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Seniors cutting back on food due to rent hikes, activist says

Kitchener-Waterloo Record - Thursday October 3, 2002
by Frank Etherington


KITCHENER — Waterloo Region has seniors living on fixed incomes who are cutting back on groceries and heat so they can pay rents increasing at rates in excess of those mandated by the Ontario government, a tenant activist said last night.

Mary Pappert, interviewed at an educational forum organized for renters at Kitchener City Hall, said local landlords have pushed for higher rent hikes than those set out by provincial rent-control legislation every year since 1998.

Pappert is spokeswoman for a Kitchener-based tenants' group called Renters Educating and Networking Together. She said her group represents about 1,000 tenants, of which 65 per cent are seniors.

"Some are in trouble . . . They're cutting back on groceries, heat and other items so they can afford rents," she said. "When we think of the homeless, we think of bag ladies on the street, but there's a larger group of people having difficulty with rents at risk of homelessness."

Pappert said local landlords told by government to hold annual rent increases to three or four per cent have asked for 10 to 14 per cent.

She said Ontario Ombudsman Clare Lewis this week agreed to investigate some cases where landlords were granted increases by Ontario rental tribunals after saying said they needed more money to pay higher 2000-01 gas rates.

Ontario tenant groups have complained to Lewis that landlords are no longer paying higher utility rates.

Pappert said some of the largest local rent increases are for 2001, but they have been delayed in a backlog of hearings before the rent tribunal. "They're swamped with applications and we're trying to fight as many cases as possible," said Pappert.

"But (tenants) lose in about 90 per cent of cases because renters don't know the law and sit across the table from landlords who come to hearings with financial, management and legal experts."

Pappert said about 40 per cent of Ontario's population lives in rental housing and, in past years, almost half of those tenants dealt with landlords who requested higher rents than those mandated by Queen's Park.

Meanwhile, Pappert said renters have little choice about high rents. She said a three per cent apartment vacancy rate is considered the minimum for a healthy rental market where tenants have a reasonable degree of choice about accommodation. But in the period between 1989 and 2001, vacancy rates were at or below that norm in Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton, Barrie, Toronto and Ottawa.

Pappert said her group organized the forum and panel discussion to educate renters about their rights and who to contact if they have complaints.

Rob Horne, Waterloo Region's housing director, and two lawyers who represent tenants -- Gay Slinger and Jean-Paul Pilon -- joined Carol Kiley from the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal in a panel discussion during the forum. About 250 people attended.

Horne said in an interview that regional housing officials believe they are better positioned than other Ontario municipalities to move quickly on projects to build affordable homes once federal and provincial cash is announced for low-income shelter.

Tired of waiting for higher levels of government to provide money for low-cost homes, Waterloo Region has provided $15.3 million to encourage construction of about 1,000 affordable-housing units before 2005.


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