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Tenants fight rental increases

Toronto Star, April 9, 2002
by Kerry Gillespie


Cora Spilker was warm enough in her apartment last winter, but now she'll have to cut back on groceries to pay those heating bills.

The 94-year-old is watching helplessly as the constant rent increases on her Mississauga apartment — the latest is $81 a month — take their toll on her lifelong independence.

Spilker worked in the payroll department of Goodyear, got married twice, had and lost a son, and retired in 1970. She's been living alone for the last 20 years. "I don't know what I'd do if I had to ask for anything. My family always said you have to do everything for yourself," Spilker said yesterday.

Today, advocates for tenants and seniors will be trying to do something for Spilker and thousands of others. At a news conference at Queen's Park they plan to propose changes to the Tenant Protection Act so landlords cannot get permanent rent increases for a one-time spike in utility bills.

"We were assured by the Harris government that when they took off rent controls and stopped building non-profit housing, there would be all this (private development) and the accommodations would improve, but it's been nothing but the opposite. It's been a disaster," said Bill Fuller of the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens' Organizations, representing half a million seniors.

Among seniors, the high rents have hit single women and widows the hardest, Fuller said. "Most of these (women) are reluctant to speak out. They're prepared to bite the bullet and make do."

But making do is getting harder. With the latest increase, Spilker's rent will rise to $1,054. That's more than 75 per cent of her monthly pension.

The provincial government sets the maximum amount a landlord can raise the rent of a sitting tenant each year. It's 3.9 per cent this year, but Spilker's landlord was given permission from the Ontario Rental Housing Tribunal to raise rents by 8.69 per cent, largely due to last winter's spike in gas prices.

The above-guideline increases the tribunal has granted thousands of Ontario landlords — to pay unexpectedly high utility bills or for building improvements and repairs — are pricing tenants out of their apartments. Landlords can charge whatever they want on vacant apartments, so moving isn't an option.

"I'm just going to eat less," Spilker said to her friend and tenant advocate Elsie Rossi.

"It's scary. At the present time I haven't come to the point of being subsidized, but if they keep on doing this to me I'll need to be soon," Spilker said from her apartment.

If it comes to that, she'll be at the bottom of a long list of Ontario seniors. In Toronto alone, as of this February, 12,225 senior households and 48,584 other households are waiting for subsidized housing.

That's why Rossi, who supports an end to above-guideline increases for utilities, is also lobbying the government to help seniors pay for the apartments they're in now, rather than letting them wait until a subsidized unit becomes available. "I'm trying my darndest to get something done," Rossi said.


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