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Yellowknifer editorial: The Omicron conundrum

In all honesty, “Omicron conundrum” is a better headline than a description of the challenges we all face in 2022, landlords and renters alike.
As residents of a remote capital city with a high cost of living, Yellowknifers deserve a regulatory regime that protects them from double-digit rent increases. NNSL file photo

In all honesty, “Omicron conundrum” is a better headline than a description of the challenges we all face in 2022, landlords and renters alike.

It’s some rhythmic shorthand for “the pressures of the pandemic, and it will continue to find and seep through the cracks in our social safety net.”

The virus makes the difficult things in our lives more difficult and creates new difficulties to spread our worries around. One of the longstanding worries is paying rent, which for a few Yellowknifers who would talk about it last week and probably many others is going to cost more. In one case, it looks like it’s going to be about $100 more per month – the equivalent of between half and all of one of the other bills.

For another tenant in the city who asked to speak without being identified, the increase is 16.6 per cent, or $300 every month. Who among us has room in the budget for a shock like that?

Granted, the people and companies who own the rental buildings are under pressure, too. Some of them are Yellowknifers, some are not, but all are subject to the regulatory regime in the Northwest Territories, which sadly does nothing to prevent an increase in the double-digit range, or any range.

Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson said he has constituents concerned about rent increases on this scale, but without rent controls, there is “no remedy.”

After two years of pandemic economics, there can only be so much time left before the other shoe drops. Prices are going up, from groceries to fuel (which are related). Inflation has been a hot topic as the opposition Conservatives have grilled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during Question Period on when it will end.

It’s fertile ground for a magisterial roast. After the most recent federal election, it’s clear most Canadians are content to let a left-leaning party guide us through the pandemic with a less-than-steely eye on the budget. But eventually, the country has to find its feet again and the money has to come from somewhere.

There’s no easy answer. But one thing that’s a no-brainer is that in a place like Yellowknife, where there is a significant population of vulnerable people, housing challenged and working poor and where such a significant proportion of the rental stock is owned by one publicly-traded company that issues dividends (payments based on earnings) to its shareholders every month, there should be some protection for the people.

Johnson suggests that more units and more owners to compete for tenants would help correct the problem. We would humbly suggest that a regulatory regime with teeth that is capable of limiting rent increases to some reasonable facsimile of inflation would probably be needed, too, in order to land that plane.