November 22nd, 2019

Op-Ed: Action needed as we mark National Housing Day

In the headlines and behind the scenes, Halifax has a serious issue when it comes to affordable housing.

The situation is bleak for regular people who are renting in this city. I visited tenants in Fairview this fall who were resisting eviction from a building that has traditionally been an affordable rental. The landlord appeared to be anxious to profit from a very low-vacancy market by rebranding, renovating, and increasing the rents.

The company sent letters announcing the deadline for all tenants to be out without filing the required paperwork to evict under the Residential Tenancies Act. Despite the lack of a legal eviction process, many residents were scared into leaving. Some held on for weeks past the deadline, knowing that there simply were no other affordable units for them to move. Today, at least one of those tenants is staying in a shelter.

In my office, I recently learned of a couple who was asked to leave their rented home of 38 years – a small post-war house in the West End of Halifax – because their 90-year-old landlord sold the house and the new owners want them gone.

We hear regularly from people who are facing rent hikes in the hundreds of dollars, a practice that is perfectly legal because we have no rent control legislation in Nova Scotia. Our caucus has introduced the Rental Fairness and Affordability Act to reestablish rent control in Nova Scotia, with no indication of interest from the Liberals.

Meanwhile, the wait list for public housing is exploding and even those who qualify for a rent supplement struggle to find housing because there are simply not enough options.

The McNeil Liberals have finally signed a bi-lateral agreement for Nova Scotia’s share of the federal housing strategy, committing their half of $394 million over 10 years. Most of the money will be spent on upgrading existing units, a necessary task, but the Liberals have not said anything about new units being created in the first three years of the plan.

The last few years provide little encouragement that the money will be spent on truly affordable, non-market housing. This government has spent $212 million dollars over three years, mostly on rent rebates and renovation funds that go directly to private, for-profit landlords and developers, and do little to improve the housing landscape in a real way.

This province and this city need real investment in non-market, non-profit, community, co-operative, truly affordable housing, now.

Lisa Roberts is the MLA for Halifax Needham and NDP Housing Spokesperson.