Nova Scotia's minister of natural resources says the province is close to finalizing a plan to sort out long-standing land title questions in North Preston, where about one-third of properties are not deeded.
A community group in the historically black community has been pushing for the government to re-examine the problem. In some cases, a property has been in the hands of a family for two centuries, but they don't legally own it.
"We understand that the community is concerned and we are in the process of finalizing a plan to address this matter, which has been around for a long, long time in the province," Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines said Thursday.
He said the province is coming up with a process to "put it to bed," and is partnering with Nova Scotia Legal Aid and the Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, which is offering its services pro bono.
Asked about whether the province would help fund the process, Hines said there's an "in-kind contribution to make" but wouldn't say if money will be set aside. He said the plan will be completed "pretty immediately."
Land Titles Clarification Act
Hines said the Land Titles Clarification Act, enacted in 1963, has been used to sort out titles in other historically black communities such as Sunnyville, Lincolnville and Upper Big Tracadie in Guysborough County.
But the program, he said, has "fallen off in probably the last three decades." The province holds the land records and Hines said he wants to make sure they are made available.
Residents of North Preston who don't have deeds to their properties say it's long overdue to get the matter fixed.
"We don't feel we're getting the traction that's necessary," said Dwight Adams with the North Preston Land Recovery Initiative. "But what we do feel is that we're actually making some waves, which is actually a positive thing."
In the early 1800s, the government provided land lots in North Preston to Black Loyalists, but not legal deeds to the properties.
'Continues to pile on and on and on'
Homeowners who don't have deeds to their land can't sell it or legally transfer it to family members. Through the years there have been other attempts to solve the issue, but deeds were never issued.
Community members have been told transferring land titles will cost at least $10,000.
The minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs, Tony Ince, suggested Thursday there could be help on that front.
"If somebody is coming to us and asked whether or not they had the monies to help with that, I believe that there is going to be supports to help those individuals work through this process," said Ince.
"As the minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs I'm proud and confident that we will work and do it right, and get it right, for the people who are concerned."
But people who live in the Preston area aren't holding their breath for government to solve the matter. There is a strong feeling of resentment.
"It just seems that it continues to pile on and on and on," said Adams. "I'm sure if it had happened in another community outside of the Prestons, I'm quite sure this would not be happening."