Cape Breton Post: People protest slum housing in CBRM

About 30 people gathered outside the Cape Breton Regional Municipality Civic Centre on Wednesday, with several people protesting what they called slum housing.

The rally was organized by Cape Breton Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Organizing member Evan Coole said he was happy with the turnout, which he described as a good group of committed people.

Priscilla Lotherington, president of the Investment Property Owners Association of Cape Breton, observed the protest, saying it was curiosity that brought her out. The vacancy rate in the area is about three per cent, she said, which she believes is lower than in the Halifax area.

“I don’t see it as being the problem that they’re making it out to be. There’s so many avenues available if there is issues and it seems these guys might just want a shortcut to new housing or something,” she said.

She said tenants have the option of going to the Residential Tenancies Board, which can hold mediated hearings, and its decisions are enforceable.

“You can talk to a landlord, or you can move out if a place is unhealthy, or unsuitable, or not up to your standards,” she said.

But Wanda Earhart said it’s not that easy for many people. She works at Every Woman’s Centre and said she was attending to represent women who said they are afraid they will face retaliation from their landlords if they attended the protest or filed complaints under the CBRM’s minimum standards bylaw.

“People may look at the numbers here today and say, ‘Wow, that’s not very much support,’ but if all of the people who were too afraid to come forward came, you wouldn’t be able to find room to have a rally here,” she said.

Earhart said she regularly hears stories about deplorable conditions in rental housing, including rodent infestations, broken locks and apartments with holes in walls and ceilings that are need of repair.

There are processes available to tenants to try to rectify those situations, Earhart acknowledged, but she said many of the women are afraid to come forward and be threatened with eviction.

“The statement was made yesterday that, ‘No, I don’t want to get involved in that because I don’t want to make things worse than they already are,’” she said. “We have to find a way, hopefully, to allow tenants to come anonymously and lodge a complaint, and allow something to be put in place to hear their voices and hear them loud and clear.”

Ray Paruch was among several municipal councillors who attended the rally. He said he believes the participants have legitimate concerns.

“It’s unfortunate that everyone gets tarred with the same brush. There are good landlords and there are good facilities in the CBRM, and there also are some slum landlords, and I think we as a municipality have an obligation to work side by side with the organizers in order to do what we can to clean it up,” he said.

The Cape Breton Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now has asked the CBRM to set up a committee that would included its members, municipal officials and landlords to discuss how the minimum standards bylaw can be better enforced with the existing resources.

Mayor John Morgan did not attend the rally. He was in the Halifax area for the Atlantic Mayors Congress and has met with Cape Breton Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now previously.

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