How would you react if you opened the mail Monday morning to find a notice that your rent was going up by close to or more than 100 per cent?
You’d be worried, and you’d feel like your landlord was gouging you.
But what if your landlord was city hall?
You’d be confused about the motive, feel let down by your municipal government, and expect better treatment.
And mostly, you’d be worried how you’re going to pay the bill.
This is the situation people living in a St. John’s housing development find themselves in.
In late summer, the city notified residents of 179-229 Forest Rd. that their rents were going to be recalculated. The math, for some, turned out to involve nearly twice the rental rate, or more.
Stephanie Thurston told The Telegram’s Rosie Mullaley her family’s rent went from $730 to $1,588 a month.
“How is this possible?” she asked.
The mother of five said they’re scrambling to find a new place to live.
“What a thing to be faced with two months before Christmas,” Thurston said. “I’m completely stressed out.”
The rent changed because a 35-year operating agreement ended between the city and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. It meant the city assumed ownership of the property with no financial subsidy.
The city reassessed what it was charging those tenants and then applied a simple formula, based on 25 per cent of their household income.
Hope Jamieson, elected to represent the ward in September, told Mullaley she understood the adjustment families would face but noted that 25 per cent is still below what the United Nations says is appropriate for housing expenditures.
If the city is a landlord, then it should be the standard-bearer for landlords in St. John’s.
In a followup story, the councillor was asked why the formula doesn’t take tenants’ dependents into consideration. Jamieson said most of the tenants receive Canada Child Benefits, “so that sort of balances it out.”
She offered to review the records of any resident who feels the adjustment was based on faulty information.
The offer of a review is a good first step.
But there should also be review of how the city has handled this matter.
If the city is a landlord, then it should be the standard-bearer for landlords in St. John’s. And that means consultation and communication with residents — not dramatic rent increases without fair warning. Why couldn’t rent increases be staggered and phased in over time rather than doubling? Why can’t the formula take the size of a household into account?
It’s not the way a government should act, and certainly not the way the taxpayers or voters of St. John’s want their city to behave.
Council should ensure the City of St. John’s sets an example as a compassionate landlord that does things right.
A municipal government must serve its residents a lot better than this.