NEXT April 30 federal rent controls are scheduled to end. Between now and then Parliament has the choice of extending or modifying the present system of controls or of scrapping them and dumping the whole problem into the lap of the provinces.
It will be an important decision and a tough one. Housing is still the great unsolved riddle in our domestic life, and rent control is a part of the riddle’s indecipherable key. Whether he’s the head of a family looking for a place to park his kids, or an economist trying to predict what effect decontrol would have on inflation—no one has a certain answer. There are hundreds of thousands of Canadians for whom, even in a building boom, rent control has not solved the problem of finding suitable dwellings at prices they can afford to pay. No economist can say, or at any rate prove, whether decontrol would improve or worsen the general housing picture.
The two extremes of theory were expressed in a recent opinion poll conducted by The Financial Post.
One reply said: “Canada’s alleged housing shortage is mythical. (It) will disappear when the artificial restrictions disappear. If federal rent controls end next spring and if the provincial governments have sense enough and guts enough not to establish their own rent controls - if, in short, a free market in rentals is restored then we shall have no more of a housing shortage than we have a beer shortage, or a tobacco shortage, or a hamburger shortage. Controlled rents will go up a little; uncontrolled rents which have reached ridiculous levels will come down a little.”
Another view was this: “The shelter need is already critical and rent is the major factor in the dangerous inflationary spiral. With the situation aggravating monthly as the defense program congregates more people in production centres simultaneously with deferred civilian construction and mounting costs of all building, the elimination of rent controls would be disastrous.” Pondering the unassailable logic behind both these opinions we’re happy for once that it’s not our job to run the country. If we were running the country we suspect we’d do something like this:
We’d call a special meeting of the federal and provincial governments and try to work out an agreement under which Ottawa would vacate the field of rent control and each province would adopt a system of controls or decontrols based on its own special conditions. Whatever effect good or bad rent controls are having we think it's fair to say that the effect varies by locality. A set of rules beneficial in a crowded, high-rent area ma) work unfavorably in a moderately populated, low-rent area.
Needs and conditions vary not only from province to province but from municipality to municipality: only the provinces, in consultation with the municipalities, are in a position to lay down general policies and still allow for local factors.
To decentralize the control of rents for housing would only he to act on a sound principle of government the principle that laws work best when they 're closely tailored to the individual requirements of individuals and of individual communities.
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