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The Alberta legislature will soon consider — and almost certainly shoot down — Bill 205, a key measure to protect renters from exorbitant housing costs by placing a limit on rent increases.  

That’s because Bill 205 was not only put forward by the opposition NDP, but it also dares to impose limits on rent increases in the province amidst a rapidly worsening rental housing crisis. Rents rose by over 15 per cent in Alberta last year — higher than any other province — with rents in Calgary and Edmonton increasing faster than in any other major Canadian city. 

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While Alberta has been hit the hardest, the rest of Canada isn’t faring much better. Rapidly increasing rents, few affordable options, and the rising cost of living are putting renters in deeply precarious positions. The national rental vacancy rate declined to a historic low of 1.5 per cent last year — well below the three per cent rate considered healthy — while rents increased by a record eight per cent.

Half of renters are worried about being able to pay their rent, with one in five living in “core housing need,” meaning that their housing is unaffordable, overcrowded, and/or in need of major repairs. By comparison, this is nearly four times the rate of homeowners who are in core housing need. 

Despite recent attention from the public and politicians of all stripes, Canada’s housing affordability crisis is not new. From the post-war era until the 1970s, our governments were major players in housing, from regulating rents and markets to building affordable housing. However, for the past several decades, governments have steadily withdrawn from regulating and investing in housing as a public good, instead deferring to private markets to fill the gaps.  

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This government divestment has contributed to the current rental housing crisis and the deeply destructive phenomenon of rent gouging, where private landlords are able to charge rents far higher than what is necessary to cover their expenses and make a reasonable profit. Even though housing is a basic necessity and human right, rent gouging is legal everywhere in Canada

As the housing crisis worsens, governments continue to insist that the solution is more supply, while developers claim that regulating rents will prevent new housing from being built. To be sure, new supply is a critical part of solving the housing puzzle. However, the affordability of the supply is equally important and we are currently losing more affordable housing than we can build. Moreover, studies have shown that regulating rents does not deter housing development. In fact, despite cancelling its temporary rent cap in 2022, New Brunswick saw new housing construction decrease the following year. 

Protecting our existing affordable rental housing — and the people living there — through strong rent regulations is crucial to tackling the compounding housing, affordability, and cost-of-living crises. When renters have stable, secure, and affordable homes, they have stronger social and economic outcomes from better physical and mental health to greater productivity and economic participation.  

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In the midst of Alberta’s escalating rental housing crisis, Bill 205 presents a critical opportunity to ensure that the human rights, well-being, and security of renters are prioritized over excessive landlord profits. Alberta is no longer calling with the promise of affordable housing, so now it’s time for the government to listen to the growing calls to protect renters and preserve affordability through strong rent regulation. 

Sara Beyer is the manager of policy at the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights (CCHR), working to develop housing policy solutions to tackle Canada’s most pressing housing issues. She holds a master’s degree in public policy and administration and has worked in the non-profit, public and private sectors on housing affordability and Indigenous-settler relations, including at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association.

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