Nova Scotia

Small business owner says she's leaving Lunenburg because there's 'nowhere to live'

When Kelly-Sue O'Connor moved to Lunenburg, N.S., three years ago she planned to stay.

Lack of affordable rentals pushing people out of rural Nova Scotia, says Kelly-Sue O'Connor

According to data prepared by the South Shore Housing Action Coalition, more than 40 per cent of tenants in Lunenburg struggle with affordability. (Town of Lunenburg Tourism)

When Kelly-Sue O'Connor moved to Lunenburg, N.S., three years ago, she planned to stay.

The New Brunswicker had spent 10 years in Toronto and was captivated by the charming seaside town. She opened a children's clothing and toy store, and dreamt of seeing her son graduate high school on the South Shore.

But O'Connor said that dream has been dashed because she can't find a suitable place to live. She closed her business, The Good Ship Children's Boutique, earlier this month and plans to move back to Ontario this spring. 

"Housing was our No. 1 issue," O'Connor told CBC's Mainstreet. "Even if me and my husband would start talking, 'Well, what if we did this and what if we did that,' it all comes down to the fact that we have nowhere to live."

For people in Lunenburg County who are taking Ray Ivany's Now or Never warning seriously, affordable housing is throwing a wrench into plans to grow the population.

And O'Connor wants people to know what to expect if they do choose to move here. 

Kelly-Sue O'Connor said her children's store was doing well, and she would have kept it going if she could find long-term, suitable housing. (Submitted by Kelly-Sue O'Connor )

When O'Connor, her husband and young son moved to Lunenburg, they ended up in a short-term, winter rental. When that lease ended, O'Connor said the prospects weren't much better. 

So she started messaging people who were selling their homes to see if they'd consider taking them off the market. 

"I say I struck gold with this landlord because he was willing to take the house off the market for us for two years," O'Connor said. 

That lease is up in May, and O'Connor said despite spending six months searching for homes in Lunenburg and surrounding communities, all were either too expensive or too run down. 

She said they aren't in a position to buy a house and were only looking for a place to rent. 

Airbnb pushing people out 

The issue, said O'Connor, is that there simply aren't enough options. The rentals that do exist are snatched up by homeowners who rent them out on sites like Airbnb, she said. 

It's a problem that isn't new on the South Shore.

In its 2016 needs assessment, the South Shore Housing Action Coalition identified the lack of rental units as a major problem, especially in Lunenburg and Mahone Bay. 

It pushes people out of secure and stable housing for the remainder of the year.- Nancy Green, South Shore Housing Action Coalition

Nancy Green, a member of the coalition, said while the growth of Airbnb is "great from an economic perspective, it pushes people out of secure and stable housing for the remainder of the year."

Her group found that in Lunenburg, 41 per cent of tenants are in core housing need, which means they spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing. 

For Tina Hennigar, who's with NOW Lunenburg County, housing is another barrier standing in the way of her mission to grow the region's population. 

Tina Hennigar, population growth co-ordinator with NOW Lunenburg County, said "it really breaks my heart" to see O'Connor leave. (Robson Fletcher/CBC)

It's her job to entice people to live in Lunenburg County. In fact, she travelled across the country last summer to do just that.

"We're trying to constantly think differently in how we can address some of these barriers, and we need to make it easier for developers and people to build," said Hennigar. ​

She said in rural communities so many of the opportunities — whether it's housing, jobs or daycare — are communicated through word of mouth.

That's why she said there needs to be more done to connect newcomers with people who can help them navigate some of the barriers. 

Tina Hennigar travelled the country in a trailer last summer to entice people to move to Lunenburg County. (Submitted by Tina Hennigar)

"So we need to really open up our lives, open up our homes, open up our circle of friends to new people," said Hennigar.

Leaving Lunenburg isn't what her family wanted, said O'Connor.

And even though Toronto isn't known for its affordability, she said at least there her husband can find better paying work. 

"Even if I wanted to try something else or he found a better job, it just really doesn't make sense when you have nowhere you know to lay your head down at night," she said. 


Emma Smith

Digital Associate Producer

Emma Smith is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with story ideas and feedback at

With files from CBC's Mainstreet