Wednesday 25 November 2020

Opportunistic Capitalism in the Housing Industry

My city is in the midst of a housing crisis and it's now late November. The council has been working as hard as they can with capitalist cuffs on. Imagine how easy their job would be if they didn't have to concern themselves with where the revenue will go. Kingston has even put some homeless residents into unfinished units, illustrating the fact that from the get-go, that rental was of less importance than the landlord's other rentals. Many still believe that the homeless should take what they can get.

By now we can all agree that once profit comes into play, all rights are off--even the human ones. Our PM stated three years ago that a home is a human right and yet still here we are. Nothing changes if nothing changes. Being on the sidelines, I have lots of theories and even more fingers to point. It feels to me that we've all been fooled into believing that if the commodity is a human right then those taking part in it are great and selfless humans. And some may very well be while others see that human right merely as an investment.

In Ontario, Premier Ford rules the Province with a double edged sword. On the one side, he's done away with some rent control measures put in by Premier Wynne before him, opening up the profit gates for any newly constructed buildings. On the other side, he has frozen all rent in Ontario until the end of 2021--thanks for that. Like many other measures however, many Landlords didn't hear or simply aren't listening. They realize that they can opportunistically profit from ignorance. Because if the LL's haven't heard the news, then the tenants definitely haven't. Heck, as of last night my head superintendent told me he was unaware of a rent freeze. The head lady at the rental office has no idea of this freeze. We have workers carrying out illegal activities because they work for a corporation that refuses to abide regulation. How many of my neighbors are now paying an increase that they should never have gotten in the first place? Potentially too many.

Another way that LL's profit opportunistically is by building the trust of council when it comes to subsidized units and Ontario's 90 day rule. This rules that a person in a subsidized unit can abandon said unit for 90 consecutive days without losing their subsidy. The problem is that no one is keeping track of the 90 days. There's a unit on the first floor that has been empty for well over a year now. Many of us have inquired and are told by housing that it's filled. When pushed, it was shared with me that when Kingston housing gets a complaint about an empty unit, they call the LL to inquire. This building is still mostly inclusive and so you can see how an empty subsidized unit could be a very profitable thing for a LL. I ask you in all honestly, how are we ever going to get every human a home when we can't even be sure that subsidized units are filled? 

We now live in a landlord's market where there are more renters than there are available units to rent and why? Because housing is a highly profitable business. Capitalism doesn't differentiate between those businesses that provide human rights and so, nothing changes because nothing changes. Even the very word "Landlord" holds negative connotations for a large portion of society. This saddens me as I know several Landlords who have never raised the rent, who work WITH their tenants each month. For their good deeds to be tarnished by the capitalistic behaviors of others in their field infuriates me.

There is a separation occurring with humanity--those who have, those who wish they had, and those who believe that if they work hard enough they'll have too. In discussions with a landlord friend I stated recently that I wish I were in his position of owning several homes. Though he is cash-strapped, his future is golden! I am one of the hopeful people hoarding savings away and praying the real estate market returns to sanity. Don't even get me started on the fact that foreign investment in our city is creating comparables whose value suddenly skyrockets because homes are bought with foreign cash well above asking price. There is a very good chance I will never be able to afford a home again.

And when regulations favor one side over the other, it's a no win situation. Did you know that if you rent a room in a home, you have few to no rights whatsoever? In my meager experience, I've rented rooms to two students. I am shocked to learn how few rights they had considering how well they paid me for those rooms. Students are our future yet they are also used opportunistically every day to line pockets and build business. Business that our local Chamber of Commerce applauds for their ingenious profitability.

So what needs to change first? The UN says that simply stating a home is a human right doesn't mean a Government must provide it. Even though having a home would cut our national healthcare costs drastically? Are we sure our Government officials aren't secretly taking advantage of this highly profitable industry and therefore refuse to change regulation? Ahem Kingston. Should those in positions of creating regulation be able to profit in the very field they create regulation for? I glance at our Federal MP Mark Gerretsen when I ask this question. Conflicts of interest abound.

Would it be such a great hardship to take profit out of the rental industry? Would it be so illogical to give the renter some 'consumer protection' from the minister of consumer affairs? We must pause the 90 day rule until more housing is built. Long gone are the days of having units in this city unfilled! Temperatures are dropping and evictions are normalizing again. Aside from the effects on our fellow human, I fear the effects on the community as a whole. Disparity has side effects and none of them are good. 

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