KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Some 50 people rallied at Province House this morning to remind government MLAs that everyone has a right to a decent place to live and enough money to make ends meet.
The legislature spring session starts today with a speech from the throne, after a record-breaking hiatus of well over a year.
The rally was called by ACORN Nova Scotia, an organization that represents people on low incomes. Last Saturday the group launched its People’s Platform, a list of demands around housing, income assistance, minimum wage and paid sick days, and other issues that directly affect working class people in this province.
“We’re calling this the People’s Platform because it was written by everyday people,” Lina Hamid, chair of the ACORN Halifax mainland chapter, told the crowd.
“Landlords and developers, big businesses, banks and lobbyists all have money and power, so they get to have their agendas pushed. This is why we need to get organised and fight for our demands. What we lack in money and institutional power we make up for in numbers.”
Several of ACORN’s demands speak directly to the affordable housing crisis in the province. Prominent is the demand for government grants so that nobody pays more than 30% of their income on rent, and support for tenants who have fallen behind in their rent payments.
“Any financial adviser will tell you that you shouldn’t be paying more than 30% towards your housing. So why is it acceptable to have low income tenants paying 60% to 90% of their wages towards rent,” asked Hannah Wood, Chair of the Halifax-Peninsula ACORN chapter.
“We also need housing for all. So vacant hotel rooms and units need to be opened up for people to stay. You should not have people sleeping on the streets when we have open vacant condos all over this city and province, or while we have hotels that have no one staying in them. COVID-19 has shown how the province and the city can come together and create big changes quickly if it wants to,” Wood said.
“Trickle down is a myth, society as a whole does not benefit if you give rich people more money, but everybody benefits if you give poor people more money,” said Sakura Saunders, speaking for the Fight for $15.
Shaun, an ACORN member who lives with several disabilities related how his family is expected to pay $695 rent per month, while his spouse brings home a paycheque of only about $1400 per month.
“That needs to change, because making $15 an hour and giving half of it to rent is not good. And that’s actually with two kids and me being disabled. People cannot afford to live here even on a $15 an hour wage,” Shaun said.
Long-time poverty activist Jodi Brown spoke about the plight of people on income assistance.
“I would like to remind people that what our government has done so far for those that live in poverty, is that they spent over $10 million on a welfare transformation project. And those that are disabled now receive $850 per month. That is for your rent, that is for your food, that is for your bills, that is for your clothes, that is for your haircut, that is for your cleaning supplies, your garbage bags. No person can survive on those rates,” said Brown. “It’s important that we all stick together here in Nova Scotia. We fight together because nobody’s winning, unless we are all winning.”
“We hear a lot of jargon from the government. We don’t hear a lot about how people are actually being affected and harmed every day. I’m here to talk about our unified interests. We are here from different groups, different statuses, different lives. But all these issues we heard about this morning are issues that affect us all,” said Hannah Wood in her closing remarks.
“We are not experiencing this pandemic equally. Some people are having a nice vacation from their office job, working from home. Other people are barely making ends meet and are giving up meals for their children.”
“So we need to seize this moment, and we need to act in a unified way. Even when it seems like some rallies are small, or that we’re not getting anywhere, we are forcing the conversation, we are opening things up and we are getting issues on the agenda. We should be proud of what we are accomplishing,” Wood said.
The one party that has consistently shown up in support of the ACORN agenda is the NDP, and both provincial leader Gary Burrill and Fairview-Clayton Park candidate Joanne Hussey also spoke at the rally.
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