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Renters' group ambushes Witmer

Kitchener- Waterloo Record - April 25, 2002
by Frank Etherington

WATERLOO — Angry seniors ambushed Ontario deputy premier Liz Witmer in Waterloo yesterday, demanding her government take action to control rents. But Witmer, also the MPP for Kitchener-Waterloo, left the grannies and granddads raging when she told them she could do little about the issue except make their feelings known at Queen's Park.

Soon after a seminar organized by Witmer to give seniors housing information, the MPP told tenants -- members of Renters Educating and Networking Together -- she could not take their petition to Queen's Park. Because of her cabinet position, she said she would get Waterloo-Wellington MPP Ted Arnott to handle the petition.

Witmer further frustrated seniors when they asked her about news stories during her campaign for the premier's position in which she said she would consider reinstating rent controls if she got the job.

Witmer denied she ever made the comments at a Toronto meeting held to debate an increasing need for affordable housing across the province.

Mary Pappert, 71, a spokeswoman for the tenant group, said Witmer's comments were "extremely disappointing."

"We are her constituents and this is supposed to be a housing seminar. We came here expecting a dialogue and we got nothing," she said.

Pappert, who said her group has about 1,000 members in six high-rise apartment buildings, gave Witmer material that documents the plight of some Waterloo Region seniors.

It said tenants living on fixed incomes risk losing apartments unless the province freezes rents.

Pappert said 65 per cent of group members are seniors who are circulating a petition urging the Tory government to freeze rents for two years.

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

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

Under existing legislation, 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, Pappert said.

The group 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.

Group members said some local landlords have increased rents between 28 and 53 per cent in the past four years.

"Right now we have problems with homeless youths on the street (but) if we don't do something soon about rents, we will have seniors on fixed incomes out on the street," said Mildred Rodina, 72, of Kitchener.

Genevieve Ross, 81, of Kitchener, said she knows some elderly tenants who are living without telephones and other conveniences because they can no longer afford rents.

Geraldine Kergoat, 72, said she and her husband, Ray, live on fixed incomes and can't cope with rent hikes that have increased about 10 per cent in each of the past three years.

"This government should go back to rent controls to help seniors," she said. "Some of them just can't cope."

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