The images of baton-wielding and pepper-spraying police violently moving protestors from city workers’ path so that people living in tents could be evicted from the Memorial Library lawn and so that shelters could be torn apart with a chain saw is perhaps the most stark recent example of just how dire Nova Scotia’s housing crisis has become — but it’s not the only example.
Rising housing prices have been making a material difference in people’s lives for years. As rent increases by $100, $200, $500, and more a month, people are moving to lower quality apartments, moving farther from their jobs and schools and grocery stores, living with roommates or family, and often, couch surfing or sleeping rough. The percentage of their income going to rent increases, so the percentage going to quality food and medication and their kids’ clothes goes down.
When housing prices increase, quality of life goes down. People work more and longer hours. Their commuting time increases. Stress and mental anguish build. Time with loved ones is shortened or eliminated.
A tiny silver lining in the pandemic was the imposition of rent control, which supposedly prevented landlords from increasing rents by more than 2% annually — albeit plenty of landlords have found they can exceed the limit through renovictions and other work-arounds.
And now, as Nova Scotia heads into Phase 5 of the reopening plan, short-term rent control is set to expire. In his first televised press conference since the election, Premier-Designate Tim Houston said in no uncertain terms that rent control will be lifted as the state of emergency ends.
In anticipation, landlords are sending letter to tenants, advising that when rent control is lifted they can expect to see monthly rent increase by many hundreds of dollars, and sometimes over $1,000. Just as COVID is winding down, the housing crisis will become even more of a widespread emergency, affecting people across the income spectrum.
The Halifax Examiner is therefore focusing its entire reporting team on these issues, with a investigative series we’re calling PRICED OUT: Addressing the Housing Crisis.
Given the breadth of this crisis, we’re asking for your help in deciding what we should report on, and from what perspective. That’s why we have an ongoing series of reader engagement sessions hosted by Examiner editor Suzanne Rent; we’ve already assigned reporters to stories based on what we’ve heard from readers, but there’s still plenty of time to be heard. You can call or text our housing reporting project message line at 1-819-803-6215, and tell us your story or your concerns.
Our work so far:
• Nova Scotia fighting to evict 63-year-old man with terminal cancer from public housing (August 30, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
78. Halifax council votes to legalize rooming houses despite suburban and rural parking concerns (August 10, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
77. Halifax officially asks police to clear Meagher Park (August 5, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
76. Halifax mobilizing police to clear unhoused people from Meagher Park (August 2, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
75. Federal, provincial governments pledge millions to preserve Nova Scotia co-op, nonprofit housing (July 25, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
74. Criminalization, disappearance, and death: the results of clearing urban encampments (Morning File, July 19, 2022, by Philip Moscovitch)
73. Halifax police board asked to make policy on encampment enforcement (July 7, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
72. Women and gender diverse people are disproportionately affected by the housing crisis. Are we doing enough? (June 23, 2022, by Suzanne Rent)
71. Nova Scotia auditor general finds public housing governance ‘severely lacking’ (June 21, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
70. Halifax police board to pursue independent civilian review of August 18 police action (June 21, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
69. Small business owners should be advocating for off-market housing (Morning File, June 20, 2022, by Tim Bousquet)
68. Landlord asked Halifax tenant for illegal deposit, denied apartment when she refused (June 17, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
67. Councillors approve new plan for sanctioned tent sites, with Halifax police as ‘final resort’ (June 14, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
66. Staff still looking to Halifax police to enforce new plan for tenting in municipal parks (June 13, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
65. New 24-hour shelter opening in Truro this summer (June 2, 2022, by Suzanne Rent)
64. Council votes to contribute to Housing Trust of Nova Scotia’s purchase of 295 affordable homes (June 1, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
63. Point-in-time count shows record number of people unhoused in Halifax (June 1, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
62. Nova Scotia making provincially-owned properties available for development (May 31, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
61. City camping: Toronto teaches Halifax another lesson about tents, parks, and homelessness (Morning File, May 17, 2022, by Ethan Lycan-Lang)
60. Halifax councillors tweak staff plan to designate tent sites in city parks (May 4, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
59. Municipal staff recommend allowing tents at a handful of Halifax-area parks (May 2, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
58. Housing Trust of Nova Scotia changing tack, abandoning development plan and buying hundreds of apartments (May 2, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
57. Councillor blames Halifax Mutual Aid for alleged assault in Dartmouth park (April 26, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
56. Halifax councillors cool to decriminalizing sheltering in parks (April 21, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
55. Tenants evicted from rundown Bedford Highway hotel; landlord says it’s not a renoviction (April 21, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
54. Tenants still holding out hope for Highfield, but concerns about trash, repairs, and staffing remain (April 14, 2022, by Suzanne Rent)
53. Renovictions spike, but let’s not forget the plight of landlords (Morning file, April 12, 2022, by Philip Moscovitch)
52. Demand for housing assistance, legal aid support on the rise since renoviction ban lifted (April 12, 2022, by Leslie Amminson)
51. ‘Anti-democratic’ bill cutting Halifax planning committees moves ahead (April 11, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
50. Nova Scotia housing minister moves to cut Halifax planning committees for three years (April 6, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
49. Researchers explore homelessness in Nova Scotia during early months of COVID-19 (April 6, 2022, by Yvette d’Entremont)
48. Nova Scotia contributes $200,000 to revised Habitat for Humanity project in Spryfield (April 4, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
47. Volunteer group asks HRM to use bylaw to allow unhoused people to continue camping in public parks (April 1, 2022, by Leslie Amminson)
46. Halifax shelter moving from Commons; province spending $195k to keep beds open at new location (April 1, 2022, by Ethan Lycan-Lang)
45. Province announces $21.8 million forgivable loan to developer to build affordable housing in Dartmouth (March 28, 2022, by Ethan Lycan-Lang)
44. The rules of supply and demand no longer hold for housing, so simply building more market housing won’t bring prices down (Morning File, March 28, 2022, by Tim Bousquet)
43. Province moves to speed up development approvals for 22,600 housing units in Halifax, but none of them are guaranteed affordable (March 25, 2022, by Tim Bousquet)
42. Protestors rally outside legislature demanding minimum wage increase, more affordable housing, tenant protections (March 24, 2022, by Leslie Amminson)
41. Volunteer network says it won’t help dismantle People’s Park after CAO Dubé asks for group’s help to “peacefully” close park (March 17, 2022, by Ethan Lycan-Lang and Leslie Amminson)
40. Co-op council converting New Glasgow inn to affordable housing (March 7, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
39. Halifax Pavilion to be used as temporary shelter, other housing projects secure funding (March 1, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
38. Halifax apartment rental vacancy drops back to 1%, the lowest in Canada (February 18, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
37. HRM lost more beds for the unhoused than it’s gained, but advocates say more beds doesn’t always make for a better situation (January 30, 2022, by Ethan Lycan-Lang and Leslie Amminson)
36. Tenants could be living in ‘trailblazing’ Dartmouth housing project by mid-March (January 27, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
35. Defunding report calls for better Halifax police oversight, ‘detasking,’ increased spending on affordable housing (January 14, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
34. Council celebrates completion of Dartmouth modular housing despite ongoing delays (January 11, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
33. Halifax modular housing won’t be ready until mid-March, says city staff report (January 7, 2022, by Zane Woodford)
32. Staff and advocates rally to save emergency shelter set to close this month (December 17, 2021, by Ethan Lycan-Lang and Leslie Amminson)
31. Living on the streets can kill (Morning File, December 14, 2021, by Philip Moscovitch)
30. “Call back the house until everybody’s got one:” Protestors demand province call emergency session of legislature to deal with housing crisis (November 28, 2021, by Ethan Lycan-Lang and Leslie Amminson)
29. What does the term “affordable housing” really mean? (November 24, 2021, by Suzanne Rent)
28. Province to give $6.4 million to developers to build affordable housing (November 23, 2021)
27. As winter approaches, residents of People’s Park, volunteers, and neighbours wait for a better housing solution (November 12, 2021, by Ethan Lycan-Lang)
26. Council votes to approve $3.2 million for purchase of new modular housing units for locations in Halifax, Dartmouth (November 9, 2021, by Yvette d’Entremont)
25. Environmentalists: climate change bill is good, but not good enough; Landlords: the rent cap hurts us and tenants (November 2, 2021, by Tim Bousquet and Jennifer Henderson)
24. Nova Scotia rent cap would continue under proposed PC legislation, but loopholes remain (October 28, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
23. PC government bill would allow minister to approve Halifax developments without public consultation (October 28, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
22. Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia converting Dartmouth hotel to supportive housing for 65 people (October 28, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
21. Houston’s housing plan: rent control stays, 1,100 new affordable units, interventions in Halifax planning (October 20, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
20. Halifax police board seeks second opinion on its authority to review response to homeless evictions protest (October 18, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
19. Halifax releases more details on planned modular housing for people living in parks (October 1, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
18. City setting up trailers in Halifax and Dartmouth for people currently living in parks (September 29, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
17. Halifax council approves mobile shower pilot program, doubles housing grant program (September 28, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
16. Halifax police chief promises ‘fulsome review’ of Aug. 18 police raid on homeless camps, board to consider independent probe (September 20, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
15. Volunteers call for moratorium on Halifax tent, shelter evictions after residents lose hotel rooms (September 17, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
14. Nickel and dimed: How landlords skirt the law to hang onto damage deposits (September 9, 2021, by Philip Moscovitch)
13. Study to look at “portable” housing subsidies (September 3, 2021, by Yvette d’Entremont)
12. How 27 units of affordable co-op housing in Halifax were sold off for cheap (September 1, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
11. People’s Park: ‘None of this is sustainable’ (September 1, 2021, by Yvette d’Entremont)
10. Halifax council votes to use $13 million in federal money to fund 85 affordable units, pledges $500,000 in new housing spending (September 1, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
9. Halifax police evict more people living in tents from city parks (August 26, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
8. Halifax police arrest, pepper spray protesters as city evicts homeless people from parks (August 19, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
7. Halifax issues eviction notices to people living in tents in city parks, threatening fines and arrest (August 17, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
6. Halifax landlords ‘skirt the law’ by making month-to-month leases more expensive (August 11, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
5. The Halifax Examiner has a telephone line dedicated to hearing your housing stories and concerns (Morning File, July 19, 2021, by Tim Bousquet)
4. Federal government pledges $13 million for Halifax housing as mayor backtracks on shelter removal (July 14, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
3. Halifax starts removing emergency shelters from parks days before stated deadline (July 9, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
2. Halifax hired consultant specializing ‘in empathy-based approaches to homeless encampments’ for $7,000 (July 8, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
1. Halifax threatens to remove temporary shelters if they’re still on city land in a week (July 6, 2021, by Zane Woodford)
8. The rules of supply and demand no longer hold for housing, so simply building more market housing won’t bring prices down (Morning File, March 28, 2022, by Tim Bousquet)
7. Jen Powley: For a real smackdown on slumlords, demand that landlords be licensed (February 28, 2022, by Jen Powley)
6. Housing: party for a few, crisis for the rest (Morning File, January 5, 2022, by Philip Moscovitch)
5. $1,000 a month for rent? Who is affordable housing designed to help? (Morning File, November 24, 2021, by Ethan Lycan-lang)
4. John Lohr is the minister charged with Nova Scotia’s housing file, but doesn’t seem to comprehend the housing crisis (Morning File, September 3, 2021, by Tim Bousquet)
3. Gaslighting Halifax: how the mayor, a councillor, and the chief of police created a false narrative about the violent eviction of rough sleepers from city parks (Morning File, August 20, 2021, by Tim Bousquet)
2. When developers and landlords speak, Tim Houston listens (August 29, 2021, by Stephen Kimber)
1. PRICED OUT, burned out, policed out: the deepening divide between the have-nots and the have-somes (Morning File, August 25, 2021, by Tim Bousquet)
Here’s what we’re working on:
Resources for tenants
We’ll compile a list of legal resources, organizations that can help, and otherwise help you work through your situation. What do you do when you’re faced with a landlord who won’t maintain the property or rental increases you can’t afford, and what can you do if you’re renovicted?
We’ll be putting human faces to the housing crisis by profiling everyday people facing real-world challenges in finding and maintaining housing they can afford.
Just how big is the crisis?
We’ll be using our skills at data journalism and court reporting to define the crisis: What are rental costs in terms of a percentage of income, and how has that changed over time? Who is being enriched by high rents? How much money is leaving the community as a result of out-of-town REITs buying up apartments?
We’ll be asking experts to weigh in on the rhetoric around rent control, and to what degree it can help take the edge off the crisis.
Communities in crisis
We’ve assigned African Nova Scotian reporter Matthew Byard to examine issues specific to the ANS community. What is the future of Uniacke Square? What does the housing situation in North Preston look like? How is Upper Hammonds Plains affected by white exurbia? How is a new sprawling development affecting the character of historic Beechwood?
We recognize that the housing crisis is not limited to the urban area, but is instead spread throughout the province. In fact, in some rural areas the crisis is even worse than in Halifax, as increased rents translate into much longer commutes and are pricing some people out of communities entirely. We’ll be assigning reporters to look specifically at the housing crisis in communities across the province.
Social housing and cooperative housing
Why aren’t non-market and public housing approaches much of a help in the crisis? We’ll be looking at Nova Scotia’s long and proud history of cooperative housing, and asking why governments haven’t supported that workable solution to affordability. And, we’ll look at one specific housing organization in Halifax that has been working quietly behind the scenes for decades to provide affordable housing for young families and asking if that effort can be duplicated and expanded.
The housing insecure
In 2013, newly elected Halifax mayor Mike Savage joined a coalition of government and nonprofit agencies called the Housing and Homelessness Partnership, which promised to embrace the Housing First approach to homelessness — simply providing housing for people immediately and helping them deal with their life problems afterwards. The ambitious aim, said Savage, was to eliminate homelessness in Halifax in five years. Five years came and went, and now, rather ending the problem by providing housing, Savage is overseeing a city government that is siccing cops on the homeless. What happened? Why did the high idealism of the Housing and Homelessness Partnership fail? And, might it be resurrected and succeed?
The economics of housing
We’ll be asking: Does it have to be this way? Is it necessary that most housing should be at the whims of private landlords and the fickle market, or is there a better approach to housing generally? And, in the moment, we’ll be looking to document the effect of the increased financialization of the housing stock on renters’ lives.
But the list above is not exhaustive. Our reporting will grow and change depending on what we learn from readers. We really do want to hear from you!
Check back on this page often. We’ll update it with newly published articles, notices of community engagement sessions, and more.
We’d also like your help in another way. Because the housing crisis is affecting everyone, from all sorts of income levels, this reporting will be made free for everyone to read, whether they are subscribers or not. But of course, it costs money to do the work, to file the freedom of information requests, in some instances to pay for legal review, and to pay the reporters. If you are able, we ask that you please subscribe to the Halifax Examiner, or donate specifically to help fund PRICED OUT.
Subscribe to the Halifax Examiner
The Halifax Examiner is an advertising-free, subscriber-supported news site. Your subscription makes this work possible.