Task force recommends rent control in Alberta

A task force charged with coming up with solutions to Alberta's affordable housing crunch is recommending a provincial cap on rent increases for the next two years.

A task force charged with coming up with solutions to Alberta's affordable housing crunch is recommendinga provincial cap on rent increases for the next two years,a committee member has confirmed.

New DemocratMLA Ray Martinsaid Tuesday the group's members weren't in total agreement about the need to adopt suchrules to prevent landlords from substantially increasing rentover a short period of time, butthe ideahas been put forward as a recommendation intheir unreleasedreport.

"In the short run you have to realize that the unbridled market is not working. Thousands of people are in stress so a government has to operate and do what is right for all of the people," Martin said.

Real estate values and rents have soared across the province in recent years, leading to worries Alberta will be less attractive to workers desperately needed to fill labour shortages.

When theaffordable housing task force toured the province earlier this year,Martin said,they heard stories of people worried about not being able to afford their rental homesin abooming economy.

Political opposition

Many Tory MLAs are opposed to the idea, arguing rent controls stifle criticalnew developments as the province's population continues to grow.

Edmonton-Mill Creek MLA Gene Zwozdesky said there has to be another option.

"I'm not favouring rent controls. I've never favoured interfering with the marketplace, but somebody has to step up and have some kind of a discussion to see what other things are possible within the free-market system without government interfering."

Martin is calling on Municipal Affairs Minister Ray Danyluk to release the report so the public can see all the recommendations.

Danyluksaid he won't do that until government caucus members have a chance to review it and decide which recommendations to accept.

"My colleagues can speak against rent controls if they so wish, but I hold the position of the ministry, and I hold the position of the recommendations from that task force," Danyluk said. "We need to do what's right for Alberta as a whole."

The report recommends rent increases be capped at inflation levels, plus two per cent. Landlords facing extraordinary costs related to renovations or high utility bills could apply to a government panel for a larger increase, Canadian Press reports.

Rents would only be allowed to go up once a year, instead of twice, as they often do now. Landlords also would have to give tenants a one-year eviction notice if an apartment building was being converted to condos, an increase from the current six months.

The report also calls for more money for homeless shelters.

The task force, chaired by Len Webber, MLA for Calgary-Foothills, travelled to nine Alberta communities this month to talk about the issue — Calgary, Edmonton, Elk Point, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Hinton, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Red Deer.

The 16-member task force comprisesMLAs, councillors and representatives of industry and the non-profit sector.