N.S. housing minister considers keeping rent control in the short term
John Lohr says he's looking at all options while trying to address the province's housing crisis
Housing Minister John Lohr said his government is considering all options when it comes to addressing Nova Scotia's housing crisis, and that includes extending rent control beyond the current state of emergency.
"We're looking at what possible solutions there are, I am looking at that," Lohr told reporters following a cabinet meeting Thursday in Halifax.
"I'm very concerned about what I think are egregious increases in rent and we're looking at all of our options."
The temporary cap that limits rent increases to two per cent was introduced last fall in the face of a housing crisis gripping the province, with people struggling to afford a house or stay in their apartment under the threat of renoviction. Tent cities have been popping up in the Halifax area.
Minister 'disappointed' with size of some rent increases
The former Liberal government's cap was tied to the existence of the public health state of emergency and is scheduled to end when the order is lifted or on Feb. 1, 2022, whichever comes first.
Advocates and tenants, however, have raised concerns about getting notices of very high rent increases, sometimes as high as 100 per cent, for when the cap is lifted. They worry about an explosion of homelessness just as winter sets in.
While Premier Tim Houston and his housing minister have said they believe increased housing supply, not rent control, is the long-term solution, Lohr told reporters Thursday he continues to meet with stakeholders and will consider all potential avenues to help, including extending the rent cap.
Lohr said he's not happy with the size of some proposed rent increases he's hearing about.
"That does bother me personally and I'm disappointed with that," he said.
Looking for answers
Lohr said he talked Thursday morning with Halifax Mayor Mike Savage about the housing situation in the municipality and both share the same concerns.
City officials have said the province dropped the ball on the issue, leaving HRM scrambling to deal with shelters that are at capacity and tent cities. In some cases, that's led to violence, clashes between police and the public, and accusations of governments not doing enough to help.
Lohr said it would be easy for him to point to what the previous government did or did not do on the housing file, but he'd prefer to look forward.
"In my life when I've dealt with difficult issues, I've always come to the conclusion that the question is not, 'What did I do wrong?' but 'What do I do now?' I think that's a more constructive question than blaming," he said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said he's yet to have a conversation with the premier on the matter, but prior to Thursday he was concerned the government was letting its general opposition to rent control get in the way of what is an obvious short-term solution.
The Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia ran a full-page ad in Thursday's Chronicle Herald to speak against what it called unfair rental increases and calling for everyone to work together to find solutions.
"The actions of a few do not represent the majority of professional landlords and property owners operating in Nova Scotia," reads the ad in part. It's signed by 25 rental companies, including some of the largest in the province.
Burrill said it's clear some landlords have no intention of waiting for the housing stock to increase before making major increases to their rent, and that's why the government needs to stick with rent control until there is sufficient affordable housing.
"We don't disagree that supply is the answer to the problem," he told reporters. "The question is, what is going to happen to all those people who are going to face the dramatic, unaffordable rent increases before the supply is brought forward?"
Liberal Leader Iain Rankin has also called for temporary rent control to remain in place until the housing stock can catch up with demand.
Lohr, the MLA for Kings North, is also a landlord. He has two houses he owns in conjunction with family members in the Annapolis Valley that they rent. He's asked the province's conflict of interest commissioner to review whether his connection to those properties is a problem.