‘It’s scandalous:’ People in Halifax share their struggles to find housing at NDP event

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WATCH: There are still concerns for many Canadians who can’t afford a home, but in 2020, the federal government invested billions in a rapid housing project aimed at helping them. In its initial stages, more than 10,000 affordable housing units were approved across Canada to be built within 12-18 months. Yet, as of November, less than 1,500 are completed. Alicia Draus has more. – Mar 12, 2023

Nova Scotians are speaking up about their struggles to find affordable housing in the province.

The Nova Scotia NDP held a town hall meeting on housing in Halifax on Thursday night. Many hands were raised to pose questions to Halifax Chebucto MLA Gary Burrill and Halifax-Needham MLA Suzy Hansen.

Some of their biggest concerns were fixed-term leases, housing for students and seniors, and worries about the growing homeless population.

In Nova Scotia, there’s currently a 2-per cent rent cap in place, which is set to remain in effect until December 2023. Landlords are not allowed to go beyond that threshold for existing tenants when increasing the rent annually.

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However, fixed-term leases can be negotiated at the end of their term. That means they can be one way for landlords to skirt the temporary rent cap as it does not apply to new tenants.

The NDP say they’ve received many calls from residents over the loophole and other housing concerns.

“Housing is such a broad issue for so many folks, and when you think about fixed terms leases to students not having a place to live to seniors and the unhoused — there’s so much to take in,” Hansen says. “This government should be looking at it in that way.”

She’s the NDP’s housing critic. Hansen says the next step is to review the stories and use the feedback to come up with solutions for the housing crisis and low vacancy rates.

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Beth Hayward attended the town hall to share her daughter’s story.

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She says the university student is being pushed out of her home because of the “loophole” around fixed-term leases. Hayward says her daughter and the roommate she lives with were informed by the landlord that the goal is to rent the apartment out at a more expensive price when their lease expires.

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“They signed a fixed-term lease, it’s coming up later this spring,” Hayward explains. “The landlord has said to them ‘I want you out because there are people willing to pay more.’ The best advice that we could get from Dalhousie Legal Aid … was if you put different names on the lease maybe then you can stay with a higher rent.”

Hayward says it’s unnecessary stress to place on a university student.

“To be worried about housing when you’re coming up to final papers, mid-terms, final exams, it’s a huge amount of stress,” she says. “They thought by signing a one-year lease they were set.”

Now their homework also includes reading the Residential Tenancies Act.

Shaun Clark also attended the town hall. He says he wanted to raise the voices of people who — like him — have disabilities to ensure their concerns are heard when it comes to affordable housing.

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“I wanted to remind people that 30.4 per cent of our province — over 300,000 people — identify as a person with disabilities,” he says.

“We don’t all look the same, we don’t all have the same disability. But accessibility needs to be considered when it comes to housing. Accessible, affordable housing.”

Another woman who identified herself as Olga stood up at the meeting to express her concerns for the homeless population.

“Every time I drive by a park and see the growing number of tents I feel that I’m almost on the verge of tears,” she told the NDP panel. “It’s scandalous. I just feel so horrified that this is going on in our province.”

Collins Ellison wants to see better income support for the unhoused in Nova Scotia. He says, for example, more money is spent per day to maintain an offender in a correctional services institution than is provided to help someone who is sleeping on the street.

“I think that’s atrocious,” he says. “I would challenge the government as to suggesting why its priorities seemingly align with unnecessary criminalization rather than supporting folks who are the most vulnerable in our society.”

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Around 150 people registered to attend the event in person and online.

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