Housing and affordability are core issues in Ottawa Centre

·4 min read
Ottawa Centre resident Appoline Kalonji says the conversation about housing policies seems to have a narrow focus. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa Centre resident Appoline Kalonji says the conversation about housing policies seems to have a narrow focus. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC - image credit)

Voters in Ottawa Centre say they want housing policy that targets affordability and availability, and not just for families looking to buy their first home.

Appoline Kalonji says existing housing policies are aimed at a narrow set of people who already have money or households with two incomes.

"I'm passionate about that because I want people in my category, my age [group], to be able to afford something that's so simple as housing," she said.

"Shelter is important, it's one of the basic necessities of life."

The 36-year-old said the pandemic sharpened her focus on the affordability of essentials, but rising prices in Centretown have put a down payment out of reach.

Kalonji, who has been renting near LeBreton Flats for more than a decade, said housing policy needs to address all levels of income, adding she is also concerned about levels of homelessness.

CBC News spoke to voters in Ottawa Centre and many lamented housing affordability — from increasing rents to the prospect of home-ownership being out of reach — as a major issue in the riding.

They also mentioned key issues like health care, student debt, climate change and social assistance for the most vulnerable.

Matthew Kupfer/CBC
Matthew Kupfer/CBC

Tristan Letourneau, a University of Ottawa student who rents near Little Italy, said inflation and affordability are his top priorities for this campaign.

"If we could reduce the price for rent, I think that would be [the top priority]," Letourneau said.

All four major provincial parties are talking about increasing housing supply.

The Liberals, NDP and Greens are placing an emphasis on increasing the housing stock managed by non-profits and co-operatives outside of market pricing.

Non-profits face cash crunch

The Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation is a non-profit tenant-directed housing organization with 50 properties across the city.

Executive director Sarah Button said while housing pressures in Ottawa Centre reflect broader trends in the province, it's also where a lot of new housing supply — denser infill, taller towers — are being built.

"Anyone who's looking for housing knows: just because it's infill, doesn't mean it's affordable," Button said.

That's why she said housing policy would need to address people's needs at different income levels, including those forced to make hard choices due to housing costs and suitability.

She said non-profits would benefit from faster approval of government financing for their projects.

"Where we may have something that we think is shovel-ready now, as interest rates climb you're going to have to commit more to that project in grant funding," she said.

WATCH | 'We need different priorities': NDP candidate lays out housing plan

Rent control not enough, advocate says

The NDP, Liberals and Greens each promise to bring back some form of rent control, which the Ford government removed from new builds in 2018.

Meg McCallum, interim executive director of the Alliance to End Homelessness, said existing rental stock isn't enough, even with rent control.

"Truthfully, the rents are already pretty high right now. Even if we control them at their current levels, there's a lot of people who aren't able to meet that monthly rent," McCallum said.

She says it's important to stop the loss of affordable units through so-called "renoviction" — when a landlord evicts a tenant for sometimes superficial renovations so they can raise rents — through tenant protections and landlord licensing.

Candidates respond

NDP candidate Joel Harden says his party would extend rent control to take place between tenancies to discourage evictions and create a rental registry so people could find out what the previous tenant paid.

He said landlords could have their renovations reviewed to see if they qualify for a rent increase.

"Then they can apply for an above-guideline rent increase, but it shouldn't be automatic," said Harden.

The Liberals and Greens also say they'd have landlords apply to raise rents for renovations.

Kate Porter/CBC
Kate Porter/CBC

The NDP, Liberals and Greens also propose vacancy taxes against developers sitting on property where building is approved instead of making units available.

Liberal candidate Katie Gibbs says her party's platform includes creating the Ontario Homebuilding Corporation to take on building, which would build 10,000 affordable units in Ottawa.

Gibbs said tapping into the non-profit sector to manage the "deeply affordable" units is close to her heart, as the former president of a co-op board.

"Not only is it a way to get a more affordable rent, but [non-profits] also just generate such an amazing sense of community," she said.

WATCH | Candidate says more rental housing is on the Liberal to-do list

Green Party candidate Shelby Bertrand said her party wants to combat the financialization of the housing sector.

She said their pledge to double social assistance for people on the Ontario Disability Support Program is also part of their housing policy.

"Those are the people who currently can't even afford the average rent in Ottawa Centre," she said. "Those people are our priority."

Progressive Conservative candidate Scott Healey was not available for an interview.

In a debate hosted by local community associations, Healey said lifting rent control contributed to the increase of rental supply in Toronto and Ottawa since 2018.

"Affordable housing is a supply issue," he said at the debate. "It's not more legislation, it's not more bureaucracy, it's not more taxes on people. It is simply a supply-and-demand issue."

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