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Edmonton Real Estate Board (EREB) in World War 2

Government intervention in the market place was the new issue faced by the Edmonton Real Estate Association during the war.

Regulations included gas rationing, rental controls, housing shortages, land acquisition, and the administration of the Veterans' Land Act.

These regulations brought to a head a long-standing concern of the industry. As early as 1919 the real estate community had objected to being prevented from charging commissions on land sold to veterans. During the Depression Edmonton real estate agents had also objected to being excluded from the process of selling city-owned land.

The first indication for Edmonton real estate agents that wartime regulations would affect their business was when the Vancouver and Calgary Real Estate Boards asked for help to get a better classification for real estate agents. The way they were classified would determine the amount of gas they could get under the rationing system then in place. Both Boards argued that they needed extra to continue their business activities.

Rent controls were a more significant problem for real estate agents. They were part of a comprehensive program to control inflation. Under these regulations a landlord could not raise the rent without the consent of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board. Raising the rent was permitted when there was a substantial increase in taxes, substantial expense for improvements to the property, or wear and tear on the property.

In Edmonton the maximum rental charge was what was in effect on January 2, 1941. If the property was not rented at that time then the last rental fee in effect in 1940 would become effective. The regulations also prevented a landlord from reducing facilities or giving a tenant notice to vacate except on grounds set out in the regulations.

Initially, these regulations were not a great concern to the members of the Association since it was believed that they would not affect the rental situation in Edmonton. At a meeting of the Edmonton Real Estate Association in March 1942, George Bryan, the rental control administrator for Alberta, advised the members that these regulations were designed to "prevent the evils of inflation and unfair advantage being taken on tenants, particularly in areas where due to the presence of members of the armed forces there was a housing shortage."

In August 1942, Dominion Rentals Commissioner Cyril DeMara appealed to the Association for citizens with rooms available to charge the prevailing rental rates for the district. Since many real estate agents depended on rental income, these regulations became a source of concern.

The attitude of the Association changed drastically on December 10, 1942, when the government announced new regulations that required a tenant of a home that had been sold to be given at least twelve months' notice to vacate by the new owner. The new owner was required to prove that the property was needed for his or her own residence when the tenant left. The new regulations also clarified the Position of tenants in homes that were not sold. Under the old regulations, landlords could evict tenants on three months' notice by declaring that they needed the accommodation for themselves, a relative, or an employee. After December 10, a tenant could be evicted on three months' notice only if the home was needed as the landlord's principal residence. After December 6, 1942, the rental fee of any housing not previously rented was based on the October 11, 1941, fee as the going rate.

The Association called a meeting for December 12. Stuart Darroch told the press that many real estate agents might go out of business as a result of the new regulations. He pointed to three sales that had been cancelled because of the new regulations. One of the properties was a $6,000 home in the west end. The other deals involved property in Jasper Place. A committee chaired by Andy Whyte took the Association's protest to Ottawa.

The rental controls were part of the larger problem of a housing shortage caused by no new construction during the Depression and by the influx of people to work in the war-related industries. One of the largest employers was Aircraft Repair Ltd. The plant at the municipal airport employed 500 people.

Action on the housing shortage issue by the Association began in May of 1943 following a presentation by A. J. Brown of W. H. Clark Co. and Dr. G. M. Little, City of Edmonton medical health officer. Brown discussed the extent of the housing shortage while Dr. Little explained the health implications of the situation. He said that families of four or five were living in one room in Edmonton apartments or rooming houses.

Following their presentation a resolution was passed asking the provincial government to urge the lending institutions to make loans available to Edmonton citizens to encourage new home building. If necessary the federal government might set aside the necessary funds under the National Housing Act to enable the lending institution to operate in Alberta.

The Association also supported efforts by the City of Edmonton to obtain wartime housing. Wartime Housing Ltd. was a Crown corporation with a nationwide mandate to provide housing for workers in war-related industries. Edmonton's application was finally successful and in June 1943, the sod was turned for the construction of these homes in the Ritchie district in south Edmonton. The homes erected under the project were four-, five-, and six-room dwellings.

Another concern involved land transactions for veterans. Clause 33 of the Veterans' Land Act eliminated commissions for real estate agents who sold land to veterans. This provision was designed to facilitate their return to civilian life by reducing the cost of their land purchases. From the point of view of the real estate industry, this provision was another attempt to exclude real estate agents from full participation in the economy.

One success in their role as brokers at a time of government control came in the acquisition of land for Namao airport. In July 1943 the Association was asked for the names of two individuals who could provide an independent evaluation of the land to be acquired for the construction of the airport.

This article is extracted from John Gilpin, Responsible Enterprise: A History of Edmonton Real Estate & the Edmonton Real Estate Board. (Edmonton: Edmonton Real Estate Board, 1997). The Heritage Community Foundation and the Alberta Real Estate Foundation would like to thank John Gilpin and the REALTORS® Association of Edmonton for permission to reproduce this material.

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