Investors question housing practices that increase inequality, undermine rights

Last week’s May Day wasn’t just notable for widespread “sick outs” at Amazon, Target, and InstaCart. It was also the first of the month, when rent is due for the millions of Canadian residential tenants (and thousands more commercial tenants). With millions of Canadians having lost wages due to the pandemic, and no government relief for renters, many tenants groups have been organizing rent strikes and calling for immediate aid.

The housing affordability crisis in Canada didn’t start with the pandemic. The cost of housing – for both renters and buyers – has been making headlines for years. The crisis has been most prominent in the Vancouver and Toronto markets, but has hit communities all across the country, as rental housing stock has aged, government investment in housing has dwindled and the “financialization” of housing has led to increasingly predatory practices from residential landlords.

Today, SHARE issued an open letter to the CEOs of two of Canada’s largest residential property owners: Starlight Investments and Northview REIT. Starlight, one of Canada’s largest landlords will grow further if a proposed deal goes through to acquire Northview. The deal is valued at $4.8 billion.

In our letter, we outline areas of potential concern for responsible investors regarding real estate investment, and ask the companies to outline their plans in these areas prior to shareholders voting at the meeting scheduled for May 21.

Investing with the objective of displacing low-income tenants would be directly at odds with UN Sustainable Development Goals 1 (No Poverty), 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities.) The Sustainable Development Goals are a broadly agreed framework, and an important guide for responsible investors, particularly for signatories of the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI).

Northview is among Canadian landlords that have previously articulated a business strategy which includes rent increases and tenant turnover. When unitholders in Northview are being asked to consider a formal acquisition, it’s reasonable to ask questions about the companies’ respective business models and what the decision will mean for current and future tenants in Northview and Starlight-owned properties.

At SHARE, our work is driven by a mission: to mobilize investor leadership to build an inclusive, sustainable and productive economy. We work with a growing network of Canadian responsible investors, with more than $23 billion in assets under management to advance that mission. As Canadians start to plan ahead for the post-pandemic economy and society, we at SHARE will be working on behalf of our network to centre people – and human rights like housing – in the recovery.

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