Dartmouth, NS – It's been an interesting few days for Jessica Basterache.
Last Thursday, the Halifax Media Co-op was invited to report on the slum-style conditions of the basement floor of the low-rise on Jackson Road in North Dartmouth, where Basterache was living.
Her apartment, as well as several other vacant, unlocked units, had serious black mold issues, which is extremely dangerous to human health. There was also serious cosmetic damage to the basement hallway, with holes punched and kicked in the drywall. There was no lock on the back door of the building entrance, and the hallway was missing fire extinguishers.
Prior to the article being published, the HMC attempted unsuccessfully to contact Atlantic Living Property Management, the new owners of the Jackson Road low-rise, and numerous other investments in the area and beyond.
Last Friday, however, after publishing the article, we received a telephone call from Peter Johnson, president of Atlantic Living. In the conversation, Johnson noted that he had “video evidence” of Basterache causing the damage to the hallway, and that she had been issued a notice to vacate the premise by the morning of Dec. 5.
Subsequent close inspection of the hallway did not reveal the presence of any video surveillance equipment, and while Johnson initially invited the HMC to view said video evidence at the main office of Atlantic Living, he refused to procure it when we met in person.
As for Basterache, she was indeed issued a notice to vacate her apartment, but it does not appear that the eviction notice is actually at all related to Johnson's allegations that she was cause of the hallway vandalism. Instead, it seems as though the eviction is related to the fact that Basterache failed to pay rent in October or November.
But this failure to pay rent, according to Basterache, is due to a complication with her caseworker.
“They’re saying I didn’t pay my rent for October and November. That doesn’t make any sense, my caseworker takes care of that for me,” said Basterache in an ACORN Canada press release.
The timing of the non-payment of rent, and the eviction, when considered in relation to Basterache's public complaints against hers and others' living conditions, is suspicious; more so because Basterache should have had the opportunity to attend a Residential Tenancies hearing on the matter. Basterache says she was never even informed of the hearing.
“Is this because I complained?” said Basterache. “I didn’t get notice of a Residential Tenancies hearing and they haven’t said anything about not getting the rent for those months before now.”
With some degree of publicity now focused on the Jackson Road building, Atlantic Living has been performing emergency cosmetic surgery on the basement floor of the low-rise. As of press time, renovation crews were boarding up all but Basterache's basement windows with sheets of plywood. The previously observed gaping holes in the hallway were also boarded up.
The extensive black mold problems, however, was still unaddressed. The effects of extended exposure to black mold can include respiratory, circulatory and neurological symptoms, among others.
ACORN Canada, a national organization that organizes low and moderate income individuals across the country — and is looking to establish a new Halifax chapter — reacted quickly to Basterache's eviction notice.
An emergency rally outside of Atlantic Living's main office on Primrose Street, only steps away from the Jackson street low-rise, was organized, and drew North Dartmouth residents and their allies.
Some had been dealing for years with a revolving door of slumlords in the area, and had only seen their situations become more tenuous under the current NDP provincial government.
“Since [the removal of] rental control [slumlords] can come in now, and what's going to stop them from raising the rents astronomically?” said Mary-Ann Walker, a North Dartmouth resident and long-time housing activist. “It's called genocide. They want to put us all out onto the street because we can't afford [rent]. Cosmetic surgery isn't going to bring these buildings up to code in any way, shape or form.”
Fortunately for Basterache, she had no problem marshaling an amateur moving crew from the numerous able-bodied protestors who had gathered to show their solidarity, and assist how they could. It can thankfully be reported that she has found a storage locker and temporary lodgings.
Addressing the larger issue of affordable, livable housing, in North Dartmouth and beyond, however, remains for the meantime unaddressed.
“I'm royally ticked,” said Walker. “And I'm not scared of Daniel Drimmer [notorious North Dartmouth developer] and all his lackeys. I don't care who owns these buildings; they're accountable. But number one? Our premier. Our municipal government. They're accountable. They're the ones that put the acts in, put the rules in. And what do they do? They don't enforce it. Nothing is enforced. Would this happen on Baker drive in a high-end residential? Would this happen? If you were paying $1600 a month, would that happen? Why should it happen to our most vulnerable citizens? It shouldn't be. It's ludicrous. It's genocide. This is ghetto-ization.”