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Rally outside Nova Scotia legislature calls for extension to coronavirus eviction ban

Community groups call on N.S. to protect tenants from pandemic related evictions
Dozens of community organizations in Nova Scotia are calling on the province to force landlords into accepting reasonable repayment plans for people who can demonstrate they are experiencing financial hardships due to COVID-19.

Protesters gathered outside the Nova Scotia legislature to fight back against a potential wave of coronavirus-related evictions that could come as the moratorium on evictions is set to expire at 12 a.m. Wednesday.

Members of ACORN Nova Scotia, an advocacy group for individuals of low to medium income, organized the rally.

They suggest anywhere from 2,000 to 6,000 tenants across the province could be handed eviction notices as the province’s eviction ban will expire on July 1.

Read more: Pandemic-related evictions expected to rise in Nova Scotia without provincial action

Rally organizer and ACORN member Sydnee Blum said the expiration of the eviction ban coincides with the province’s plan to reopen its Access Nova Scotia support offices later this week.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill spoke at the rally and said the Liberal government did the right thing when it implemented the moratorium on evictions on March 19 but that the government needs to extend the moratorium beyond June 30.

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“That eviction ban needs to be extended for the entire length of the state of emergency,” said Burrill. “We’ve continued to press the government on this, seeing that this date was coming for some time.”

Burrill said a lot of people have been “very concerned” about the end of the moratorium.

“We’re not talking about a dozen or two people, we’re talking literally about thousands of people, because of income loss, who have fallen behind on their rent,” said Burrill.

Burrill and ACORN are both calling on the McNeil majority government to create a provincial rental support program to help low-income tenants.

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The proposed program would pay back tenants’ rental debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic to help people with their debt and get back on their feet.

Mila McKay is a member of ACORN and has experienced issues around housing insecurity and has struggled to maintain rent and afford an apartment, while also having issues finding regular work due to mental health issues and their identity as a trans person.

“Right now I am trying to move from a small one-bedroom sublet and trying to find a place to move to,” said McKay.

“But everything is extremely expensive. Prices have only gone up.”

Coronavirus outbreak: N.S. enacts eviction ban, premier orders local university students to go home
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Before the pandemic hit in March, Halifax was experiencing a housing crisis, with a vacancy rate below one per cent, which meant finding a rental apartment was like finding a needle in a haystack.

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ACORN says if the eviction ban isn’t extended, it could be devastating, forcing thousands of tenants from their homes.

“We’re looking at, at least, a couple thousand evictions,” said McKay. “And it needs to be known, it’s a fact, that not all of these people have not been paying their rent, some of them are just short a little bit. That’s a couple thousand people that are going to end up in the streets and that can’t happen.”

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, a spokesperson with the province wrote that the temporary ban was in place to give people time to access federal and provincial financial aid programs.

But community workers stress that not everyone qualifies for financial relief programs and that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit didn’t replace the loss of a full-time income for many people.

The province did not respond to a request for clarification on whether the moratorium would be extended.

Read more: N.S. budget ‘overlooks’ low rental vacancy rate, critics say

As long as the state of emergency continues, the government needs to extend the eviction ban, Burrill said.

He added that there needs to be a government program implemented to help low-income tenants pay back some of their debt to landlords.

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“We need the government to work with the people and set up a program, whether that’s rental grants or rent relief or rent forgiveness of some kind,” said Burrill. “You don’t put people on the street during a state of emergency.”