Dayle Crouse has lived in Lunenburg for the past seven years after having grown up on the South Shore, moving away, and then returning. During those seven years, Crouse has moved eight times because she has been unable to find a permanent place she can afford to rent.
“It’s exhausting to move that much. I’ve done short-term rentals during the winter, shared accommodations with others, and lots of house and pet-sitting. It’s either $2,500 for a two-bedroom or there isn’t anything available,” Crouse said.
“By having a new home every winter and not being able to display family photos, it means you are in upheaval all the time. My youngest son doesn’t have his own bed or a space to put up his artwork because nothing is ours. But I’ve promised him he won’t have to change schools or move out of Lunenburg because it’s home.”
Crouse told her story on Wednesday at a news conference in Bridgewater where NDP leader Claudia Chender outlined her party’s plan to introduce legislation to help renters. One-third of Nova Scotians live in rental accommodations.
Chender asked Crouse what type of support she needs.
“We just need something permanent that is year-round,” Crouse responded. “We don’t need marble counter tops or a fancy rooftop garden. We just need affordable family housing. I have a good income but it’s just impossible.”
‘You are never going to challenge a landlord’
Three years ago, Crouse gave up trying to find an apartment and bought a school bus. She pays to rent a spot at a campground.
Crouse and her son live in the bus from June until October now that her two older children are out on their own or living with dad. Crouse said she could have stayed in the one big old house she rented for a while but the winter heating bills — $800 in February — forced her to give it up.
Although she has never been renovicted, Crouse said at a time with such low vacancy rates, the rules governing landlord-tenant relationships don’t always apply.
“I know the tenancies rules [in the Residential Tenancies Act] fairly well. But you are never going to challenge a landlord if they say something that violates them because you need a home. If a landlord is asking for twice the damage deposit or an extra fee because you have two kids, you aren’t going to say, ‘that’s wrong’ because you need a roof over your head.”
Chender is on a week-long tour of the province outlining what she said the NDP will do to try and protect renters.
“We have been hearing these stories from people who can’t find a stable affordable place to live. Although we have a rent cap, there are loopholes because there are no regulations around fixed-term leases,” Chender said. “That means there are more people being renovicted and increasingly, like Dayle, people are having to move more often. So, we are going to fight to close that loophole.”
“We also want to make sure there is enforcement…We know landlords are not complying with the act and I’m sure there are cases where tenants aren’t complying but there is universal agreement there is need for enforcement.”
Chender notes the Department of Environment and Climate Change has inspectors who go out in the field to follow up on complaints. In other provinces, if a tenant calls in to complain a landlord isn’t making repairs or landlord complains a tenant has trashed the property, an enforcement officer goes to the address to inspect.
In Nova Scotia, the current complaints procedure is ineffective and time-consuming, with numerous forms to fill out and eventually, a hearing to hear the dispute, said Chender. Getting money back — on either side — often involves a subsequent trip to small claims court.
Calls from both opposition parties to overhaul the complaints procedure or even enforce the rules as they exist have not been acted upon by the Progressive Conservatives.
“We will introduce legislation to limit renovictions, support tenants with alternate housing when renovations are needed, levy stiff penalties for those who contravene the Residential Tenancies Act, and create a Compliance and Enforcement Division,” Chender said.
NDP urges ‘massive’ investments in affordable units
Earlier this year, the NDP called on the Houston government to build public housing to help 5,000 households on a waiting list. It’s been 30 years since any government of any political stripe did it.
Wednesday’s announcement of $58.8 million in provincial funding in tandem with federal funding of $24.4 million to help 522 low-income households is a significant step in that direction. Chender said affordable housing is not something most developers want to build and only governments — federal, provincial, municipal — have the financial capacity to do what needs to be done.
A study by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2021 estimated the province will require 33,000 affordable housing units by 2030.
In Bridgewater, prior to the announcement in Halifax of government funding for public housing, Chender said there is also another avenue the province could use to stimulate the building of hundreds of additional affordable units.
“Across the province there are affordable housing associations, non-profit groups, and co-ops who are building housing where rent is geared to income,” Chender said. “But governments need to massively ramp up their support of these groups. We are proposing the creation of a fund because non-profit groups don’t have the same equity and access to financing as private developers and governments do.”
Chender said the size of the fund has yet to be costed, but would involve “tens of millions of dollars” to be effective.
In downtown Bridgewater, the South Shore Open Doors Society continues to advocate for more affordable housing in Lunenburg County. A sticker on a large vacant building on King Street that was once a hardware store suggests it could be converted into housing units. But a project of that scale would be beyond the scope of a non-profit group unless it had access to loans as well as professional expertise from architects, engineers, and builders.
Chender points out the government finished 2022-23 with a surplus of $116 million. She said there is also “a cost to doing nothing.” Once people are homeless, the bills are higher. The cost for housing 200 homeless people at the Doubletree Hotel beside the Macdonald Bridge in Dartmouth is estimated to cost $10 million in its first year.