‘We are stretched to our limits’: Advocates push for extension of Ontario rent freeze

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Monique Gordon is worried about her rent hike next year as the pandemic continues.

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The single mom was laid off at the start of the pandemic and had to make do with money from Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit, which gave her only a few hundred dollars a month after paying for rent, utilities and her phone.

With Ontario’s pandemic rent freeze set to expire at the end of the year, Gordon’s monthly rent payments are set to increase by $15 in January. The Toronto resident has been called back to his job as a security guard, but is concerned about potentially being laid off again while paying more in rent.

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“It’s hard to try and make money,” said Gordon, who exploded during an interview. “We can see in the blink of an eye, we can lose things.”

Several tenant advocacy groups say they want the provincial government to extend the current rent freeze to help those who have not yet fully recovered from the economic fallout of COVID-19.

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ACORN, which advocates for low- and middle-income residents, said it plans to write to the province on an extension of the rent freeze and a ban on the above-guideline rent increase. For 2022, the provincial has set an increase guideline of 1.2 percent.

Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, president of ACORN’s East York chapter in Toronto, stressed that a rent increase in 2022 will only make matters worse for many tenants struggling to pay.

She said she talked to a senior on a fixed income who has a little more than $70 a month left over after paying rent.

“Imagine his rent is $14 more. Now, how much is that (leftover)? How are you going to live with that kind of money?” said Ruiz Vargas. “It’s going to be tough.”

The provincial government passed legislation last fall to freeze fares to 2020 levels. This means that rents for most of the rented units covered under the Residential Tenancy Act have not increased this year.

The one exception was rent increases in excess of provincial guidelines that were approved by the Landlord and Tenant Board before October 1, 2020.

Dania Majeed, a staff attorney at the Advocacy Center for Tenants Ontario, said there are many tenants who have lost their jobs or seen their income cut that are in a particularly vulnerable position.

Majid said his center would like to see the provincial rent freeze extended because the economy has not fully recovered from the pandemic and wages often do not rise at rent rates.

“(There is a rent increase) is going to create great hardship for many tenants who haven’t had an income… when things are still so tight for them,” she said.

He said defaulters would be in a particularly tough spot once the pandemic hit.

“Those tenants are going to pay even more out of pocket and maybe that’s not the money they have, or they’re having trouble making ends meet,” she said.

Elena Lowen, an organizer with a tenants’ union for apartment buildings in Toronto’s East York area, said she had to dip into her savings and cut expenses to have a roof over her head after closings at the start of the pandemic. It fell

Lowen said he had received notices of a 5.2 percent rent increase in 2020 before the freeze law took effect. While she has yet to be notified of a rent increase for next year, she is concerned about being able to face a potential increase further as her working hours at Toronto daycare are still at pre-pandemic levels. Haven’t come back till now.

“We are working class tenants. We cannot face many rent increases in such a (short) period, especially in times of pandemic, when we are already struggling,” she said. are stretched to their limits.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said the government has taken “decisive action” to protect and support the province’s 1.7 million rental homes during the pandemic.

It said that included rent freezes, temporarily halting enforcement of residential evictions, and providing more than $1 billion to municipalities to support housing and homelessness programs.

“Our government continues to work with all of our partners to ensure that Ontarians have a safe, stable and affordable place to call home,” said ministry spokesman Matt Carter.

The Ontario Landlords Association did not respond to a request for comment.

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