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Renters’ committee proposal nixed by Barrie councillors

"I think getting the perspective from people who rent...that's the intent of this renters' committee," says Coun. Morales

A motion to strike a renters’ committee was defeated by Barrie council.

The motion that was rejected by councillors on Monday night asked that the 2022-26 council consider establishing a committee to bring forward issues of renters, including but not limited to rental rates and regulations associated with rental units, as part of the next council committee appointments.

Coun. Gary Harvey expressed concern about jurisdiction issues, noting rental rates are a provincial matter and not a municipal matter.

“I just don’t see how they (committee) can make recommendations to council about something related to rental rates when that is solely done through the provincial government and one of their ministries.”

Harvey said he also heard from some people wondering where we draw the line.

“Because if we’re going to create a renters’ committee, do we create a homeowners’ committee? Do we then create a landlords’ committee?”

Coun. Sergio Morales said he didn’t think there was a lack of representation from homeowners.

“I think there are many active ratepayers associations and neighbourhood associations in the city. To my understanding, I don’t know of any non-city renters associations or advocacy groups,” Morales said. “As Coun. Natalie Harris said, it’s not just home prices, it’s rental prices.”

Morales said Barrie has consistently been in the top five for highest rents in the country for some units.

“Our home prices have seen an increase of 60 to 70 per cent in the last 18 months. I think getting the perspective from people who rent…that’s the intent of this renters’ committee.”

Coun. Clare Riepma said he was inclined to agree with Coun. Harvey.

“Landlord and tenant things are all provincially regulated. I am not sure what changes a committee like this could make to city policy because our policy doesn’t really have anything to do with landlords versus tenants,” he said. “I am not suggesting for a minute that tenants don’t have a lot of issues, for sure they do. But I am not sure that around this table we are able to address them in a meaningful way.

But Coun. Keenan Aylwin said that as a renter himself, he saw the need for this type of committee to try and address that power imbalance between renters and landlords.

“Right now what we’re seeing at the landlord and tenant board provincially, we’re seeing them process evictions like it’s going out of style, and it’s really alarming,” Aylwin added. “That’s going to have an impact on our municipal services and our municipal budgets, whether that’s through the money that we fund to the County of Simcoe for housing programs or shelter programs.”

He said now was exactly the time to start thinking about how the city can help renters and tenants organize collectively and have a collective voice on these matters when going to the provincial government and advocating.

Coun. Natalie Harris, who also said she was a renter, said the idea behind the motion that she and Coun. Morales introduced was a concern about rental prices.

“We feel renters seem to lack a voice with respect to being more present at city council,” she said.

Coun. Robert Thomson did not dismiss the notion of a renters’ committee, but felt it was something for the next council to consider when they sit down and do their strategic planning and committees that will come out of that.

Municipal election day is Oct. 24 and that is when Barrie voters will elect a new city council.

According to the website RUMPER, as of Apr. 5, 2022, the average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in Barrie is currently $1,600, a six per cent decrease compared to the previous year.

“Over the past month, the average rent for a studio apartment in Barrie decreased by 15% to $1,025,” according to RUMPER. “The average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment remained flat, and the average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment increased by 1% to $1,948.”

The defeated motion will be on the city council agenda on Apr. 11 and could still be shuffled to a city committee or city staff for more discussion.