Mass evictions in Dartmouth add to worrying trend for housing support worker
Every tenant in a pair of buildings on Victoria Road has been told to leave by the end of December
Cathy Young came away from apartment hunting this month with one thought: "It's too expensive."
Young and every other tenant at two neighbouring apartment buildings on Victoria Road in North Dartmouth, N.S., received eviction notices at the start of October.
The new owner is planning major renovations, which are slated to begin on Dec. 1, and they've told tenants to leave no later than Dec. 31.
Young tried to find a new place, but she couldn't afford anything on the market. Every apartment she saw was hundreds of dollars more than the $550 per month she pays now.
So she's moving into her sister's spare bedroom for a few months. She said she'll try apartment hunting again in the spring.
It's a better scenario than what housing support worker Darcy Gillis said he is expecting for many of the tenants — "sleeping outside or trying to access a shelter."
Gillis, who works at the non-profit Welcome Housing, said that in recent years, he and his colleagues have secured homes for many clients in the two Victoria Road apartment buildings. With rents averaging around $600 per month, the building was affordable for people on income assistance or pensions.
Buildings in disrepair
"They weren't kept in the best condition," said Gillis. "Unfortunately, they do need to be repaired. But they were 32 homes for individuals who are now scrambling to find something during the holiday season."
He said the emptying of the buildings is a significant loss for the community.
The buildings are passing into the hands of Central East Developments, which evicted the tenants of another Dartmouth apartment building under similar circumstances this spring.
Central East Developments co-owner Adam Barrett is also responsible for a mass eviction in Fairview, N.S., last year. He did not respond to an interview request from CBC News.
In those instances, too, the buildings were in disrepair and needed to be upgraded. Following renovations, the rents rose by hundreds of dollars.
It isn't clear what Barrett will charge on Victoria Road after renovations.
Another Halifax landlord, however, recently told at least one tenant in Fairview what she can expect to pay after renovations to her building.
Grace Fogarty received a notice last week of a $650 rent increase, an increase of nearly 90 per cent from her current rent of $725 for her one-bedroom apartment on Dutch Village Road.
"The choice will be heart medication or rent," Fogarty told CBC's Mainstreet.
Fogarty said she found it "outlandish" that there's no cap on rent increases.
Fogarty's landlord, GNF Investments Limited, declined CBC's request for comment.
Housing stock 'completely depleted'
Gillis said evictions and drastic rent increases on affordable units have become so common across the Halifax area that he worries people may be desensitized to them. But the consequence is one that he said should not be ignored.
Halifax's stock of affordable housing, according to Gillis, is "completely depleted." And with that, he said he and his colleagues are "quite fearful that people are going to die on the street due to exposure [this winter], whether it's the weather or the pandemic."
Gillis said Welcome Housing has connected with 22 tenants on Victoria Road to offer help finding new homes.
LeeRoy Murphy, the superintendent of both buildings, said he's offered to help, too, and to act as a reference.
Murphy understands the frustration of being evicted. As a live-in superintendent, he's being evicted along with everyone else.
"I've lived here almost 20 years, and I was quite content," said Murphy.
Murphy has a new apartment lined up and is preparing to move. He'll be paying $200 more in rent in his new spot.
'Clearly we need to do more'
Premier Stephen McNeil said he was aware of the problem after being pressed by reporters about the tight rental market Thursday.
"Clearly we need to do more around affordability and affordable housing, particularly in the [Halifax] core," said McNeil after a cabinet meeting.
"Once we have the right public policy, we'll communicate it to you. We're still working on the solution."
McNeil said housing policy is not simple — if it was, it would've been solved by previous governments.
The NDP have been pressing the Liberals on affordable housing since the last election, calling for legislated reform that includes rent control. McNeil maintained Thursday that rent control does not work.
His housing minister, Chuck Porter, explained the position by saying rent control discourages new, private-market development.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill disagreed.
"What Mr. Porter is suggesting there, that what we have is a development problem, this is not true. What we have is a roof-over-your-head affordability problem. It is a matter of dismay that the housing minister for the province does not clearly understand this."
Burrill said the existence of rent control in P.E.I., B.C., Manitoba and Ontario is evidence that it works.
"To say that rent control would not work to address this problem is to have a kind of lamentably uninformed and uncaring relation to the real facts of the situation," he said.