Rents up 18%
Bain Co-op hit by rent strike
The group, however, is acting in opposition to the Residents’ Council, consisting of all residents of the Co-op, which passed the increases in the fall and which voted down the idea of a freeze by 115 to 16 at a residents’ meeting, the largest in Bain’s history, in December.
Spokesmen for the Council criticize the group for saying they would abide by the decision of the residents as a whole, and then going ahead anyway when the vote went overwhelmingly against them. Council representatives also charge that the freeze action jeopardizes Bains chances of moving resident ownership of the project. Bain is currently paying off a $6.5 million mortgage to Central Mortgage and Housing.
However, supporters of the freeze say that they cannot sacrifice themselves to the idea of ownership when they are faced with immediate economic hardship. Steve Oltuski, a supporter of the freeze, says that ownership is meaningless if tenants cannot afford the high rents necessary to remain living there.
The new rents are $193 for a one-bedroom. apartment, $253 for a lower two-bedroom, and $266 for a lower three-bedroom. Uppers cost an extra $20. The increase which brought them to this level is the third at Bain in little over 2 years. Earlier increases averaged 21% and 10%.
Ironically, because it is non-profit housing, the co-op is not covered by rent controls. About half the tenants at Bain are covered by government rent supplements. But many low-income people dont qualify for them. Organizers of the freeze are now calling for a universal subsidy. On one of their leaflets, they “demand that no one – including students, wage earners, UIC or welfare recipients, singles, married or common-law couples – be required to pay more than 25% of their income in rent.”
In this, they are supported by the Residents’ Council, which has agreed to start pressuring the government to change its policies in this regard. Says Alexandra Wilson, property manager and Council spokesman: “We don’t agree on the tactics, that’s all. If we freeze the rents, we’d have the force of three governments upon us and we wouldn’t win.” She also says that 10 households at most would be so hard hit by the increases they would have to move. Meanwhile, the council has set up a committee to find a way to help those hardest hit by the increases.
Supporters of the freeze maintain that through united action it would be possible to hold off the government and keep rents where they are. They point to a housing project in Montreal which battled a similar rent hike and won.
Estimates of the amount of support for the rent freeze at Bain vary. Linda Jain, one of the organizers, claims that 50 unsubsidized units are involved, and that another 50 subsidized units support it. However spokesmen for the Residents Council say that only 26 units paid at the old “frozen” rate on February 1st.
Similarly, Jain estimates that 50 people turned out to protest the rent hike at a demonstration on February 1st at the Co-op offices, while Peter Tabuns, an opponent of the freeze, says there were only half that number.
Tabuns says that the freeze has already cost Bain $1000, which it “will have to make up with higher rents” in the future. He accuses the supporters of the freeze of “taking money out of everyone else’s pocket.” Tabuns also says that the City of Toronto Non-Profit Housing Corporation is “very happy” over what is happening. According to him, the Non-Profit Housing Corporation would be only too happy to see the tenants fail in their attempts to achieve ownership of the project “There’s no love lost between us and the City,” he says. He is a strong supporter of the idea of co-op ownership, although he admits that costs are high at first. He compares it to buying a house: a high initial cost, but “costs won’t rise at the same rate as market rents. In the longer run, co-ops are cheaper than the private sector,” he says.
In contrast, Linda Jain says that although she was formerly a “strong
supporter” she personally is now “sitting down and re-evaluating
co-ops”. She wonders whether they can ever work while the financial
power structure of society remains as it is. “You’ve got tenants
fighting tenants,” she says. “The basic problem is that
there is always a landlord. In a co-op, your landlord is yourself.”
She says she is now leaning to the concept of City ownership, with
tenants developing their power through a strong tenants’ association.
Tabuns, on the other hand, feels that co-ops with ownership give
residents more economic advantages and more power to mobilize and
he wants Bain to become one. He notes that some co-ops in the city
had no rent increases at all this year, while City-owned non-profit
projects face hikes of 5% to 18%.
The City of Toronto Non-Profit Housing Corporation “has the bankruptcy touch”, he says. Tabuns cites the corporation’s bungling of repairs at Bain last year, which helped to drive costs up. He says that the corporation is so inept that it forgot to pay Bains tax bill (to the City!) on time last year, with the result that Bain had to pay a penalty. The corporation deposits rent cheques from Bain in an account that pays no interest at all. And thanks to being owned by the Non-Profit Housing Corporation, Bain is taxed at a commercial rate by the City. If it were a resident-owned co-op, it would be assessed as residential and have to pay $20,000 a year less in taxes. To Tabuns and others who form the majority on the Residents Council, co-operative ownership offers definite advantages that make some short-term sacrifices worthwhile. They resent the fact that a minority of residents is defying the will of the majority of residents and in so doing is jeopardizing the entire project.
Supporters of the rent freeze, on the other hand, some of whom are affiliated with the Wages for Housework group, see themselves as victims of cutbacks in family allowances, unemployment insurance, and welfare, of wage controls that don’t control prices, and constantly rising costs that are forever adding to their load of work and worry. To them, a rent increase is a rent increase no matter what its justification, no matter how it was set and approved, and they have decided to fight it.
The result is the spectacle of residents fighting among themselves while the City looks on. What will happen at Bain is unclear. But it is clear that Bain’s history shows that the co-op approach is not an easy solution to the housing problems that so many in the city face.