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“What would you do if you had to choose between your child’s medication and your rent?” Protesters want eviction ban extended

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KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – One day before the COVID-19 eviction moratorium is set to end some twenty to thirty protesters gathered at Province House in downtown Halifax to call for extended protections for vulnerable renters in Nova Scotia. Protesters drew and wrote slogans on the sidewalk with chalk.

Several thousand households, and many more individuals including countless children, face evictions as the ban expires. The province so far has been silent on what if anything it will do once the moratorium ends tomorrow. 

The rally was organized by ACORN Nova Scotia, an organization of low and moderate income people fighting for affordable housing, a living wage, and related issues.

“We have been speaking with people who are having to make tough choices when it comes to rent,” said ACORN member Mila McKay. 

“One of our members is a single mother who has diabetes, and her child is sick as well. Between the two of them they spend nearly $1500 a month on medication. She lost both of her jobs when COVID-19 hit and had to go on CERB, which meant a dramatic cut to her income. Now she’s being forced to choose between rent, her medication and food on the table. Stephen McNeil, I’d like to ask you, what would you do if you had to choose between your child’s medication and your rent?” McKay asked.

“I am basically living from hand to mouth, and I lost some 80% of my income when COVID-19 arrived. I am carrying a heavy debt load. I will be facing the same challenge if I find out that I have to repay my CERB supports,” Vince, another protester told me. “If it weren’t for a strong support network of family and friends I would be out on the street for sure.”

Gary Burrill, leader of the Nova Scotia NDP, was among the speakers at the rally.

We live in a world where there are lots of problems where there aren’t obvious solutions. However, the problems of evictions and skyrocketing rent have 100% solutions,” Burrill told the crowd in a rousing speech. 

“One solution is rent control, landlords may not increase the rent by more than the cost of living except in exceptional circumstances for which they have to provide documentation and proof. And the solution to the problem of evictions in the middle of a pandemic is to ban them,” Burrill said.

“What kind of government would see people about to face eviction, right in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic in a very tight rental market, and offer nothing in the way of an orderly repayment of debts program, nothing in the way of an eviction ban?” Burrill asked to great applause.

Also in the crowd was Fiona Traynor of Dalhousie Legal Aid. Traynor’s organization has been pivotal in building a coalition of individuals and organizations, ACORN Nova Scotia among them, to raise the alarm about the current housing situation in Nova Scotia.

“We knew that Access Nova Scotia (which houses the Residential Tenancies Program that adjudicates evictions) was going to open up again. And we were very concerned that there would be many landlords who would apply to have their tenants whose income was affected by COVID-19 evicted. and quickly,” Traynor said. 

That’s why Dal Legal Aid proposed what we call the eviction prevention plan. We’re calling on the government to extend the moratorium on evictions related to COVID-19. And we’re also calling on the government to create regulations to institute oversight over landlord and tenant repayment plans. And one of the key factors is that we’re asking the government to ensure that monthly repayments can’t be more than 5% of the total amount that’s owing, Traynor explained.

Some 70 individuals and organizations have signed off on the plan, Traynor told me. Email mark.culligan@dal.ca if you want to add your or your organization’s name to the proposal.

Contact ACORN Nova Scotia at halifax1@AcornCanada.org.

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