KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – About 100 community members attended a meeting on Brunswick Street last Thursday to talk about gentrification in the North End and central parts of Halifax.
The meeting was organized by Acorn Nova Scotia, a hard-working anti-poverty and tenants rights organization active here in metro.
Deborah Key, spokesperson for the Brunswick Street Tenants Association, was one of the speakers at the event. Her organization is fighting the sale of several buildings, containing in all about 100 affordable housing units by not-for-profit Harbour City Homes.
For Key the loss of the Harvest City Homes units is just the last example in a long chain of events that devastated the community.
“Many areas here were gentrified a long time ago,” said Key. “We used to have Star Street, Poplar Grove Street, my home was there, now that’s where Scotia Square is.
“You’re also looking at places like Africville, many people’s homes are gone. So this is not new to this community. We have been gentrified many times, and I say enough is enough. We have families who for generations have raised their children here, and now they are being uprooted.
“We are losing over a 100 units of affordable housing. One of the gentlemen about to lose his home said to me, I am scared, I can’t live on the street no more, I have been there. I lived there. I have been out there. Now I am in a warm comfortable home, and what will happen,” Key said.
Community members feel abandoned by City Hall and provincial governments.
The court-endorsed sale of St. Pat’s-Alexandra to Jono Developments spelled the end of the community’s intent to create affordable housing at that site. 250 affordable housing units were included in the now derailed community initiative.
“We feel strongly that the loss of this property for community use will have a significant negative impact on the community, as will the construction of high density condominium buildings,” Margaret Casey, chair of the community coalition, wrote in an email that was read at the community meeting.
And last week a different community group cut ties with Housing Nova Scotia because of its inaction on the redevelopment of Bloomfield Centre, another North End former school that was set to include affordable housing.
Meanwhile expensive condos continue to appear everywhere in the neighborhood.
Not only are people being displaced, the character of the community is changing. And not for the better, many of the original residents believe.
“There is so much history, so many memories,” said Key. “I love this community because I can count on people. I have the best neighbours in the world. When I am sick I get soup brought to my door. My kids still play on the sidewalk.
“But half of our people are gone now. It breaks my heart. We used to sit on our doorsteps and have a coffee with our neighbors. I remember that from years ago. This is the way I was raised,” said Key.
“I was born and raised here, but I walk up Gottingen Street now and I am like where did this store come from?” said a person in the audience. “We don’t have a family restaurant here, for people to sit down and have a nice meal, but we do have a french bistro.”
The community meeting was about more than laments for a community that is slowly being pushed out. Out of the meeting a consensus for action emerged, and efforts were made to create an effective group to fight back and speak with one voice.
“We should form a group that represents our neighborhood and make them aware that we are organized and are working on a strategic plan, and that we want the powers that be to come to the table”, said Mark Daye.
“They’re not used to that. They’re used to protest and people banging on the door, but when you come to them (with a plan) they have no choice but to respond,” Daye said.
“It is essential that we have voices of all ages, people who are new and people who have lived here for ever. I do believe that we have enough dedicated, intelligent and passionate people in this room to send a message that is heard province-wide,” said Daye.
That thought resonated with many who attended the meeting.
“We need to unify all the local groups and work on clarifying our message and our plans. At this time we need to work with developers who are not well versed in our struggles and what our community means to us and the values that we have,” said a member of the audience.
“People are working in silos, and people aren’t working together,” said another audience member. “You have to be clear what the ask is. If you want me to come to ten different rallies,and fight for ten different causes, I can’t do it. But if you provide a unified message then you are damn right that I will be there kicking and screaming.”
Because, without a doubt, this community is worth saving.
“This is the community of Joe Howe, this is the community of change,” said Daye. “Our history is a history of people standing up for people, this is a community where black and white lived side by side.”