After hearing that her rent was about to be increased by a whopping 29.8 per cent in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wolseley resident Lindsey Mazur decided it was necessary to go public about her situation on social media.
“It was no longer feasible for me to remain silent on the topic,” she says. “It really came from a place of hopelessness.” When Mazur signed her lease, she knew that a small rent increase would be coming within six months.
“I wasn’t fearful of signing onto a lease, understanding that it would go up a little bit,” she says. “At the time, I felt that was reasonable within my budget.”
However, the company that manages her building, My Place Realty, applied for an above-guideline rent increase of 29.8 per cent – much greater than she previously anticipated. And on Nov. 1, it became apparent to Mazur that it had been approved.
My Place Realty did not respond to The Uniter’s request for comment.
Earlier in the year, Manitoba followed other provinces by establishing a temporary ban on evictions. However, since lifting the ban on Oct. 1, housing advocates like Kirsten Bernas, the chair of the provincial committee of the Right to Housing coalition, are calling on the Province to reinstate it.
The lift on the eviction ban “happened as the COVID numbers were really starting to ramp up,” Bernas says. “We’re actively calling on the Province to reverse that decision.”
Mazur, like others, experienced job loss due to COVID-19. She is among many whose financial hardships have been exacerbated in an already-precarious housing affordability crisis. With the ban on evictions lifted, it remains uncertain as to what those already tight on funds are to do if they can’t make rent.
According to Bernas, the most affordable form of housing in Manitoba is public housing. As public housing is regulated, rent is never more than 30 per cent of a tenant’s income. However, the sheer lack of public housing in Manitoba has led to a waitlist of over 9,000 households.
“Private housing is so much more expensive. It’s not affordable for people who live on social assistance,” Bernas says. As the director of housing at the West Central Women’s Resource Centre, she has observed that many living on the Employment and Income Assistance Program have to dip into their basic-needs budget in order to make rent in the private market.
Even though she initially feared potential consequences of speaking up, Mazur says she’s glad she did.
“It’s allowed me to be a part of a bigger conversation on housing rights,” she says. “Housing is a human right. I’ve always known and believed that.”
She adds that she hopes her story encourages others to speak out and to demand better support for renters.
“I do hope that by speaking out, some change will happen,” she says. “This isn’t just about My Place (Realty), and this isn’t just about me. It’s a systemic problem that appears to be getting worse.”
Published in Volume 75, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 18, 2020)