“A Dartmouth woman recently got a rent increase of 45% for what she believes is retaliation for making complaints about safety and maintenance issues in the building where she lives,” reports Suzanne Rent:
Kimberly Rankin has lived at 6 Nivens Avenue in north end Dartmouth since January 2019. But this year, she started reporting issues around the building.
“The course of events definitely looks like retaliation,” Rankin says. “I don’t know what else to call it, if it’s not.”
Rent recounts how Rankin had to work at it to find out who even owned the building, and then there was confusion as to how to pay rent. When Rankin complained about the lack of maintenance on the building, she received a message from the manager: “Keep it up. You’re only hurting yourself.” As this was happening, Rankin’s monthly rent was increased from $695 to $955.
Back in late February, I started paying particular attention to the rental situation in North Dartmouth:
I’ve been writing about the “financialization of everything” for many years, but I’ve recently begun to seriously look at the financialization of housing. I’ve been going to the courthouse two or three days a week for a few years to check for the filing of new civil suits, but only in December did I recognize a trend that has been developing for the last couple of years and had been staring me in the face all along. I wrote about it in a Twitter thread:
Highfield Park was purchased by a Toronto equity firm in August 2017. Since then, Highfield Park Residential Inc. has filed 185 claims against tenants in small claims court.
On its face, such a large number of actions against tenants (the previous owner also took tenants to court, but at nowhere near this level) suggests that rents are being raised very quickly and that tenants can no longer afford rent.
The number of small courts claims against tenants is now about 250, and residents tell me that indeed rents are going up, hundreds of dollars a month. And not just in Highfield Park, but all across the city.
North Dartmouth was one of the very last affordable neighbourhoods in HRM, and now people are being priced out.
Wages are not going up, and rents are soaring. This is not sustainable, and it is having a very real quality of life impact on renters.
No doubt someone is going to houseplain to me that rents in Vancouver and Toronto are higher than in Halifax so… so, I dunno really — we’re not supposed to be concerned about people in our own community?
Why should people in Halifax and Dartmouth — working people, seniors on fixed incomes, our friends, our coworkers, our employees, our parents — see their limited wages and pensions absorbed by rent increases and suffer real life consequences just so that private equity firms and REITs in Toronto, Calgary, New York, and London can make huge fortunes? International finance is leaching off the lives of everyday people in Nova Scotia; it is immoral, and downright obscene.
I’d like to do some deep dive reporting on this issue in coming months, and I’m trying to put together a reporting team for the housing beat. If you have a personal story about how rent increases have played out in your life, please email the Examiner at “housing” “at” halifaxexminer.ca.
My hope then was to get a journalism class involved in looking at rental issues, and then the pandemic hit, and everything changed. It wasn’t a good idea to have students knocking on doors all over town, and the Examiner’s resources got repurposed for reporting on COVID.
But, if anything, the housing crisis has gotten worse. I’d now like to have the Examiner return to the issue. Rankin contacted us about her story, and so I assigned the reporting to Suzanne Rent; if you too have a rental story you’d like to tell us about, please drop us a line — housing “at” halifaxexaminer “dot” ca.
2. Northwood review
Writes Stephen Kimber:
Last week, the McNeil government announced its plans for a “review” of the 53 COVID-19 deaths at Northwood. The problem is that it isn’t a review, just another excuse not to be accountable.
Relatedly, last week, the Royal Society of Canada released its report, “Restoring Trust: COVID-19 and The Future of Long-Term Care,” which plainly states:
We have failed our older adults by not keeping pace with care demands, by assuming that care of the frail older adults in nursing homes is “just basic care” and anyone can do it with little or almost no training and education, by ignoring the highly gendered nature of nursing home care, by “holding the line” on resources. We have failed by believing that the solution lies in a less than coherent approach to regulation — high regulation in some areas that may for example, infringe on individual rights and freedoms, and no regulation in others such as consistent education standards for direct care staff. Most shamefully, we have failed by not hearing the voices of older Canadians in their last phase of life. Canadian nursing homes had generally been able to “just manage”, something far from adequate before the pandemic.
Then came COVID-19, a shock wave that cracked wide all the pre-existing fractures in our nursing homes. It precipitated, in the worst circumstances, loss of life, along with high levels of physical, mental and emotional suffering for our older adults. Those unnecessarily lost lives had value. Those older adults deserved the last years of their lives and they deserved a good death. We failed them. We have a duty and a responsibility to fix this — not just to prepare for the second wave of COVID-19 and other future infectious diseases but a root-and-branch overhaul of the LTC sector that helped that crisis wreak such avoidable and tragic havoc. We can take steps to immediately begin restoring the trust we have broken. It’s a matter of choice. [emphasis in original]
The report makes nine recommendations:
- The federal government must immediately commission and act on a comprehensive, pan- Canadian, data-based assessment of national standards for necessary staffing and staffing mix in nursing homes. National standards must encompass the care team that is needed to deliver quality care and should be achieved by tying new federal dollars to those national standards.
- The federal government must establish and implement national standards for nursing homes that ensure (a) training and resources for infectious disease control, including optimal use of personal protective equipment and (b) protocols for expanding staff and restricting visitors during outbreaks.
- The provincial and territorial governments, with the support of new funding from the federal government, must immediately implement appropriate pay and benefits, including sick leave, for the large and critical unregulated workforce of direct care aides and personal support workers. Appropriate pay and benefits must be permanent and not limited to the timespan of COVID-19. Pay and benefits must be equitable across the country and equitable both across the LTC sector and between the LTC and acute care sectors for regulated and unregulated staff.
- Provincial and territorial governments must make available full-time employment with benefits to all unregulated staff and regulated nursing staff. They should also evaluate the impact on nursing homes of “one workplace” policies now in effect in many nursing homes and the further impact on adequate care in other LTC setting such as retirement homes, hospitals and home care. Provincial and territorial governments must assess the mechanisms of infection spread from multi-site work practices and implement a robust tracking system.
- Provincial and territorial governments must establish and implement (a) minimum education standards for the unregulated direct care workforce in nursing homes, (b) continuing education for both the unregulated and regulated direct care workforce in nursing homes and (c) proper training and orientation for anyone assigned to work at nursing homes through external, private staffing agencies.
- To achieve these education and training objectives, provincial and territorial governments must support educational reforms for specializations in LTC for all providers of direct care in nursing homes, care aides, health and social care professionals, managers and directors of care.
- Provincial and territorial governments, with the support of federal funds, must provide mental health supports for all nursing home staff. In addition to extraordinarily stressful pandemic working conditions, these staff are experiencing significant deaths among the older adults they have known for months and years, and among colleagues. They are grieving now, and this will continue.
- Federal support of the LTC sector must be tied to requirements for data collection in all appropriate spheres that are needed to effectively manage and support nursing homes and their staff. Data collected must include resident quality of care, resident quality of life, resident and family experiences, and quality of work life for staff. Data must be collected using validated, appropriate tools, such as tools suitable for residents with moderate to severe dementia. Captured data must address disparities and compounding vulnerabilities among both residents and staff, such as race, ethnicity, language, gender identity, guardianship status, socioeconomic status, religion, physical or intellectual disability status, and trauma history screening.
- Data collection must be transparent and at arm’s length from the LTC sector and governments. Provincial and territorial governments must evaluate and use data to appropriately revisit regulation and accreditation in nursing homes. They must take an evidence-based and balanced approach to mandatory accreditation, as well as to regulation and inspection of nursing homes. They must engage the LTC sector in this process, particularly the people receiving care, their families, managers and care providers.
“A long-awaited social procurement policy is coming to Halifax regional council for debate next week, but use of the proposed policy — including requiring contractors to pay a living wage or hire African Nova Scotians — would be mostly optional for municipal departments,” reports Zane Woodford:
As the Halifax Examiner has pointed out many times, the city contracts out services like the cleaning of its buildings, and those workers are not well paid.
The only reason the city contracts out these services is so City Hall can (supposedly) “save” money because the contractors don’t have to pay the union wages city workers get paid, about $20/hour — in fact, the contractors pay shit wages, at or near minimum wage.
Will those workers now be paid a living wage? That depends on whether the department contracting them wants to require it.
Rather than requiring a living wage or supplier diversity in all contracts, the wording of the new policy leaves its use up to each department’s discretion when crafting a tender or request for proposals.
As I wrote on Twitter:
This angers me. I attempted to make this an election issue in 2016. At the time, most of the candidates said they supported a living wage ordinance. But no action was taken until 2017, when councillor Lindell Smith brought it up.
Even then, staff obscured and obfuscated the issue. A living wage ordinance is simple! “All city workers must be paid at least X, and all contractors doing work for City Hall must pay their employees X.” Instead, it first got complicated as a “social procurement policy” and it was delayed, delayed, and delayed. Every delay meant more three-year contracts were approved, the winning bid going to the company that paid the shittiest wages.
So we have janitors cleaning city buildings, people mowing the grass at city rec fields, etc., working for poverty wages, holding down two or three jobs because their city job alone won’t pay enough to support their kids. It effects their health, their ability to parent, their role in society.
We talked a lot of nonsense about “essential workers” and then ignored the very same workers.
So we have city managers making six figures, and city councillors making $90K, deciding that other city workers should live in poverty. It’s obscene.
And we’ve been playing this obscene joke over and over again about a “procurement policy” for three frickin’ years. And at the end of it, we get a proposal for an optional department decision to include a living wage as part of their decision-making, but of course department managers will be judged on limiting their budget increases, so it’s a policy on paper only.
This is an obscene joke on workers and on those who advocated for them. It’s slap in the face of human decency. It’s SHAMEFUL. It’s beyond shameful. The people producing this policy, and if it’s approved as is, councillors, should suffer the wrath of decent people everywhere.
“An Eastern Passage father says he’s devastated that his young son with autism won’t be able to continue a critical intervention program put on hold due to COVID-19,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
Last August, Kyle Gracie’s son Jackson entered the Early Intensive Behavioural Intervention Program (EIBI). The five-year-old has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and global developmental delay. He’s also nonverbal, not toilet trained, uses a bottle, and is considered a major flight risk.
The EIBI program was the family’s best hope for giving him some of the key skills required before entering school in September. Prior to its suspension in March, the program had also started paving the way for Jackson to communicate.
Last week, the family was told EIBI services for children like Jackson who were born in 2014 wouldn’t be extended. Gracie said they were also told children born in 2015 will likely lose out on the service altogether.
I’m quite happy that d’Entremont is working for the Examiner — she broadens our reporting nicely, and has a knack for finding stories that I would otherwise overlook, like this one. I see that the CBC liked it too; they’re re-reporting the story this morning.
I’m additionally grateful for reader input on these stories. Alex Kronstein commented on the story, faulting us for not including the perspective of a person with autism (as opposed to just the parent of an autistic child), and goes on to criticize the EIBI program. As editor, I’m taking Kronstein’s comments seriously; I know that (like most media) the Examiner has work to do in terms of making our reporting more accessible and in including a diverse range of voices, and I see that we should put more effort into finding those voices.
5. Atlantic bubble
“Susan Kirkland, head of public health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University, said while the Atlantic bubble is indeed safe, she understands the concerns expressed by those in PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:
She said what makes it safe now is that there are relatively few cases in the Atlantic region. As long as COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, quarantining, and social isolation protocols continue in all four provinces, she described the risk as “relatively low.”
Kirkland said the key to keeping it that way is maintaining vigilance. Provincial governments must continue testing and contact tracing. The public needs to continue with fastidious handwashing, disinfecting spaces and places that are heavily used, and practicing social distancing.
“Creating a bubble doesn’t give us licence to forget everything else,” she said.
The message Kirkland repeats frequently is the need to normalize wearing masks. She said the virus is going to be with us for a “long time” and wearing masks in public is a simple measure that prevents further spread.
Although it’s not necessary to wear them outdoors in the summer if you’re maintaining social distancing or in your own home or visiting friends, she urges everyone to wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
“We do have that evidence now and it’s really clear that even a non-surgical mask can be protective both for you and for the other person,” she explained.
“You wear it mostly to protect the other person, but the other person wears it back in turn to protect you. If dual people are wearing them then you have that double protection in place.”
6. The local angle, Examiner edition
As I was weeding the garden yesterday, I was listening to the New York Times’ The Daily podcast, which meant catching up on the “Sunday read” from June 28, “The Man Who Saw America,” about photographer Robert Frank. It’s not the focus of the podcast, but along the way, in 1970, Frank landed in Mabou. He was only there for a few months, but he seems to have stayed connected to the place — in fact, he was there in 2015; here’s a picture of him:
Frank was given an honourary degree by NSCAD in 2015. He died last September.
No public meetings.
Halifax Council (10am, virtual meeting) — here’s the agenda. Of particular note is the procurement policy (see #3 above) and the borrowing of up to $130 million from the Municipal Finance Corporation. On the latter issue, the staff report details that 10% of property owners have missed the June 1 deadline for paying property taxes and “it is probable that many impacted customers will also struggle to pay their final October tax bill.” The stark reality is that many of these property owners will lose their properties, and the city will ultimately recoup lost tax revenue via tax sales.
Zane Woodford will report on the meeting for the Examiner.
No public meetings.
In the harbour
04:00: CMA CGM Elbe, container ship, sails from Pier 41 for New York
05:00: MOL Emissary, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
06:15: Toreador, car carrier, arrives at Pier 31 from Göteborg, Sweden
13:00: Toreador moves to Autoport
16:00: MOL Emissary sails for Rotterdam
19:30: CSL Tacoma, bulker, moves from Bedford Basin anchorage to National Gypsum
Everyone should listen to the Uncover: Dead Wrong podcast, but you know who should especially listen to it? City councillors and police commissioners.
I once asked councillor Tony Mancini, who represents the north end of Dartmouth and sits on the police commission, if he had read my Dead Wrong series, and he said he hadn’t. This surprised me; after all, the terrible murder of Brenda Way happened in the heart of the district he represents, and he (theoretically) oversees the police whose actions led to the wrongful conviction of Glen Assoun.
Maybe the written series is too long for Mancini and the other councillors and police commissioners. If so, they should consider the podcast; like me, they can listen while weeding the garden.
I still have a couple weeks’ work on the podcast project, and then I’ll be tied up in a four-day court hearing to unseal the search warrants in the mass murder investigation. But, I tell myself, after that I’ll be taking a short vacation, a week anyway.
Then, hopefully recharged, I’ll dive back into all things Examiner. There are so many potential projects, including the housing issue mentioned above, systematizing how the Examiner finds stories worthy of deep dive investigations, a possible new hire, and even a look into New Brunswick, among others. Really, the sky’s the limit; it’s just a matter of resources. Which means: what the Examiner can do depends on how many people subscribe. Your subscription makes this work possible; please subscribe.