002, Page A12
by Richard Mackie

Ontario's Liberal Party is attempting to mobilize the province's tenants in its bid to oust the Conservative government by offering an extensive package to protect renters and help those who have difficulty meeting their rent.

The package includes stronger rent controls, short-term help for those who cannot meet their rent in an emergency, construction of affordable housing and expanded housing allowances.

The tenant-protection package is contained in the Liberals' new urban policy, which was unveiled yesterday by party leader Dalton McGuinty.

"In seven years [the government] did not build a single unit [of affordable housing]. They gutted rent controls, dumped responsibility for social housing on to municipalities that could not afford it and refused to commit adequate resources to a joint federal-provincial housing program," he said.

The urban policy also contains detailed measures to limit urban sprawl, create a greenbelt around the Greater Toronto Area and enhance public transit.

Government representatives had no immediate comment on the Liberals' proposals.

Providing policies to protect tenants that would motivate them to support the Liberals could boost the party's chances in the next election, said Brian O'Riordan, an analyst of provincial politics with G. P. Murray Research Inc.

"It could really help [the Liberals] if it persuades tenants to get out and vote for them," he said. An election is expected within a year.

Traditionally, tenants have a much lower rate of turnout in elections than do homeowners, he said. "It's estimated that there is a 15-per-cent lower participation rate among tenants."

Across the province, tenants account for about 31 per cent of eligible voters; homeowners make up 69 per cent of the electorate, according to data compiled by G. P. Murray Research.

The votes of tenants are particularly important in 32 urban ridings in Toronto, Mississauga, Hamilton, London and Ottawa, where they make up at least 40 per cent of the electorate. A third of these ridings are now held by Progressive Conservatives.

A major change in rent controls promised by the Liberals would keep the ceilings on rent increases for apartments even when they are vacant.

Four years ago, the Tories changed rent controls to allow landlords to levy unrestricted increases on units that are vacant.

Tenants groups say this has resulted in some landlords, hoping to take advantage of the shortage of rental housing in most Ontario cities, pressing tenants to leave in order to boost rents.

The Liberals also would establish a rent bank to provide one-time assistance with short-term arrears to tenants facing eviction because of unusual circumstances, such as illness or loss of a job.

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