Posted October 29, 2020
HALIFAX -- Grace Fogarty, 63, calls it "a matter of greed."
On Friday, the owner of her Fairview apartment building, GNL Investments, left her a letter advising her rent would be increasing by $650 as of April 1, 2021.
Her current rent is $725 per month, plus electricity and parking. The rent increase would mean she would have $625 of her monthly income left after paying for her apartment. Fogarty, who takes medication after a heart attack, says that would leave her with a difficult choice.
"The choice would be no heart medication, no food."
In the letter, a representative with GNL Investments writes the notification is "to advise you we are completing renovations to the building that require work to the plumbing and electrical."
"Furthermore," it continues, "due to these costs of renovations and operations, this is your formal notice of your rental increase, and that rent will be brought in line with the remaining units."
The letter goes on to say that Fogarty can vacate her apartment without penalty if she moves by Nov. 30.
Fogarty works at a Halifax-area gas station. When customer Ryan MacLean heard about her plight while stopping for gas Tuesday, he says he felt he had to do something.
The realtor wrote a post on Facebook, sharing details of Fogarty’s situation.
"Six-hundred-and-fifty-dollar rent increase to me is unconscionable," he says. The post has received hundreds of responses.
"Unbelievable, the number of people who have come out and shared their own stories about rental increases," says MacLean.
Navid Saberi is the owner of GNF Investments and is also listed online as president of United Gulf Developments, which received approval last year to build two 27-storey towers in downtown Halifax.
When contacted by CTV News, Saberi said in a phone interview that Fogarty’s unit needs major work done on the water pipes, and that he needs Fogarty to leave the unit to have the work done.
Saberi says the rent increase, "isn’t about increasing her rent, we have had no choice, we’ve tried everything, we’re just trying to vacate the unit."
He says Fogarty refused an offer to move into another unit in the same building. He says she also refused to move into another one of his buildings.
Fogarty says the apartment has been her home for 11 years and she just can’t afford moving expenses. She also believes even if she moved within the building, ongoing renovations would only mean she might have to move again.
"Somebody has to hear us, it’s only fair that they do, we have a side to this too, and rent control needs to be in place," she adds.
Fogarty is adding her voice to many in the city, calling for government to introduce rent control to protect tenants.
Mila MacKay of the Nova Scotia Association of Community Organizations for Reform (ACORN) has had her own struggles trying to afford rent.
She says ACORN has met with government officials and politicians to raise concerns about the rising cost of rent, and the need for limits.
"They’re not really moving on that," she says. "They don’t seem interested at all."
But MacKay believes it is badly needed, hearing often about steep rent increases in the city. In one case, she says, all the tenants in one building had their rents increase by $1,000 a month.
When asked whether the province is looking at rent control, a spokesperson with Service Nova Scotia provided an email response:
"We know that rents can be an issue for some people," writes Blaise Theriault. "Rent control can and does create scarcity, and makes it difficult for other people to get housing. It causes less incentive for developers to build new housing and renters who can afford higher rents are less likely to move in order to keep the lower rent unit."
When it comes to affordable housing, Halifax has a vacancy rate of half a per cent.
Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $1 billion in federal funding for a Rapid Housing Initiative, with the aim of building 3,000 permanent affordable housing units across the country.
The city of Halifax has been earmarked to immediately receive $8.7 million to create 28 units. A spokesperson with the city says it is putting together its project plan to submit by Nov. 27. The agreement requires the city to complete construction within 12 months of that plan being approved.
But when it comes to building affordable housing, Saberi says no one has addressed what he says is the real problem.
"The problem is there's no land available, approved sites available, for people to go ahead and build on," he said.
Saberi says the approval process to get projects going is too slow -- a situation that has worsened during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, since the post outlining her plight has spread on social media, offers of help are flooding in for Fogarty.
"I’ve gotten a lot of (responses from) community, Santa for Seniors for example, reached out right away to help Grace," says MacLean. "And somebody from (MLA) Patricia Arab’s office has reached out to Grace and myself."
"For me, I’d like to find a place where I don’t have to move again; in a year and a half I retire," Fogarty says.
"I used to look forward to going home. It was peaceful, relaxing. It’s anything but that now."
Article by Heidi Petracek for CTV News Atlantic