Two of three contenders running to be the next premier of Nova Scotia have added affordable housing planks, including rent control, to their platforms.
Labi Kousoulis and Iain Rankin, who left their cabinet posts to run for the party leadership, announced Thursday that if they win the race in February, they would temporarily limit annual rent increases to between four and 10 per cent.
This comes less than a week after hundreds of people rallied in downtown Halifax calling for rent control, and in the same year that rental vacancy in Halifax hit a record low of one per cent.
Many housing advocates, renters and some opposition politicians say the whole province, and Halifax in particular, are in a housing crisis.
"What we have is a supply issue," Kousoulis said in an interview. "Once we get the supply equation figured out, then we'll have an automatic relief on the pricing as well."
Kousoulis's policy would apply to existing leases for the next four years. If the Liberals are still in power and under Kousoulis's leadership after the first three years of his rent-control policy, the policy would be reviewed with the possibility of renewing it.
"Clearly there's a problem here with people that are being evicted," said Rankin. "And some of the increases coming on rents are just simply not reasonable."
Eviction ban, rent caps
Rankin's housing plan includes reintroducing an eviction ban — which Nova Scotia had in place from March to July this year — and keeping it in place for as long as Nova Scotia is under a declared public health emergency.
As for rent control, Rankin said he would apply a four per cent cap to units less than 15 years old, and a 10 per cent cap to units more than 15 years old. It would last for the duration of the pandemic and would then be reviewed by a housing task force — something he proposes to create.
Kousoulis pitched a similar committee of stakeholders to look for solutions to the affordable housing crunch. The two leadership hopefuls said municipal governments would be invited to join the stakeholder groups.
Tax breaks proposed
They also proposed tax breaks for new rental housing — the details of which would be decided by their stakeholder groups — to incentivize private development and make it easier for non-profits to build.
The proposals for rent control mark a distinct break from current government policy. The government of Premier Stephen McNeil has resisted calls for rent control from the opposition NDP for more than two years.
McNeil and his housing minister, Chuck Porter, have recently said they don't think rent control works because it could discourage new private-market development, and Kousoulis does not disagree with them.
"Rent control gives certainty to those who have an apartment now," Kousoulis said. "It does not supply more units.
"Now, having said that, we are in an area where some developers can pretty much charge whatever they want and get away with it, because if you don't have anywhere to live, sometimes you bite the bullet and you spend a lot more than you can afford or even what should be a proper rent."
Similarly, Rankin said there's competing evidence about the effectiveness of rent control, and he does not think it works as a single policy option.
Speaking to reporters Thursday, NDP leader Gary Burrill said the fact that Rankin and Kousoulis are former cabinet ministers who want to take a different approach than the McNeil government on rent control "shows we're in a situation that is sharp and that is urgent and it does require a government move."
No housing strategy released by Delorey
Randy Delorey, the other Liberal leadership contender, has not released a housing strategy, or any other detailed policy proposals in his campaign, so far.
In an emailed statement, he told CBC he believes it's important to ensure housing is affordable and tenants are treated fairly. Improving housing affordability will require public and private dollars, he said.
"Any affordable housing plan needs to be discussed with the people it will impact. That's what I'm focused on right now," he said.
"We need careful and considerate thought given to this issue because it is a very complex issue that requires more than a few bullet points."
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