Tag Archives: rent control

My vote | 2011

After posting what I believed to be a fair and balanced explanation of who I was voting for last year, I learned that there was no way you could announce and explain how you vote without alienating those on the other side.  Voting always has been and probably always will be (for those of us who actually vote) a personal thing that upsets those that see the world differently.   So a wise person would keep it quiet but I am going to keep up the practice of explaining who I am voting for and why.  As always, the comments are open for a rebuttal or even a good rebuke.

As most of you know, I grew up Progressive Conservative.  My first campaign I helped out on way Hon. Ray Meiklejohn’s 1986 campaign for what was then called Saskatoon Mayfair (old massive riding that was Saskatoon Northwest, Meewasin, and part of Saskatoon Massey Place).  I was twelve.  I later ran in Saskatoon Riversdale in 1995 where I narrowly (by 3000 or so votes) lost to Roy Romanow.  If he wasn’t Premier, beloved in the riding, accomplished, a better politician, well financed and far more popular than I was, I would have taken him.

In 2003 I was planning to throw my vote away and vote Saskatchewan Party (they have never run hard in the riding) when Hon. Eric Cline came to my door late one evening while campaigning.  I was his last house to door knock on and he was ahead of schedule so when I asked him some questions, he got all animated and passionate at the door and we had a good discussion about provincial policy, politics, and even some NDP politics.  It was a good enough discussion that I decided to vote NDP for the first time in my life (although I did have second thoughts while heading into the voting booth)

In 2006 or 2007, I think Linsay Martens emailed or Facebooked about Cam Broten’s campaign and asked me to check out his website and consider supporting him.  I checked out the website and I knew Cam would win but I was busy helping out with Ken Cheveldayoff’s campaign.  I don’t think I met Cam that campaign but while helping to elect a Saskatchewan Party candidate, we did vote for Cam in Saskatoon Massey Place as I thought Cam would be a good MLA and I have always been a firm believer in the need for a strong opposition.

Cam won by around 60% of the vote and I ran into him at the Community Christmas dinner for the Salvation Army and we had a good chat.  I think Cam was the first Saskatchewan politician to embrace Twitter (@cambroten) and we connected online.  Over the last couple of years I have found him easy to work with, tremendously helpful when I needed some help or a question answered and often would refer me to another MLA when I was ranting about something or had a question on Twitter.  To be honest he kind of raised my expectations for how approachable a MLA could and should be.

In the Legislature, he went toe to toe with Hon. Rob Norris and held the government accountable for a debacle over the Carlton Trail college mergers.  He didn’t score any cheap political points during those debates and I felt brought some restraint to a debate that could have gone ridiculously partisan.  While Cam is obviously partisan as a NDP MLA, we can talk about issues we disagree on.  This is a quality that not all elected officials have.

Voting NDP is not first nature for me.  I tried to like rent control and look how that turned out.  I can’t agree with a potash royalty rate review because I hate the idea of a government reneging on it’s word (a NDP government at that) with a royalty rate that was just signed.  I really like the Bright Future’s Fund but that idea was lifted from the Saskatchewan Liberals.  On top of that, I really like the Saskatchewan Party’s SAID program and I think overall, the Wall government deserves another four years.

Re-Elect Cam BrotenDespite the fact that the NDP seem to be struggling in the polls, I am going to vote for Cam Broten.  I still believe MLAs matter and Cam does an excellent job.  An effective government needs and effective opposition and Cam has shown that he can help hold them accountable in the Legislature, the media, and online.  As a resident of the riding, the issues I have, he experiences as well.  In addition to living in the riding, he is a tireless campaigner; talking to neighbours and constituents online, on the doorstep, and through his involvement in community events.  There were many days over the last four years in the freezing cold or blazing heat that his Twitter feed said, “knocking doors in ___________”. 

His first four years were excellent and he deserves another four.  The voters in Planet S magazine agree with me (they named him the best MLA two years in a row).  I have high expectations for my elected officials.  Not many have met them over the years but Cam has exceeded them.

Column: Rent Control is Bad Policy

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

On a cold day in February, the NDP breached the topic of rent controls in Saskatchewan, with party Leader Dwain Lingenfelter calling for "next generation" rent controls that cap increases or only come into effect when vacancy rates are extremely low.

Justice Minister Don Morgan gave what has become a pretty standard response from everyone who opposes rent controls: "We think it’s a disincentive to having developers put more property on the market."

Despite a lot of opposition to the idea, the NDP has kept talking about the idea, partly because many across Saskatchewan are overwhelmed by the rent they pay.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation points out that rent in Saskatoon increased 10 per cent annually from 2006 to 2010. This brought up the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment to $950 a month in 2011 and will slightly increase to $975 in 2012. While a lot of apartments have come on the market, CMHC forecasts a net migration of more than 5,000 people to Saskatoon in each of the next two years, which means that rents will remain high, driven by strong demand for both new houses and apartments.

Higher rents are not always a bad thing. For a long time, Saskatoon had rent that was well below the national average. Increasing rental rates gave property owners a chance to make some needed improvements to their properties.

The quality of apartments has increased dramatically since the boom started and we started to see rental increases. Those improvements did come with a price for those living in the rental units. Apartments that rented for $650 five years ago are now more than $1,000. Even CMHC points out that Saskatoon has become a much more expensive place to live, which hurts our competitiveness as a city.

Rent control is the quickest way to solve the problem, and versions of it have been used in growing cities across North America.

To promote investment in new apartments, rent control often exempts new construction. New York City exempts apartments built after 1974 from rent control. The idea is that landlords can recoup their investment long before the rent is capped. For buildings constructed after 1974, landlords can opt into the program in exchange for tax breaks.

The problem with this is that, at the point where a building needs reinvestment as well as new revenue to pay for it, it loses that option and older buildings often deteriorate quickly.

Another approach is rent stabilization. Landlords are free to set prices of empty suites at whatever rent they can get. Once an apartment is rented, future increases are capped at a set rate. The idea is that it gives some security for both tenants and landlords.

This protects renters from unrealistic and unexpected rental increases, and it benefits landlords by providing tenants an incentive to stay and be responsible. Rate equalization also serves as an incentive for improvements in many cities. Landlords in many cities can apply for rental increases above the equalized amount if they make improvements to buildings. This can cut both ways, as tenants can apply for rent reductions if their apartments are not kept up to code.

Sadly, it never works that way in the real world.

As has been documented in San Francisco and other booming American cities, landlords were holding formal interviews or demanding credit reports (something we now see in Saskatoon) before choosing tenants because there are never enough rent-controlled units to meet the demand. Those who are most likely to benefit from a rent-controlled apartment are often the last to get it. Economist Paul Krugman put it this way: "In uncontrolled housing markets, landlords don’t want grovelling. They would rather have money."

Even if you are lucky enough to get a rent-controlled apartment, you also have some landlords looking for ingenious ways to evict clients so the apartment can be rented out at a higher price.

In Saskatchewan, rent control may solve a shortterm political problem, but it doesn’t solve longer term housing and economic problems. With rental increases predicted to rise incrementally in 2012, it may not even be needed.

What is needed is a continuation of the programs that address the supply issue. Existing programs such as the capital grants for affordable rental units, tax abatements for multi-unit housing, and forgivable loans for the creation of secondary suites have paid off. The rental supplement helps meet the gap between high rents and lower income families.

Rent control may be good politics, and in the middle of an election campaign that is important. However, it remains poor economic policy. There are better alternatives for both renters and our cities.

jordon@jordoncooper.com

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