Not All Studies Are Created Equal – Ward 33 E-Blast September 28th

I got really steamed on Monday morning while listening to the radio program “CBC Metro Morning”. Host Matt Galloway was responding to a study released by the GTA Landlords’ lobby group by having the Provincial Minister of Housing, Peter Milczyn, on his show.

Matt quoted the landlords’ study and condo super-salesman Brad Lamb, who maintains that extending rent controls to newer apartment buildings and condo rentals would be devastating. The landlords’ study claimed that all rental development would stop and young people would be unable to find a place to rent. The study insists that 1000 approved apartment units that were to be developed have now been hastily converted to condo projects. That’s the equivalent of about 5 apartment buildings across the entire GTA. Where these conversions have taken place, no one can say. In the City of Toronto, converting an approval from a condo to rental is an instant yes, based on need. Asking to do the opposite, changing rental to condo, is a city policy no-no requiring a long fight through Council. Rental is always our choice.

Let’s be clear. Whether rent controlled or not, owning and managing rental buildings in Toronto is a lucrative business. The profit margin on a rental building is such that one seldom sees a building of 100 apartments or more run by Mom and Pop. Buildings are bought, sold and traded regularly for profit by the owners, while other companies reap still more profit by contracting to property manage the units. A successful and responsible landlord once assured me that in Toronto this has been the case since cement slab buildings began popping up after World War II.

In Ward 33, five new rental apartment buildings and a rental townhouse complex have opened up since my election in 2003. Another building, just about finished, was originally to be a condo but the developer asked to convert to rental based on how profitably he had sold 2 other rental buildings. East of the DVP on the old Don Howson’s car dealership site, yet another condo approval has been converted to a purpose-built rental design and started construction. That is a total of 7 apartment buildings and 40 townhouses newly built to be rented out.

123 Parkway Forest Drive, available for rent this summer. While the rent is steep at $1900 for 2 bedrooms near a subway, it will be subject to all of the same guideline increase rent controls as neighbouring buildings.

The point I am hoping to make here is that we should beware of the market study authored by that market’s own profit-makers. In the case of Toronto’s rental market, one could even use the word “profiteers”. If you are an association representing landlords, then of course you would present to the news media a study to make the case that rent controls are bad.

The best government interventions inject fairness into a situation that has fallen out of whack. That is why Cities ask Provinces to make interventions from time to time. Landlords will always charge as much as the market will bear. When your building is in a densely populated city, one can drive tenants onto the street with a thousand dollar increase and still find a wealthy tenant who is “between home purchases”. Not all landlords, but certainly many, will always push too far. Then it’s time to intervene.

In New York State, government debate over the need for rent controls began as early as 1917. New York City assemblymen kept bringing forward bills and landlords kept shooting them down by lobbying small town assemblymen in the State capital of Albany. These assemblymen were unconcerned with tenant abuses in the Big Apple. The NYC rent control program finally imposed by the State in 1943 is still in use there today. It is one of the most expensive cities in which to live, but there is some sense of fair treatment.

When Councillor Ana BailaoCity Council’s Official Housing Advocate and Mayor Tory go to Queen’s Park to make their case for housing policy reform, rent controls and especially funds, they are meeting with a former Toronto City Councillor in Minister Milczyn. The three politicians can have their most urgent conversations knowing that the decisions they make will be treated fairly in both the City Council Chambers and in the Provincial Legislature. In this modern age of easy travel and broadband communications, no politician in either house of government can ignore Toronto’s need for fair, affordable market rental accommodation against the backdrop of rampant multi-million dollar home listings.

In the coming months you will learn how Toronto will be making use of some Provincial interventions that have added almost $400 million to the City’s shelter and housing budgets. I met with Bailao, to get a preview of how City Staff will recommend we make use of the new funds from the Minister of Housing. Reports will be presented to Council very soon that distribute the $390 million using guiding principles of fairness and expedience. The benefit will be spread across three areas: repairs to existing social housing, homelessness supports that guide individuals back into housing and lastly, affordable rent supplements in already existing private apartment buildings such as we have throughout Ward 33.

While more properties make their way to the high end real estate listings, like the “House of the week” shown below, it is only fair that we should see more families coming off the long wait list for low income housing and fewer young tenants facing eviction by uncontrolled rent hikes.

House of the week: 16 Alamosa Drive