KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Before COVID-19, thousands of Nova Scotians were struggling to find an affordable place to live. Now, even as people deal with job losses and mounting debt from the economic situation created by the pandemic, we are still hearing from renters served with notices of rent increases of hundreds of dollars a month.
Some 50,000 households across the province spend more than the recommended 30 per cent of their total income on housing-related costs. Twenty per cent of renters spend more than 50 per cent of their income on rent — meaning would-be homeowners can’t save for a down payment and our economy is deprived of those renters’ spending power.
See also: News brief: Rent poor in Nova Scotia
With a vacancy rate of one per cent at the start of 2020, renters who can no longer afford their place are left scrambling and sometimes forced to pack up and move away from their community.
By refusing to reintroduce rent control or invest in needed affordable housing units, the governing Liberals have allowed the situation to spiral out of control.
Since 2017, my NDP caucus colleagues and I have heard from many people about how difficult it has become to find affordable housing for themselves and their families. Recently, we began collecting those stories to help better illustrate how widespread a problem this is. In the course of a few weeks, more than 150 people shared their experiences.
“Trying to find housing has been practically impossible, and it is very hard to afford as a student, even with a job.”
“My rent is increasing by $100 in December. As a senior, I can barely afford that and still have to work at age 67.”
“I spend close to 50 per cent of my income on rent. Combine this with student debt repayment and it is a struggle to stay afloat, let alone save anything. Renters are at the mercy of landlords/corporations who are allowed to raise rent to increase their profits while we have to scrape by. Where does it end?”
These issues are hitting families in communities across Nova Scotia. It is the role of the provincial government to respond, and not just with rent supplements that transfer public dollars to landlords without adding any units of public, non-profit or cooperative housing. Rent supplements have been the only tool in the Liberal government’s tool box for far too long.
The NDP has a piece of legislation on the table that would re-establish rent control in our province. There was rent control here until 1993, when the then Liberal cabinet eliminated it with no fanfare or debate. The current Liberal government could re-establish it through a similar cabinet decision or it could pass our bill. Either way, it would be an important first step towards stabilizing the rental market and protecting renters from massive increases.
The Liberal government could also look at what’s happening in Montreal and other jurisdictions, as we in the NDP are, where governments are using a first right of refusal to buy buildings that can then be used to expand options for affordable housing. It must fund proposals by non-profit organizations to expand supportive housing options, so the alternative to staying in a shelter is not a tent. Finally, it should commit to real partnership with municipalities by allowing inclusionary zoning.
COVID-19 has shown the importance of everyone having a safe place to live. Indeed, housing is an internationally recognized human right. We must make decisions that ensure everyone has a safe, affordable, place to live. When it comes to housing in Nova Scotia, it’s time for something better.
Lisa Roberts is the Nova Scotia NDP housing spokesperson and MLA for Halifax Needham.
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