“This is a systematic attack on the under-educated and [those who are] low-income… It illustrates the greed involved with Homestead”Tenant at 42 Leroy Grant Drive.
Despite reports that services have been cut majorly over the past year, tenants at a big apartment building in Kingston are seeing their rent increased above the 1.8 percent guideline set by the province. Citing an extraordinarily high municipal tax increase, Homestead Land Holdings Limited has applied for an above guideline increase (AGI) to the 169-unit building at 42 Leroy Grant Drive.
This has left some in the building confused and angry, wondering how they and their neighbours are going to make ends meet.
“My rent will likely go up $40 a month,” says a resident in the building. “That is substantial.”
“I’d like to know who is going to explain this notice to my Syrian refugee neighbours, or the guy with Parkinson’s down the hall.”
The proposed AGI by Homestead isn’t unique to this building. Three weeks ago, tenants in 65-unit 154 The Parkway apartment complex received a notice from Homestead that they too would be facing an AGI. Unfortunately, Katarokwi Union of Tenants (KUT) suspects that more AGIs are on the way.
According to Homestead’s own documents, the company currently receives more than $169 000 in rent payment per month from this building alone. Though KUT does not have the specifics, if the people living in all 169-units are forced to pay even $35 more in rent per month, this rent hike will increase Homestead’s revenue by around $71 000 per year. It is unclear how much more Homestead will be paying in municipal taxes this year.
This past February, the City of Kingston announced that they would increase municipal taxes by 2.5 percent. According to the rules of the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA), a landlord can only make an AGI application in three situations:
- There has been an extraordinary increase in the cost for municipal taxes and charges for the residential complex or any building in which the rental units are located. See RTA s. 2(1), s.126(1).1, s.126(2) and O.Reg 516/06, s.28, s.29 and s. 41;
- The landlord has eligible capital expenses (extraordinary or significant renovation, repair, replacement or new addition the expected benefit of which extends for at least five years) for the residential complex or one or more of the rental units in it. Tenants who began their tenancy after the capital expenditure was completed cannot be included in this application. See RTA s.126(1).2,126(7),126(8),126(9) and O.Reg 516/06, s.18, s.26-28;
- The landlord has experienced operating costs related to security services provided in respect of the residential complex or any building in which the rental units are located by persons not employed by the landlord for the first time or the costs have increased. See RTA s.126(1).3 and O.Reg 516/06, s. 30.
As mentioned, Homestead is arguing that they are eligible for the AGI because of “an extraordinary increase in the cost of municipal taxes.” According to the RTA, an “extraordinary increase” means extraordinary increase as defined by or determined in accordance with the regulations. It is somewhat ambiguous, and KUT is making the effort to find out exactly how much Homestead paid in municipal taxes at 42 Leroy Grant Drive in the past few years. Anyone with knowledge about this is encouraged to reach out to KUT via email: email@example.com.
This said, debating over the merits of the tax increase is a deceitful game that only legitimizes the role of real estate developers and property management companies who profit from an inherently unjust system. Generally speaking, the working class does not care about the neoliberal logic involved in determining whether Homestead ‘deserves’ this AGI increase. The idea that Homestead should be allowed to extract a surplus from people’s homes is laughable on its face. The working class cares about the continual material degeneration of their livelihood. Those who are being asked to fork over more money for a corporation’s benefit struggle to see the fairness in this arrangement. Kingston is facing an acute housing shortage, which allows landlords to jack up rent prices as high as the market will bear. Its simply untenable, and something needs to be done about it.
But this shouldn’t lead us down a rabbit hole debating supply and demand economics. Simply increasing the supply of housing may make things more affordable in the short term, but, in the end, another housing crisis will proliferate. To think in these terms relegates the debate to the realm of exchange without looking at how our political economy is produced. The real struggle is rooted in the logic of ownership itself; why should one small class of people own and control the economic well-being over those who only have their labour to sell? Why is it that the people who contribute most to the city — the people who make our food, who wait on us in restaurants, who build our buildings, who drive us home safely after a night of drinking, or who do any other kind of working class job — suffer the most? This is a big question; I would like Homestead officials and city councillors to try and answer. It is this debate which people should be talking about.
To be sure, though, KUT will applaud any effort made to immediately make life more affordable and liveable for the working class in the city. There are reforms that can be made in the relatively near future that can be done as a show of good faith by our politicians: we want more rent-geared-to-income housing, rent-freezes, more shelter space, housing people on the social housing list, a mandatory minimum wage increase, and more social programs that increase the quality of life for those who can’t afford certain products or other things that improve well-being. These kinds of steps are imperative; the livelihood of people is at stake, and politicians must not only recognize this, but actually do something to help us.
Rental Housing Index illustrates the situation we are in quite well: for those who earn $22 000/year or less, a one bedroom apartment in the city will take up around 60 percent of your hard-earned money. For those earning between $22 000 and $39 000 a year, a one bedroom apartment, on average, takes 36 percent of your monthly income. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation guidelines suggest that anything more than 30 percent of income going towards rent is deemed unaffordable. So, even by their standards, the situation in Kingston is dire.
Tenants have to fight back against the predicament we find ourselves in. More and more real estate developers intend on gentrifying the city. There are many plans to re-zone and start building more unaffordable high-rises, too (like this story, for example). As another author notes,
“In 2009, Ulster County adopted the Three County Housing Assessment Needs Study, which stipulated that to meet the affordable housing gap, the City of Kingston would need to build 1,005 units of affordable housing by 2020. Since that report was published, the city has only added 55 units of affordable housing.'”
For now, tenants across the city should band together to fight the proposed AGI wherever possible. For those living in 42 Leroy Grant Drive, they have until June 15th to file responses to the application. KUT is happy to help any and all tenants who require more information or who would like help organizing and mobilizing people for their eventual Landlord Tenant Board meeting.
In the mean time, please join KUT’s Facebook group, which serves as a place of solidarity and organizing for those interested in making Kingston a more liveable and equitable place to be. People are also encouraged to send information about AGI’s, eviction notices, and unfixed repairs to our KUT team, so that we can update our KUT Map of Grievances. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.