One audience member at a recent candidates forum cried out in opposition when a Great Slave candidate proposed rent controls as a way to address cost of living pressures in his electoral district.
“Boo for rent control,” said John Westergreen, a small landlord in the city, before repeating it for added emphasis.
The interruption, which took place at the NWT Chamber of Commerce and the NWT and Nunavut Chamber of Mines all-candidates forum on Sept. 10 was the only one during three hours of three forums where moderator Rene Comeau had to interject. She asked audience members to keep their questions or comments for the end of the forum.
The incident was prompted when candidate Patrick Scott suggested rent control as one of numerous possible answers to a chamber question about the rising cost of living.
“We have a combination of 24 apartment buildings and condo facilities in Great Slave and they are primarily controlled by two landlords – mostly by one,” said Scott.
“We may need to look at a form of rent control to enable people on lower incomes (to have) affordable housing. I have had three or four constituents telling me they were planning on leaving because of the cost of living.”
The suggestion was one of several ideas Scott proposed for lowering living costs, including equalizing domestic and small business power rates and providing a living wage in the North.
He later clarified his rent control point during the audience question session when he was asked if he considered the implications of making homelessness worse by freezing rent.
“If we want to make housing more affordable for lower income residents and those on fixed incomes, or those who have families with only one income, is it practical to continually subsidize rents as our population grows to make it affordable to live, or should we use other tools such as looking at the impacts of rent control to help stabilize the cost of living?” asked Scott.
“I’m not saying rent control is the answer nor am I saying we need to ignore the possibility of rent controls.”
The Great Slave forum was the second of the night, following the all-candidates forum for Frame Lake and preceding the forum for Kam Lake.
Scott’s opponent Katrina Nokleby favoured expanding funding for programs with the Arctic Energy Alliance to help with home retrofitting and ultimately bring down power rates. She also suggested expanding funding for agricultural production and food security and pushing on with the Taltson hydroelectricity program.
But she was doubtful of the rent control idea, saying it could lead to unforeseen problems.
”If you try to push something off onto the private sector to accommodate something that (the government) wants, all the private sector will do is figure out a way to continue to make profit at the same level and somehow that will make tenants of the building suffer,” she said. “I don’t think that is really a good way to move forward.”
Both Nokleby and Scott liked the idea of introducing a home buyer’s incentive and both were concerned about the monopoly of private landlords in the electoral district.
Kam Lake candidates
The rent control issue spilled over into the third panel of candidates of the electoral forum as Kam Lake candidates took the question from Westergreen.
He asked that they join him in his opposition to rent control.
“I wasn’t aware rent control was an issue in the context of being on the legislative agenda,” said Robert Hawkins, adding that the idea of rent control is to ensure there is a “balanced equation” between renters and landlords and that neither is being taken advantage of.
“Public discussion needs to happen if it becomes an issue on the public agenda.”
Kieron Testart and Abdullah Al-Mahamud agreed that there need to be revisions to the Residential Tenancy Act as it is too vague and does not serve the needs of landlords or tenants, they said.
Testart said MLAs should review the “structural” aspects of the act to see if answers can be found in helping deal with the high cost of rent before entertaining the idea of rent control.
Al-Mahamud said he sympathized with landlords who can face damage costs from tenants who abuse property and that landlords need better protection.
Both Rommel Silverio and Caitlin Cleveland said both landlords and tenants need to be protected and that further discussion would have to be had between parties in dealing with issues of high rent.
Only Cherish Winsor explicitly opposed the idea of rent control, but called for more land access for developers to provide more rental housing and stabilize rent prices.
Five Facts about Great Slave candidates
- experience as environmental coordinator at Giant Mine care and maintenance contractor
- British Columbia native, moved to Yellowknife in 2006
- 13-year consultant in engineering, earthworks and ice engineering fields
- 12-year volunteer with Girl Guides of Canada and director with YWCA
- two-term councillor of regulatory body for engineering of NAPEG
- small businessperson, co-owner of Birchwood Coffee K’o
- moved to Yk in 1975 as CBC cameraman/producer and covered Berger Inquiry
- land claim and self-government negotiator for the Tlicho agreement, member negotiator of Dehcho agreement with GNWT
- unsuccessful candidate Great Slave against Glen Abernethy in 2011
- former program manager of Indigenous programming across Canada for World Vision