The NDP wants rent increases capped at 5 per cent. There is no chance that the UCP will agree

Refusing to consider an opposition bill is routine, but failing to address the issue behind it is an entirely different matter.

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The UCP will almost certainly crush an NDP bill that will be introduced in the legislature next Monday.

He calls for rent control, a constant no-no during decades of conservative governments.

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But the UCP needs to think carefully about some form of relief from rent increases that often reach double digits and hundreds of dollars a month.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley calls the proposal “a very modest form of rent oversight.”

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NDP MLA Janis Irwin’s private member’s bill would tie rent increases to the rate of inflation.

A hard five percent cap would take effect if the consumer price index rose.

There would be a four-year sunset clause, after which the limit could be abolished or renewed.

Irwin’s bill has not attracted much attention because it is already doomed to fail.

Refusing to consider an opposition bill is routine, but failing to address the issue behind it is an entirely different matter.

In last week’s budget, the UCP expanded the low-income rental assistance program to support an additional 550 households, bringing the total to 12,700.

That was it. There was nothing for the many employed Albertans hit by big increases, even as they struggle with higher food costs and borrowing rates.

“These guys increased their rent supplement program so that 550 more Albertans could have access to it, which is absolutely ridiculous,” Notley said in an interview.

“It doesn’t even come close to what the pressures are, even based on their own numbers.

“People can’t plan their lives when their rents increase 30 percent in a year,” he added. “These kinds of costs are really devastating.”

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Raquel Notley
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley speaks during a news conference in Calgary on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Gavin Young/Postmedia Archive

He said the NDP proposal “is not radical madness. Other parts of the country that are growing at half our rate have this type of protection.”

In British Columbia, for example, the rent can only be increased once a year up to a maximum set by the government’s Residential Leasing Office.

This year, rent increases in British Columbia are capped at 3.5 per cent.

Thousands of Alberta renters would love to have that kind of certainty.

Notley says the bill leaves plenty of room for exemptions when homeowners face repairs or renovations, or for other valid reasons.

Clearly, inflexible rent control can worsen another serious problem: the housing shortage. That’s the usual argument against rent caps in Alberta.

The alternative to rent control is widespread rent subsidies.

But that is a direct cost to the treasury that Premier Danielle Smith and her government will not contemplate. They are already saying the province faces tough finances and smaller surpluses.

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This is a long-standing problem. I remember how embarrassed former premier Ed Stelmach felt in 2007 when he dismissed as improbable a story about Calgary tenants devastated by $1,000-a-month increases.

But it was true. His administration faced demands for rent relief almost as soon as he took office.

A government committee recommended rent controls. Stelmach and his cabinet decided instead to increase the rent supplements.

He also embarked on a ten-year plan to end homelessness, which made real progress over several years.

In 2014, when rents rose sharply again, then-Premier Jim Prentice rejected even more calls for rent control.

Then, as now, Calgary had one of the lowest vacancy rates and highest rental costs in the country.

Prentice said he put his faith in the market to solve the problem. Today, that argument is weakened by inflation and post-pandemic economic disruption.

Notley said the NDP will try to keep its bill alive for serious debate, but he expects the UCP majority to shut it down very quickly.

This is an uncomfortable topic for a government that does little to help.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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