featured Poverty

Mould just one of many issues in Sheet Harbour public housing unit

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Windows that don’t close properly, steps that look like you easily could fall through them, mould on walls, those are just some of the things that are wrong with the house Donna Fralick-Maguire and Brent Maguire rent in Sheet Harbour.

Then there is the septic tank. Their landlord needs a lot of prodding before he sends somebody to pump it. When it takes too long the tank backs up into a sink in the basement. Once it ruined the washer, and they had to put it out with the garbage.

Brent and Donna Fralick. Photo Robert Devet

That landlord is the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority, public housing in other words, the responsibility of Kelly Regan, the Minister of Community Services.   

There is more.

The mechanics of the toilet flusher are faulty. The stove is ancient and falling apart.

A window is cracked. The gutter is rotten, sagging and leaking. In winter the water comes pouring down from above the front door. Then it freezes up, and the pathway turns into a slippery rink. “You can’t use the front door then,” says Brent.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Donna and Brent like living in Sheet Harbour. They moved into their home in 2004. Before that they lived in Dartmouth for a while, but that life wasn’t for them. Even though they live some distance from the town, and shopping and meetings with their caseworker are difficult without a car, they manage. It’s good. I grew up in this area,” Donna says.

But as much as they like living here, the house is a constant source of stress for the couple.

One big worry is the power bill, says Donna, given the state of the windows. Until recently power was included in the rent, but has now become the responsibility of the family. With Community Services financial support they’re on a $249 a month budget plan, which they fear isn’t near enough.

I’d rather make sure the windows work right. I don’t want to go over what we pay now, because then we have to take it out of your food budget,  and that will make it even harder,” Donna says.

Getting the Housing Authority to pay attention is a constant uphill battle, Brent says.  

“When you call you’ll get someone who will take your complaint, and then when you call them a couple of days later, they say contact the (local contracted) worker who is supposed to do it.  We shouldn’t have to do that, they should know when he is coming.”

A horror story all on its own is the septic tank. It backs up frequently into a basement room used for laundry, and leaves a terrible smelly mess.

In 2015 Donna called the Housing Authority about the sewage build up, and told them that they had to get their septic tank pumped.

“They put me through to the maintenance manager. We couldn’t use the water, it was an emergency. He couldn’t tell us when he would be coming. He told us to get a bucket and do our business in a bucket,” Donna says.

This year a similar story. The septic tank was backing up into the house, and Brent called after hours repairs for somebody to come and pump the tank. They assured him someone was going to come. The Housing Authority ended up sending a puzzled and useless repair man, rather than the septic pumping service they needed, Brent says.   

Mould is another great worry for the family. They moved their bed into the living room because of the pervasive mouldy smell in their bedroom. Typically the maintenance worker just paints over the mouldy growths. Or they’ll use spray paint. Not surprisingly, it keeps returning, Donna and Brent say.

Heather Fairbairn, media relations advisor for Community Services, cannot speak to the couple’s specific complaints.

While we can’t comment on specific cases, we can say that the safety and well-being of our tenants is a top priority for Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority (MRHA). We take all complaints received from tenants very seriously and staff do their best to complete the necessary work in a timely manner,” Fairbairn writes.

“We are committed to ensuring that all of our units are in good condition and with the support of our federal partners we are investing approximately $18 million into the maintenance of Nova Scotia’s public housing stock,” she writes.

“We regret any situation where a tenant may have had a negative experience. If a tenant has issues with their unit, we encourage them to contact their property manager for assistance.”

It’s not like Donna and Brent haven’t tried that.

“Housing never comes and checks things out, they never do an inspection or anything,” says Donna. “You call them, and you get these rude people, they say, we know about it. Well, all I know is that they’re not coming to fix it.”

See also: Greystone Pictorial. The state of public housing in Spryfield

If you can, please support the Nova Scotia Advocate so that it can continue to cover issues such as poverty, racism, exclusion, workers’ rights and the environment in Nova Scotia. A pay wall is not an option, since it would exclude many readers who don’t have any disposable income at all. We rely entirely on one-time donations and a tiny but mighty group of dedicated monthly sustainers.



  1. When I lived in the housing units in sheet harbour , it was back in 1987, housing was on top of any issues that came up. My house was very clean and I never had any mold, sadly now housing seems to forget that people need more then just a roof over their heads, they need to be safe from toxins from mold and other issues.They cover up and repair the outer part of the units to make them look ok, but the inside is left in disrepair and not healthy for families tp live in .My daughter lives in the greystone housing units in spryfield and has the same if not worse issues.

  2. I lived in these housing units and no one ever shows up.. and our water came back with seriously high amount of arsenic and guess what was done about it???? NOTHING… I have never been so happy to be out of these homes… they are people… start treating them like one

    1. They do treat people in housing like dirt. All they want is to get tenents to send in their income to see if they can raise rent. Power can be worth more than the rent. They start doing work but now they are slacking off they did nothing here all this week. They are messy and dont clean up after themselves.

  3. In what universe is it okay to tell people to just urinate and defecate into a bucket instead of helping them fix the problem? That is degrading, disrespectful, and dehumanizing. If you are poor in this province you are expected to live without dignity.

    1. You have that right. They dont even come on weekends of there is an emergency. They sent out a contractor who said he didnt know what to do. They just could have called a septic pump truck. Im sure they work weekends.

Comments are closed.