No room (for rent) in Saskatchewan

Low vacancy rates mean the issue of rent control has inched its way into the provincial election

Rent control might be an issue more commonly associated with a heaving metropolis like New York City, where mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan made an Internet meme of himself last year with his exclamation that the “rent is too damn high.” But the issue has now reached comparatively sleepy, but economically booming, Saskatchewan.

In Regina, the vacancy rate is around one per cent and with monthly rates on the rise, affordable housing and the availability of rental properties are looming as key issues in the provincial election. The provincial NDP is promising, if elected, to commit $321 million over four years toward a plan that would increase the number of units, help first-time homebuyers and introduce “next generation rent control” that would include “allowances for new construction and non-corporate landlords.” Premier Brad Wall of the incumbent Saskatchewan Party has proposed a first-time homebuyer tax credit, but has only voiced support for a “voluntary” rent control system—as championed by the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Industry Association—that aims to facilitate agreements between tenants and landlords.

Last month, the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce released a report arguing that rent control has little impact on prices, while discouraging both the creation of new rental properties and the renovation of existing properties. “The concept of government intervention into rental rates, into any market place this dramatically, doesn’t make sense,” says chamber CEO Steve McLellan. The chamber would prefer changes to the tax code to encourage market expansion. “What the government should do is eliminate barriers to new growth,” McLellan says.

Barring some kind of solution, McMillan’s The Rent Is Too Damn High party may have to consider expanding north.

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