ab-housing-protest

Hundreds demonstrated at the legislature in Edmonton in hopes of convincing the government to do more for affordable housing. ((CBC News))

More than300 people chanted "homes for all" during a noon-hour rally on the steps of the Alberta legislature Thursday to protest soaring housing costs and huge rent increases.

The NDPorganized the demonstration to persuade the provincial government to do more to address the affordable housing problem.

Laurie Weaver, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair to get around, lives in an apartment in northeast Edmonton. Shepays $800 a month but is looking for a new place because her apartment building is going to be converted to condominiums.

So far she has only found apartments that cost $1,000, equal to her monthly income, she said.

"I'd like to eat once in a while, but there's just nothing out there. Nothing. About the only thing I can afford is a box on the street and I don't want to live on the street."

NDP Leader Brian Mason, who helped organize the rally, said people are angry that Alberta's Tory government refuses to bring in rent controls, even for the short term.

"It's really a sad day in Alberta when the government has so little compassion," he said.

A government housing task force recommended rent controls, but the Tory caucus decided they would cause developers to stop building new apartments.

Earlier this month, Alberta's housing minister,Ray Danyluk, met face-to-face with nearly two dozen people who have been hit with huge rent increases.

Premier Ed Stelmach says $285 million is being invested to create new affordable housing units and he continues to resist calls for rent controls, saying they would scare investors away.

Condo conversions more popular

According to the CMHC, the price of a two-bedroom apartment in Calgaryin October, 2006 was$960, up 19.5 percent from the year before. In Edmonton the price was $808, up from 9.9 per cent the year before.

According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation,Calgary onlysaw two new apartment projects builtlast year.

Lai Sing Louie, a senior market analyst, said condo conversions continue to be a much more popular choice for developers because they're cheaper and more profitable.

Louie says 18 per cent of condo conversions are rented out by investors for about 30 per cent higher than regularapartment rents.

Grant Neufeld, with the Calgary Housing Action Initiative, saidnon-profit organizations that build affordable housing need access to land, but there's a catch.

"You can't give land to a non-profit affordable housing agency without paying a capital gains taxon that land, which makes it prohibitively expensive to donate land for this purpose."

Neufeld said Calgary needs to follow the lead of cities like Vancouver that require new developments to include a certain number of affordable housing and rental units.

With files from the Canadian Press