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Group wants province to freeze rents for seniors on fixed incomes

Kitchener-Waterloo Record - April 16, 2002
by Frank Etherington

Waterloo Region seniors living on fixed incomes are at risk of losing their Waterloo apartments and becoming homeless unless the province takes action to freeze rents, a tenant activist warned yesterday.

Alarmed at increasing rents, consumer activist Mary Pappert, 71, and representatives from six Kitchener-Waterloo apartment buildings have formed a group called Renters Educating and Networking Together.

The group is circulating a petition urging the province to combat homelessness by freezing rents for two years. It also wants politicians to review the impact of the Ontario Tenant Protection Act which, in 1998, replaced rent-control legislation and eliminated rent controls on vacant units.

Asked about the group's concerns, Wendy Hallman, president of Waterloo Region's Hallman Property Management -- a company that rents 3,016 apartments in 63 buildings -- said it's wrong to say all senior-citizen tenants are victims of large rent increases.

She said seniors who have lived for a long time in the same apartments have enjoyed extremely low rents for years and, when landlords upgrade buildings, occasionally face what appear to be major rent hikes.

"It's not always the bully landlord to blame. . . . Some of those seniors on fixed incomes . . . could be spending six months in Florida," said Hallman.


She said a network of social services are in place to help any senior who has difficulty with a rent increase.

Pappert said Renters represents about a thousand tenants and 65 per cent are seniors.

"Some seniors are hanging on by their fingernails. They are responsible tenants who invest in their apartments. They want to stay out of institutions, but . . . they're in trouble," she said.

"To cope with homelessness, we need subsidized, affordable housing . . . but the best way to help tenants is to keep them in their units. We have to find ways to help people help themselves."

Pappert, who has lived in her Margaret Avenue apartment for 18 years, disagreed with recent statistics published by Canada Housing and Mortgage Corp.

Statistics showed the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Kitchener was $722, but Pappert said her tenant group has seen local rents for two-bedroom apartments as high as $1,100.

She said seniors on fixed incomes who have lived in their apartments for many years are having difficulty with annual rent increases that vary between buildings but range from three to six per cent.

Under existing legislation, Pappert said landlords are free to raise rents by as much as the market will tolerate once a tenant moves out, and that helps fuel overall rent increases.

Hallman said her company has a low apartment vacancy rate -- three unrented apartments out of 3,000 -- because it maintains competitive rents.

Asked about the petition, Hallman said a rent freeze wouldn't hurt her company because it charges only rents the market will bear.

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