Chronicle Herald: Halifax family fears rent increases a factor in relative's death

Posted November 3, 2020

Roy Joseph Clark struggled with high rents until the day he died,

The rent at his Fairview apartment had increased from $695 to $1600 since 2019. On Oct. 1, the day the day he died at age 62, he was still looking for an apartment he could afford.
His death comes as people in Fairview and Dartmouth North are complaining of skyrocketing rents.
Roy Clark’s family doesn’t know if the stress related to recent hefty rent increases was a factor in his death.
“It might have been his disability or it might have been the stress from the rent increase,” said nephew Shaun Clark. “We’re not sure exactly which.”
Roy Clark was always smiling, said Shaun Clark, 40. “He actually won an award for best used car salesman in Canada.”
But he wasn’t working when he died and relied on social assistance to cover the bills.
“He couldn’t find a new home and he was on disability,” said Shaun Clark. “When you don’t have a home, social assistance stops sending you money.”
Halifax rent increases are scary of late, he said. “Most people I know who are paying attention to this are terrified right now,” said Shaun Clark.
Roy Clark was a father of three grown daughters and had many grandchildren. “He loved to make people happy,” said his nephew.
In 2019, Roy Clark and another person shared the $695 a month for an apartment at 58 Main Ave. The rent hadn’t increased for a decade.
But in June of 2019, AMK Barrett Investments Inc. bought the building. Not long after that, Roy Clark and the person he was sharing an apartment with got a letter from a related company, BlackBay Real Estate Group, indicating their lease was expiring soon.
It invited them to stay in the building. “There will however be a rental increase due to the major ongoing renovations and improvements to the building and apartment units,” said the letter.
If they wanted to stay, the new rent was going up to $1,350.
Then in May 2020, BlackBay sent them another letter. This time the rent for the apartment was going up to $1,600.
“This will align ourselves with market rental rates in the area and is necessary to remain both competitive and sustainable as real estate operators,” said the letter.
If they didn’t want to stay in the apartment at the new rent, they had to leave by Oct. 1, the same day Roy Clark died. The other person in the apartment found somewhere else to live, but Roy Clark couldn’t find another home, said his nephew. “He died there,” said Shaun Clark.
AMK Barrett Investments president Adam Barrett could not be reached for comment.
Chris Khoury handles tenant relations for BlackBay Real Estate Group, which manages AMK’s properties.
If properties are upgraded, rents have to reflect that, he said.
“After the building was purchased, we put a plan together as a company with what we want to do and what we want to upgrade,” Khoury said. “The electrical was all old knob-and-tube. The plumbing was all old. It was leaking. There was barely hot water in the building. The roof leaked. Windows leaked. So, we did what we can while tenants are living there and then we went off the lease dates and pretty much just scheduled the work around them.”
The building was “fully run down,” he said. “We specifically purchased a property that was underperforming and to bring it up to market value and to make it perform, we have to do certain things to bring it to code. So, for us to do that work unfortunately we have to give notices out.”
There are a lot of “hot pockets” around the city with older, neglected buildings, Khoury said.
“These buildings are just underperforming properties in hot areas,” he said.
AMK owns several buildings in Dartmouth and Halifax.
“I’ve never been in the Fairview market as much as this past year,” Khoury said, noting the rents compare favourably to those in downtown Halifax.
“The neighbourhood is changing.”
Roy Clark isn’t the only one in the family to experience housing problems.
“I have another uncle (in Spryfield) who will be homeless in January who works a full-time job,” said Shaun Clark. “It’s his second $150 rent increase. And unfortunately, his pay increases haven’t kept up with his rent increases.”
Housing advocate Hannah Wood said rent hikes in the city are increasing the homeless population.
“But it also has caused a crisis with the hidden homeless, which are people who are now moved back in with their families or living on their friends’ couches or living with many, many people in small apartments because they can’t find anywhere else to live,” said Wood, chair of the Halifax-Peninsula ACORN chapter.
“And this is really a public safety issue, especially during a pandemic – that we have too many people crowding into small apartments. It makes self-isolating impossible.”
Article by Chris Lambie for the Chronicle Herald



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