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Affordable housing advocate says Nova Scotia premier’s comments on rent control ‘bizarre’

Click to play video 'N.S. premier’s comments on rent control leave sour taste for housing advocates' N.S. premier’s comments on rent control leave sour taste for housing advocates
WATCH: Premier Stephen McNeil’s comments on rent control Thursday have left a sour taste in the mouths of affordable housing advocates. Stephen McNeil acknowledged there’s a rental issue in the province but doesn’t feel rent control will fix it. Graeme Benjamin reports – Oct 30, 2020

Affordable housing advocates in Nova Scotia are scoffing at the provincial government after the premier said he doesn’t believe rental control would work, calling it a “philosophical issue.”

At a press briefing after Thursday’s cabinet meeting, Premier Stephen McNeil was pressed on increasing rental costs across the Halifax Regional Municipality.

He acknowledged there’s a rental issue in the province, but said he doesn’t feel rent control is how to fix it.

“We just don’t believe (rent controls) work,” McNeil said Thursday. “They haven’t worked in other places where they’ve applied, and that’s a different philosophical issue. That doesn’t mean the issue’s not real and we’ll work with our partners to provide other options.”

“I just found it a bizarre comment, and perhaps an incentive one,” said Hannah Wood, chair of Nova ACORN, an independent advocacy group that fights for affordable housing.

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Read more: Nova Scotia says it’s looking at options to prevent evictions, but short on specifics

Rent control has not been in place in Nova Scotia since it was eliminated by the Liberal government in 1993. McNeil said the province is looking at ways to help people access affordable housing, but didn’t provide specifics.

Wood believes rent control is essential and can be implemented differently than in other locations where it hasn’t seen success.

“Currently, rent control in British Columbia doesn’t include when units are vacant, so that is used as a loophole to increase the cost of those units in between tenants, so we need that goes across those lines and is more substantive,” said Wood.

Click to play video 'Halifax receives $8.7M for rapid housing' Halifax receives $8.7M for rapid housing
Halifax receives $8.7M for rapid housing – Oct 28, 2020

Several Halifax tenants have fallen victim to a recent spate of evictions related to dramatic monthly rent increases.

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Shaun Clark says that happened to his uncle last year at an apartment in Fairview. In just two years, his rent increased from $695 a month to $1,600.

He was on disability and receiving social assistance when learning about the increases.

“It’s just so hard for people to find an apartment in the city right now. People with disabilities, that kind of extra stress, especially the mental disabilities, it doesn’t do well for people’s health,” said Clark.

“Affordable housing is not affordable to people on social assistance, seniors on pensions, people with disabilities.”

Aron Spidle experienced a similar situation at his apartment on Dutch Village Road. While living there, the building was sold to a new company and a letter was sent to tenants informing them utilities would no longer be covered.

He says that added about $250 a month to his monthly rent — something he couldn’t manage.

“I was there for 13 years and I had no choice but to move,” said Spidle.

“I just couldn’t afford to stay. And we find this happening a fair bit in the province, and particularly in the city.”

Read more: Nova Scotia to launch program offering tax relief to hotel owners

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On Wednesday, the federal government announced it would made up to $8.7 million available for low-income housing projects in the Halifax area. It’s part of a $1-billion federal plan to build up to 3,000 new homes for low-income Canadians.

Wood hopes the funding remains true-to-province and on par with the wages low-income Nova Scotians are earning.

“What the provincial government and the HRM thinks is an affordable cost for a unit is not really based on what the minimum average income is of people in Nova Scotia,” said Wood.

“I think it needs to go directly into rent controlled, affordable housing that is also accessible for people with disabilities.

She’s calling on the new Halifax council to continue to put pressure on provincial government officials to implement rent control, so tenants won’t be forced out of the city.