Nova Scotia

Rally for rent control attracts crowd in downtown Halifax

Calls for rent control rang out across Halifax Saturday afternoon as a crowd of about 200 people gathered and marched through the downtown core.

About 200 people gathered at Grand Parade, then marched to Province House

Jennifer Ryan stands outside Province House in downtown Halifax holding a sign calling for rent control. Ryan's rent for a bachelor apartment went up by $130, or about 19 per cent, this summer. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

Calls for rent control rang out across Halifax Saturday afternoon as a crowd of about 200 people gathered and marched through the downtown core.

The rally, organized by the advocacy group ACORN, started outside City Hall, where the wide-open Grand Parade allowed for physical distancing.

But the demands of the demonstrators were meant for the provincial government.

They want the province to adopt legislation that would cap rent increases at three per cent annually.

Organizer Hannah Wood said they want increases to require justification, maybe for major renovations or repairs.

"And not just willy-nilly the way it is now where they raise it whenever they want and they don't have to justify it to anyone," said Wood.

In the past six months, CBC has reported on rent increases across HRM ranging from 17 per cent to as much as 90 per cent.

About 200 people gathered at Grand Parade outside Halifax City Hall on Saturday afternoon to demand a legislated cap on rent increases. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

With those kinds of rent increases, along with mass evictions and a record-low vacancy rate of one per cent, Premier Stephen McNeil told reporters last month that he recognized housing as a problem — one that his government is trying to address.

He was not, however, keen on rent control, saying it "does not work" because it discourages development. Housing Minister Chuck Porter has repeatedly made the same argument in recent months.

Wood was not satisfied with their response.

"When they say rent control doesn't work, I think that they are thinking of the landlords and the developers and not of the average person. Rent control does help the situation for the average low-income renter." 

The demonstrators marched to Province House to close the event on Saturday. It's there that two years ago the NDP tabled a bill to legislate rent control. The Liberal government has essentially rejected it by leaving it untouched on the floor of the legislature.

'I'm angry,' says tenant

Jennifer Ryan was among those who marched to the legislature.

She was recently served notice of a $130 rent increase on her bachelor apartment in Halifax's west end. That's a 19 per cent increase over the $695 she had been paying.

Ryan said her landlord threatened to hike the rent by more than 90 per cent if she chose to change the terms of her lease to month-to-month.

"I'm angry about the forced rental increases, the rent evictions, the reasons that so many people that are at or below the poverty line are still forced to pay exorbitant prices," she said.

Ryan said she can afford to pay the new rent on her $30,000 salary, but just barely.

"What I can't afford is if something goes wrong. Like if for some reason the pandemic comes back and I'm out of work and I don't have money [coming in]."

Sharon Fernandez stands outside Province House in downtown Halifax holding a sign calling for rent control, and a guide on tenant rights from Dalhousie Legal Aid. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

Sharon Fernandez said she doesn't think rent control would completely eliminate housing insecurity, but she thinks it's part of the solution to the current housing crunch.

As a social worker, Fernandez said she sees people falling into homelessness every day. Helping people find and keep a place to live is a big part of her job.

"It's heartbreaking to see," she said. "Like, very disheartening."

"Today it's somebody [else], and tomorrow it could be me."

Lawyer Tammy Wohler was also at the rally Saturday, and said she's worried about the growing trends of rising rents and mass evictions.

In her work at Nova Scotia Legal Aid, Wohler said tenancy issues make up about half her caseload.

"We're having a significant housing crisis in Nova Scotia," said Wohler.

She said she'd like the province to reconsider legislating rent control.