Renters across Canada are in crisis, facing growing housing insecurity due to the high cost and scarcity of housing options that meet their needs. Across the country, the cost of rental housing has increased rapidly over the past decade, and right now, half of renters are worried about being able to pay their rent. When affordable housing options are not available, lower income renters cannot afford other basics like food and medication, and are forced to live in precarious, inadequate and sometimes unsafe housing.
At the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights, we hear these stories every day – renters who are in fear of losing their homes because they cannot afford the latest rent increase, or who are living in poorly maintained or overcrowded homes that put their health at risk, but have nowhere else they can afford to go.
Recent polls show that increasing rental costs and the lack of affordable rental housing is a serious concern for 95% of Canadians. Every day, people across Canada are being pushed out of their homes. This is unacceptable and cannot continue – renters deserve fair rents and basic legal protections, and it’s time for our governments to step in and help ensure all renters can afford the housing they need.
The housing affordability crisis did not happen overnight.
At one time, our governments took a more active role in supporting our housing systems with programs and policies aimed at ensuring that housing remains affordable for Canadians across the income spectrum. From the 1940s to 1970s, governments across Canada played key roles in regulating housing markets and investing in the development of social and purpose-built rental housing. However, beginning in the 1980s and through the 2010s, governments progressively withdrew from their role regulating and investing in housing in the public interest. Their decision to do so has directly contributed to the current housing affordability crisis and growing rates of homelessness.
It is not a coincidence that housing costs and rates of homelessness both grew during the 40-year period when governments scaled back their support and oversight of the housing system. This withdrawal has had many consequences, including rising housing costs, the stalling of construction of rental housing, and greater housing insecurity for low and middle income renters.
It does not have to be this way.
Now is the time for our governments to re-engage with the role they once played supporting a healthy housing system that protects renters and ensures they have a secure place to call home. A key way they can do this right now is by ensuring basic protections like rent regulations are in place across the country. Governments have a role to play in regulating businesses to promote healthy markets and protect consumers, and that must extend to rental housing. Currently, although some provincial and territorial laws provide a degree of rent regulation, renters are not adequately protected against excessive rent increases anywhere in Canada.
In the absence of strong laws that regulate rents, private landlords are free to charge rents far higher than what is necessary to cover their expenses and make a reasonable profit. This practice is known as rent gouging, and it’s causing rents to climb excessively across Canada to the point that half of renters are worried about being able to pay their rent. In many places, price gouging laws prohibit businesses from taking advantage of emergencies to overcharge for basic necessities. Yet, even though housing is a basic necessity and a human right, rent gouging is legal everywhere in Canada.
Also, the regulations that are in place vary across the country. For example, some provinces have rules for calculating allowed rent increases above the limits, but the formulae used are broken, allowing landlords to impose excessive increases that widen their profit margins at renters’ expense. Other provinces allow unlimited rent increases across the board.
Long-term solutions don’t need to take a long time.
Solving Canada’s housing affordability crisis requires cross-governmental and cross-sectoral collaboration on both long- and short-term initiatives. The creation of new affordable housing is key, but requires an extensive investment of time, resources and collaboration to implement. In the meantime, it is crucial that we protect the few affordable homes that still exist. One quick and cost-effective way this can be done is through provincial and territorial governments implementing strong rent regulations to ensure that rents are fair and renters have basic protections to live securely in their homes.
Last year, hundreds of people across the country joined our call on the federal government to take action to ensure that all renters across Canada have a secure place to call home. Now we’re calling on all provincial and territorial governments to do their part.
Join us in this push to save renters’ homes and demand action on affordability by writing to your provincial or territorial representatives.
Housing is a human right, and it’s time for our governments to take action to protect renters’ right to live securely in their homes.