At least 100 protesters rallied in front of Province House on Thursday, demanding the Houston government address the housing crisis, as MLAs headed into the fall session of the legislature.
Hannah Wood, chair of the Halifax peninsula chapter of ACORN, a tenancy union that advocates on behalf of low- and moderate-income people across the country, led the crowd in a chant.
As Wood yelled, “What do we want?” the crowd yelled back, “Affordable housing.” Wood then yelled, “When do we want it?” And the protesters responded with, “Now!”
In an interview, Wood spoke about ACORN’s list of demands for the Houston government to address the housing crisis. It is a long list.
Among ACORN’s demands are permanent rent control tied to the housing unit and not the tenant, changes to the loophole on fixed-term leases, a watchdog and policy around landlord retaliation against tenants, a system that keeps tabs on leases being ended for renovictions (to ensure the work being done is actually enough to evict a tenant), investigations on no-fault evictions, improved conditions in social housing, and much more affordable housing.
“I believe there are somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 people on the list for affordable housing, waiting now for housing,” Wood told the Halifax Examiner. “The amount [of housing] they’re putting out now is not enough to meet the need of people waiting right now, let alone the amount people will continue to need.”
Wood stressed that the private market doesn’t have solutions to the housing crisis.
“We completely don’t believe that. It’s a lie. It’s nonsense. We will never fix this problem with only market solutions. We need affordable housing to be built, that is tied to the income of the people who live in it, and has nothing to do with the market,” Wood said.
“I’d like to remind people we used to do that. Until 1994, this province used to regularly build affordable social housing on the provincial dime, and we stopped doing it. And look at what happened.”
Wood called recent housing announcements — 200 new units being built in communities across the province, and Wednesday’s news about a tiny home community and more shelters — “Band-Aids” on the crisis.
“Every individual deserves real housing. Every individual deserves a home with multiple bedrooms that can accommodate families, that can accommodate a yard,” Wood said.
“These things are truly Band-Aids, and if we allow them to be the solution, all they’ll ever build is them. They’re not bad in and of themselves, but they are not the solution.”
‘We need some solutions now’
A couple of tenants in Ocean Breeze Village were at the rally to speak about the prospect of losing their homes. That 57-acre development in North Dartmouth is home to about 1,000 people and was purchased last year by Basin Heights Community Limited Partnership, a conglomerate of local developers including Cresco, Fares & Co. Development, and T & H Group Developments.
Some residents of Ocean Breeze received letters over the summer telling them homes in the village were set to be demolished soon, and tenants would have to vacate by the end of May 2024.
Celine Porcheron, who is with the Ocean Breeze Renters Association, and was at the rally holding up a sign that said “affordable housing now,” said there are about 50 to 60 residents already looking for housing, and they can’t find a place to go.
“We need some solutions now. We don’t need them a month from now or next spring. We need to know what to do now. These are families. Most of the townhouses and apartments in Ocean Breeze have three to four people living in them,” Porcheron said in an interview.
“They’re also very pet-friendly. That’s one of the reasons I moved there. I worry about what these families will choose, whether they will live in a tent rather than give up their animals. We have a lot of veterans that live in our village who have nowhere to go.”
Jenn Laverty has lived in Ocean Breeze since 2015. She has three children, and her eldest lives with her own three children just down the street. Now, Laverty said, they are all stressed they will have to find a new place to live.
When they first heard the news from the new owners of Ocean Breeze, Laverty said, “It was a little bit of panic. We were like, ‘Where are we going?’ We have to find two houses or two apartments and there’s not a whole lot of transparency and communication from the owners.”
Laverty said she pays $1,100 a month in rent, plus the costs for heat, hot water, and utilities. She said she works at a non-profit where part of her job involves helping others find housing.
“I know how difficult it is,” Laverty said. “I deal with that all day long and I come home, and I can’t breathe. I can’t do anything.”
Laverty said if she could find a place it would have to be smaller, and she would possibly have to give up her dog and cats. Her daughter has a dog and cat as well.
“With the housing market the way that it is, there is absolutely no way we’d be able to go and buy a house because of the way the interest rates are, and everybody overbidding on housing because the housing market is so terrible,” Laverty said.
Laverty said she had a message for Nova Scotia Housing Minister John Lohr.
“There really needs to be a more concerted effort in making affordable housing and not just all over the province because HRM is highly saturated with bad homelessness,” she said.
“If Cresco and Fares are successful in what they’re doing right now, they’re going to displace another 1,200 to 1,500 people, and at least half of those are children.”
‘I still haven’t found a place to call my home’
Charlotte Reid is another tenant who spoke at the rally. She told her story about receiving an eviction notice in April at a home where she’s lived with her three children for nine years. Reid said she had signed a fixed-term lease not fully understanding what it meant.
Reid and her landlord went to a hearing at Residential Tenancies, which Reid won. She was awarded damages from her landlord. But Reid said not only has her landlord not paid her that money, he appealed the ruling from the tenancy board and then sold the home.
“The new owner handed me a DR2 [a notice to a tenant to quit when a landlord sells a property and the new owner or a family member is going to move in]. That means I have 60 days from that document being handed to me to move out of my home, me and my three children,” Reid told the crowd.
Reid said the new owner told her he was moving in. She pays $1,000 in rent and has been searching for a new place, but hasn’t found anything she can afford.
“Anything I’ve looked at now is more than $1,800. How is a single income supposed to afford a rent such as that? And that is on the lower end of the range of rents being asked for the same size units I’m currently residing in,” Reid said.
“This has been beyond stressful for me and my children. And if it wasn’t for the fact that I have a supportive network of family and friends, I would be effectively homeless at the end of the month because I still haven’t found a place to call my home.”
‘Housing is a human right’
Halifax Needham MLA and NDP housing critic Suzy Hansen also spoke to the crowd, before heading into the legislature for the opening day of the fall session.
“Housing is a human right, and we need to be respectful of those people on the street, looking for new homes, facing evictions. We need to find spaces and places that are affordable, safe, and secure for each and every member of Nova Scotia,” Hansen said.
“I am also here to amplify your voices in the house.”
Hansen also talked about the issue of developers leaving land vacant and delaying building residential housing. She pointed to the example of the former Bloomfield school site between Robie and Agricola streets in Halifax. Last week, the NDP held a press conference where they said municipalities should levy a tax on developers who leave land undeveloped.
“The massive 1.16-hectare urban property that was initially slated to create over 400 units, is not even planned,” Hansen said about the former Bloomfield site. “Shame.”
Hansen noted that the owner of that property, BANC Group, said demolition of the abandoned buildings on site is too expensive and there is no timeline to develop the property.
“How do you put a price on people not having a home?” Hansen asked.
Hansen echoed the demands of ACORN and other protesters, including calling for an end to unfair evictions, for permanent rent control, addressing the loophole in fixed-term leases, establishing an enforcement branch of residential tenancies to make sure landlords are following rules, and building more affordable housing.
“We must address this issue of supply and we must make sure that a significant part of the new supply is non-market and truly affordable,” Hansen said.
Wood spoke to the crowd about more of ACORN’s demands, including rent control, which she pointed out works in other cities.
“The city of New York has had rent control for many decades, since the ’80s, and they seem to be doing okay. These things are myths they want us to believe so we don’t fight for these things,” Wood said.
She also called for follow-up on landlords who renovict tenants, saying they will be taking over the homes themselves.
“Who shows up a month into that and makes sure they’re actually living there? I’ll tell you: nobody, because 99% of the time it’s bullshit,” Wood said.
And Wood called for tenants, volunteers, legal organizations, and others to keep pushing the province to address the housing crisis.
“I also do not think we would have the rent cap that we have, I don’t think the affordable housing that’s been announced would be built, these tiny homes, I don’t think any of these things would have happened without the consistent and long fight people have been making,” Wood said.
“We do need the ruling party in power right now to acquiesce to our demands and give us what we need. And that takes all of us.”