News Briefs

RENTS THROUGH THE ROOF

Residents of a Regina apartment complex are facing huge rental increases after they received notices from their new Calgary-based landlord this past weekend.

The increase will take effect in September, but with many of the tenants living on fixed incomes, they say this is as good as an eviction notice because the increase simply isn’t affordable. Some long-term tenants are seeing their rent skyrocket from $675 per month up to $1195.

At press time, the landlord, Castle Mountain Properties, was not available for comment.

In response to the increase, the tenants of 2221 Robinson St. are submitting a petition to the provincial legislature, asking them to impose rent control — if not in time for these tenants, then perhaps for the thousands of other renters in the province. Last year, Saskatchewan placed new restrictions on the frequency with which a landlord can raise rent on any unit. According to the Office of the Rentalsman, landlords who are members of Saskatchewan Rental Housing Industry Association are entitled to raise rents on individual units once every six months. Non-members are limited to raising rent once per year. But the legislation doesn’t limit the amount a landlord is allowed to raise on a rental unit.

Some question whether the City of Regina might play a role in asking for rent control in the province. As Paul Dechene points out below, the city’s new housing policy draft carries no recommendation to the province for rent control. This is despite the CMHC’s report last fall that Regina’s vacancy rate is sitting just below one per cent — the lowest in the country. With nothing to stop landlords from raising rent as much as they want, the tenants at 2221 Robinson St. question whether this might be a good time to reexamine the policy.

Prairie Dog will continue to follow this story. /Vanda Schmöckel

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SUMMIT’S UP

Mayor Michael Fougere’s housing summit is set to go. At their Feb. 25 meeting, council set the date for the summit as the week of May 13 and its goal will be “to bring together subject experts and stakeholders in all aspects of housing, as well as senior governments, to further assess housing issues, needs and potential solutions.”

This summit was a central plank in Fougere’s election campaign last year.

If the idea of a housing summit sounds familiar, it could be because the provincial government already held two housing summits in the springs of 2010 and 2011. When asked how his would be different, Fougere said, “I want to be clear on this, I will do the best I can and this council will do the best it can not to have a talk-fest where you just talk and talk about strategies and go away and plan for the future. I want commitments and things that will work today for solutions.

“I understand — I don’t know how I can say this with more feeling and understanding — I know what’s happening out there, I know what people tell me, I know it’s an issue. And this council wants to act. There’s no question. You can’t act without talking to people. You have to talk first. And we’ll do it and we’ll have strategies of what we can do right away.” /Paul Dechene

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HOUSES ‘R’N’T US

Alongside the report about the mayor’s housing summit, City administration also released on Feb. 25 a draft version of the comprehensive housing strategy which they started work on just last February with Toronto-based consultant, SHS Consulting Ltd.

The strategy proposes several ways that the city can tackle our housing crisis such as increasing the capital incentives the city offers for the construction of affordable housing, setting planning restrictions on city owned land guaranteeing that it will be developed with a mix of housing types, and encouraging the construction of secondary suites.

As for what role the draft strategy will play now that the summit is going forward, Fougere said, “[The draft strategy is] the thought that we have as a council and administration as to how we can first of all marry what the province is doing with what we want to do so that they’re more effective in terms of programming. And just our view of how we see the world, how we can participate, the limits to our participation, and some of the innovation we see going forward.

“It’s just the first step in the process,” he said. “But we are not in the market for housing, we don’t do that. We can couple or add on to programs. But fundamentally we do not do housing. So we are trying to put the limits on our involvement but do the best that we can with the resources that we have.”

Fougere says that the housing strategy is not a finished document and there will be opportunities for public consultation.  /Paul Dechene

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WHATCOTT? THAT’S WHATCOTT

In a unanimous Feb. 27 decision the Supreme Court confirmed a 2005 Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission finding that conservative Christian activist Bill Whatcott violated hate speech provisions when he distributed four anti-gay flyers to thousands of Regina and Saskatoon homes in 2001-02.

Sodomites In Our Schools and Keep Homosexuality Out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools were two titles. Referencing the Biblical towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, Whatcott warned against  homosexuals sharing their “filth and propaganda” and that if they were allowed to do so “our children will pay the price in disease, death, abuse.”

S.14 of Saskatchewan’s Human Rights Code prohibits publication or broadcasting of anything that “exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground [like gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation].”

In defending himself in court, Whatcott argued that s. 14 contravened his charter rights to freedom of expression and religion.

“Freedom of expression is enshrined in the charter,” says University of Saskatchewan law professor Ken Norman, who advised the African Canadian Legal Clinic as an intervener in the case. “It’s a central democratic value. But there are limits.

“In my book, it was a good day for Canada. Unlike our American friends who, as Secretary Kerry pointed out the other day, have the right to be stupid, the court makes the point that words matter. They’re not harmless, and a line can be crossed when the language is [so hateful] that it does real harm.”

Following the judgment, Whatcott said he would refuse to pay the $7500 fine, and that he would continue to preach against homosexuality.

That’s his constitutional right, Norman says, and the Supreme Court confirmed that in its judgment. “It said the polemicist can still participate on controversial topics. Mr. Whatcott can express disapproval of homosexual conduct and advocate that it should not be discussed in public schools. But s. 14 prohibits his use of hate-inspiring representations in expressing his views. I think that’s a defensible line.” /Gregory Beatty