Posted November 14, 2020
Earlier this month, Lilliean Cormier was served an eviction notice. She’s lived in her Dartmouth apartment for seven years and takes part in the housing subsidy program where social assistance pays half her rent while housing pays the other half.
However, she says that due to issues filing paperwork, she is no longer receiving her cheques from housing, and so has fallen behind on rent.
“Ever since this pandemic started, it made it harder for me to get certain things done,” said Cormier.
Cormier admits it’s partially her own fault, but says if it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic, she would never have been in this position.
“I’ve always paid my rent. This is the first time, first time I’ve ran into problems,” she said.
Now she says she’s run out of options. Living on assistance, she says there is nowhere else she can afford.
“The prices for rent for apartments is ridiculous,” she said.
“If I get completely evicted out of here, I don’t know where the heck I’m going to go.”
Cormier’s struggle is not unique.
At the height of the pandemic in the spring, the provincial government implemented a moratorium on evictions, but the ban was lifted at the end of June. Documents obtained through a freedom of information request filed by the NDP show that in the six weeks after the moratorium was lifted, 343 eviction notices were filed, compared to just 28 between April and June.
“The government did the right thing when they brought in the eviction ban early on in the pandemic. They did the wrong thing when they lifted it too early at the end of June,” said NDP Leader Gary Burrill.
Burrill says affordable housing is a major issue in Nova Scotia right now, and the province needs to address the issue. He has been calling for rent control, as well as a reinstatement of the eviction ban during the pandemic.
“We have the pandemic on the one hand and at the same time the lowest rental vacancy rate in living memory and at the same time the worst financial economic contraction in living memory,” said Burrill.
“We ought not to be putting people out on the street now.”
Calls for the province to address affordable housing have been growing. Over the weekend, the non-profit ACORN, which advocates for low- and moderate-income people, held a rally in front of Halifax city hall calling for rent control. Hundreds attended, with many sharing their stories of increased rents, evictions and lack of options.
“One person looked for (an apartment) for three months and in the end was forced to go to St. John’s, Newfoundland to go live with his son there,” said Darryl King, a spokesperson for ACORN.
“It’s time for the provincial government to act, take accountability, take responsibility, listen to the people, what’s happening to them, move forward and develop a strategy to look into affordable housing.”
Both Premier Stephen McNeil and Minister of Housing Chuck Porter have shot down suggestions for rent control, saying that “it doesn’t work.” But they say they are making headway in tackling affordable housing.
Following a cabinet meeting on Thursday, Porter told reporters that in the first six months of this year, more people were placed in affordable housing than all of last year. When asked about the number of evictions, Porter said the government is working on a plan for affordable housing
“I’ll have more with regards to details with some of the things we’ll be implementing probably next week.”
Meanwhile, two of the candidates vying for the Liberal leadership have released their own strategies for dealing with housing affordability and availability.
In a release, Labi Kousoulis announced four proposed measures to address ongoing housing challenges: implementing a rental increase cap on existing leases of four per cent a year, providing funding subsidies specific to developing purpose-built seniors’ housing and co-ops, forming a housing committee, and investing in shelters and providing better support for Nova Scotians facing homelessness.
“Taken together, these bold investments will make a difference for many Nova Scotians who are struggling with housing,” Kousoulis said in the release.
Iain Rankin has also proposed a list of initiatives to address the affordable housing issue, which include creating a task force, implementing a rental housing construction tax credit if landlords incorporate a minimum of 10 per cent of units at affordable rents, re-introducing the COVID-19 eviction ban for the duration of the public health emergency, and imposing rental increase caps for the duration of the pandemic.
“COVID-19 has imposed additional stress on some of our most vulnerable citizens and that stress should not include worrying about whether you will have an affordable place to live,” Rankin said in a release.
Article by Alicia Draus for Global News