Monday, May 07, 2007

Just Say No

The Alberta Tories continue their war on.....affordable housing and rent controls....delegates at the Alberta PC AGM reject rent controls.

"Rent controls and all other sorts of initiatives are sort of like a drug," delegate Jon Lord, a former Tory legislature member, told delegates prior to the vote. "They're very addictive, and they're difficult to get off of once you start down that road."

So having access to affordable housing makes you like a junkie. Under the Tories you can go join all the other folks who have addictions living on the street.

But of course the fact is we have had rent controls in Alberta before, and yes they were brought in however reluctantly by this very same PC party. But of course lets not let the facts get in the way of the myth of the free market.

Even Coun. Terry Cavanagh, who once had the job of phasing out provincial rent controls, urged Stelmach to look seriously at bringing them back.

Alberta introduced rent controls in 1975, when inflation soared. Coun. Terry Cavanagh was chairman of the provincial rent decontrol board that oversaw the phase-out of the controls between 1977 and 1980.

Cavanagh said Sunday that Stelmach should consider rent controls again, regardless how delegates voted. Its something the province has to look at, when you have people whose rents are going from $550 to $1,100.

Their wages arent going up 100 per cent, he said. Its going to be difficult for them to pay.
The Conservative convention heard rent controls are addictive and, once begun, are hard to end.

Cavanagh said controls phased out in an orderly fashion when he ran the decontrol board. Landlords were allowed limited annual increases so that, once an apartments rent exceeded a certain amount, controls came off.

That way the pricier units, presumably occupied by higher-income tenants, came off controls first, he said.

You might wonder what time period the PC's are stuck in....Rick Bell in his Calgary Sun column says the chosen people who attended the AGM come from the time of Howdy Doody...that glorious post WWII boom period which had no inflation....

Talk about the blind leading the blind. The majority of the Tory party are like the Beverly Hillbillies next to Unsteady Eddie's Green Acres cabinet.

They are a good cross section of Alberta ... in 1962.

Remember they didn't even know there was a boom until last year. Their crowd has been in power so long they don't care what mere mortals think.

That's why we are treated to the illogic of Lovable Lloyd Snelgrove, the power behind the Tory throne with the fancy handle of President of the Treasury Board, shamelessly thinking if he limits gouging to once a year instead of twice annually, it's "a good start."

Lloyd is the guy who doesn't make much sense when he defends scuttling the government's own task force's idea of two-year guidelines: inflation plus 2% plus more for added expenses, hardly a draconian design.

Then he says temporary rent controls won't encourage investment in new housing. Lloyd, read the affordable housing report. A cap on rent hikes is seen as a short-term deal.

Besides, without rent controls, where's all this supposed building of rental units now?

Yep during this long boom with no rent controls we have actually seen apartment construction decline in Alberta.

So if there are no rent controls what will the government do instead to stop the gouging?

"Gouging? Landlords are gouging? That's news to me" says Honest Ed the Chief Tory Salesman

Guess he missed the Stats Can Report on housing, and all the articles published in Calgary this past year.

Stelmach must have thought he looked compassionate when he talked to reporters about how upset he is with landlords gouging tenants with huge rent increases.

"I've heard about these absolutely astronomical rent increases that really are un-Albertan," Stelmach said in advance of his speech to the Tories' annual convention in Edmonton. "We have to look after the vulnerable. A thousand- dollars-a-month increase is beyond reason."

The $1,000-a-month increase was a reference to the story, raised by Alberta's NDP during question period on Thursday, of a 74-year-old widow in Edmonton facing a tripling of her rent from $595 a month to $1,595.

Indeed, for a few moments his message was all about compassion and how his government was angry with unscrupulous landlords. And he hinted that maybe his government will revisit its opposition to rent controls depending on what happens during debates at this weekend's convention.

But then some Calgary journalists began poking at Stelmach. Why was he so upset with the story of one Edmonton woman? Didn't he realize Calgary tenants have been hit by huge rent increases for months?

That's when Stelmach unwittingly unholstered the gun and took aim at himself.

"I wasn't aware of anybody getting a $1,000 increase," he said. Bang.

The Calgary journalists were gobsmacked. They have been writing stories about Calgarians being hit by $1,000 rent increases since last August. There have been so many of those stories that journalists have stopped reporting on them and have moved on to heartbreaking tales of tenants being gouged by $2,000 a month rent hikes.

And here's Stelmach saying he's not aware of what's going on in Alberta's largest city. He tried to look compassionate but ended up looking clueless

So the Tories solution is to meet landlords and tell them gouging, whatever that is, is not nice. And then threaten them...with rent controls.....I can see Boardwalk REIT shaking in their boots right now.....

The hikes are making a mockery of Stelmach's promise to do what's right for all Albertans. In a free enterprise economy, the kind the Stelmach government supports, he's doing what's right for all Alberta landlords. The only thing guiding the economic tiller is Adam Smith's invisible hand. The problem is this hand is steering the government towards the rocks.

Stelmach has ruled out rent controls as un-Conservative. Without rent controls, however, some landlords are jacking up people's rents so high that Stelmach has complained they're "un-Albertan."

So, what's a government to do when hoisted on its own ideological petard?

It goes behind closed doors and threatens landlords that unless they stop exercising their rights in a free market economy -- the very rights that the government purports to support -- the government might have to take drastic action against landlords, including, say government sources, the possibility of rent controls.

Lots of folks are coming to Alberta to work, lots of Alberta businesses need workers, but workers have nowhere to live. One would think that this simple equation workers = renters would sink into the troglodyte Tories tiny dinosaur brains.

Housing a priority for eastern jobseekers

Which means that once again we have a government that has no plan for dealing with the boom and the resulting housing crisis. Except to repeat that famous Klein line; "let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark."



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