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Imagine living in your apartment for decades, faithfully maintaining your home and paying your rent on time. And then out of nowhere, you get an eviction notice from your landlord, claiming that they need to do extensive renovations and that you must vacate the premises.

The whole process seems inevitable and intimidating, so you agree to move out. But a few weeks later, you see your former apartment listed for $1,000 more in rent per month, with photos included in the listing showing that all the owner did is splash on a new coat of paint.

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This is a story we hear repeatedly in my office, especially among senior women. Many of them no longer have anywhere to go, after being priced out of the city core. They end up couch surfing with relatives or living in our city’s shelter system.

The surge in renovictions is not just something we are noticing anecdotally in downtown Ottawa. Recent data from the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board shows that the number of N13 notices filed in our city has increased 545 per cent, with N13 issuance tripling between 2021 and 2022.

These renovictions are contributing to a shocking loss of affordable rental housing in our city. According to a recent report by Carleton University professor Steve Pomeroy, Ottawa is losing 31 affordable apartments in the private market for every one we build. A huge driver of this loss is the lack of provincial tenancy control, meaning that landlords can jack up the rent in any apartment when they get a new tenant. This creates an incentive to evict long-term tenants and take advantage of skyrocketing rents.

In Hamilton, Councillor Nrinder Naan worked with city staff and the local chapter of ACORN to develop a new anti-renoviction bylaw. It requires a landlord to apply for a city renovation licence within seven days of issuing an eviction notice to a tenant. The city only allows the eviction and renovations to take place if the landlord has already secured all building permits to complete the work and provides an engineer’s report confirming vacancy is necessary. The landlord must also accommodate any tenant who wants to return to their unit once the renovation is complete.

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While our city needs to meet our intensification targets and build more apartments, the reality of redevelopment in downtown Ottawa is the displacement of low- and middle-income tenants. These are the people who work in grocery stores, in construction or as personal support workers. They are your neighbours, and mine, and keeping them housed must be a priority.

Our friends at the Mission tell us that they have people who stay with them every night who get up in the morning and work full-time jobs, returning in the evening to line up for the chance to sleep in a bed. If they are too late, they may end up on the street, or sleeping upright in a plastic chair in the shelter’s overflow room.

On Bank Street in Centretown, there is a group low-income tenants, including some acclaimed local artists, who are being evicted from their homes so the building can be redeveloped into expensive furnished units designed for students or short-term business stays. All of them have been priced out of the neighbourhood they helped build, and our city has no recourse to ensure that these residents are offered a replacement apartment at the same rent. I hear from developers that they would like to include local art in their projects – it is a terrible shame that we appear hellbent on creating a city that welcomes art but not the artists themselves.

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City Council just passed a motion put forward by Rideau-Vanier Councillor Stéphanie Plante, directing city staff to create a housing acquisition fund, working with community partners, including Ottawa Community Housing and the Ottawa Community Land Trust. This is one tool that could help preserve affordable homes in our city.

Another tool would be to follow in Hamilton’s footsteps and enact an Ottawa anti-renoviction bylaw. At this week’s Planning and Housing Committee meeting, we will debate a motion I put forward asking city staff to examine options for doing just that. Because the best way to end homelessness is to stop it from happening. And the more we can do to protect the rights of long-term tenants, the less we will see seniors and other vulnerable people left homeless.

Ariel Troster is city councillor for Somerset Ward.

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