Rent keeps going up, Alberta government is fighting solutions

The UCP should get on board with Janis Irwin's Bill 205 if they aren’t going to offer anything better.

As the end of my lease approaches, I get increasingly anxious about the possibility of my rent going up. With no rent control in Alberta, my landlord can decide to hike my rent as high as they like. Many Albertans are in the same position, and some tenants could lose their housing because of a rent increase. But the Government of Alberta is actively working against protections for Albertan renters.

Seemingly, the United Conservative Party (UCP) has no plans of their own to help. Instead, they have voted against a solution proposed by the Alberta New Democratic Party (NDP).

In December 2023, Janis Irwin, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and NDP housing critic, proposed a bill that could offer Albertans some relief. Bill 205, the Housing Statutes (Housing Security) Amendment Act, proposed a cap on rent increases of two per cent in the first two years. After two years, rent increases would be tied to inflation. While rent caps are not the end-all-be-all solution to the cost-of-living crisis, they can certainly help. And Irwin’s bill goes beyond rent caps — it would require minimum housing builds and a report on the housing built. 

It seems like an obvious and feasible way to help Albertans amid a cost-of-living and housing crisis. Yet, the UCP government didn’t give the bill the proper consideration it deserved. This is despite the amount of Albertans that are struggling and will continue to struggle without action from the UCP. 

Minister of Senior, Community, and Social Services Jason Nixon‘s office has said that Albertans will not see rent control. He claims rent control would be devastating to our economy and stall slow construction of new units. Contrary to what Nixon claims, studies have shown that rent control doesn’t actually decrease or stop construction for new rentals. Rent control and increasing the housing supply aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s concerning that Nixon’s unfounded opinion is informing the actions of the provincial government.

Bill 205 would have prioritized building housing while also controlling rising rents. Irwin’s bill showed that the government can protect renters while also making efforts to increase housing supply. This would provide tenants with some relief and security — something they desperately need right now. But that wasn’t a good enough reason for the UCP to support it.

The rent cap portion of the bill would’ve been a short-term — but much needed — solution. The other part of the bill would have ensured the provincial government is held accountable in building more housing. With this, the government would have to invest in housing to make sure the minimum number of units needed are built. And it’s clear that if there isn’t a minimum clearly outlined, the UCP will do less than what is needed.

However, the provincial government does have a plan — it just isn’t good enough. Over the next 10 years, the UCP plans to build 25,000 new affordable units. This only amounts to 2,500 per year. When compared to Alberta’s population surge, that’s barely even a dent. And recently, construction has slowed in Edmonton. The provincial government isn’t doing enough to address the issues Albertans are facing and it will only get worse with our growing population. Furthermore, not every Albertan is eligible for affordable housing — and they shouldn’t have to reach a critical point to get there.

The housing crisis we are facing in Alberta isn’t only due to lack of supply — it’s due to lack of affordable housing too. Without rent control, there’s little stopping landlords from hiking up rents to the point of pricing out their own tenants. New housing doesn’t guarantee that the cost of already built housing will go down — or at least not go up. Rent caps, however, could help with this.

Nixon has used British Columbia and Ontario as examples of rent control making housing more expensive. While B.C. and Ontario have some of the highest rents in Canada, it has nothing to do with rent control. B.C. and Ontario introduced rent control in response to the high rental costs, not the other way around. And without rent control, we are on track to see rental prices similar to Vancouver and Toronto. 

Between February 2022 and March 2023, the average rent for a one bedroom apartment in Alberta went from $1,074 to $1,272. A year later, the average rental in Alberta costs $1,531. At this rate, Alberta will see the same rental costs as B.C. and Ontario in only a few years. Rent control can help prevent that — but the UCP is fighting it in the name of saving money. However, if rents are allowed to keep rising at the rate they are, Albertans won’t be saving any money.

The UCP needed to step up and do what’s right for Albertans, but they didn’t. Albertans need both rent control and more units. Bill 205 would have meant they wouldn’t have to pick one or the other. But the UCP seems determined to give Albertans neither. The UCP should have supported Bill 205, especially since they aren’t offering anything better. 

Leah Hennig

Leah is the 2024-25 Opinion Editor at The Gateway. She is in her first year studying English and media studies. In her spare time, she can be found reading, painting, and missing her dog while drinking too much coffee.

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