Young people are returning to the Acadian Shore, but where will they live?
Municipality of Clare searching for solutions to keep up with demand for housing
Réanne Cooper was hoping to buy a starter home when she moved back to Clare, N.S., from New Brunswick earlier this year, but soon realized that dream was out of reach.
"Now that the prices have gone incredibly high, I mean these are not prices for people who are our age," said Cooper, 26.
Cooper and her partner settled instead on renting, but with very few units available, they ended up staying in a short-term rental for the first few months. They eventually found a house to rent longer term through a friend's wife's cousin who was looking for tenants.
"It was a stressful thing, like when you're not sure where you can stay ... and I can only imagine people who are maybe getting jobs in the area who don't necessarily have those connections," said Cooper, who was born in the Clare area and went to L'Université Sainte-Anne in nearby Church Point.
The Acadian Shore — like many places in Nova Scotia — is facing a housing boom, with buyers snapping up properties, driving up prices and leaving few places on the market. It's both a blessing and a curse for communities like the Municipality of Clare that not long ago struggled to keep people in the area.
Now, Cooper said young people are coming back to fill job vacancies, but there are few places for them to live.
"As problems go, it is quite encouraging to see our community grow. It's just with that comes challenges, and that's what we're trying to address," said Warden Ronnie LeBlanc.
Council is working on a housing action plan and exploring the idea of turning old municipal buildings, like former schools and a long-term care home, into housing developments.
LeBlanc hopes it will help local businesses expand.
"From health care, to boat building, to fish processing, construction — I hear it from every single sector," he said. "They're looking to hire, they're looking to expand, and the lack of available employees is creating a lot of difficulties for them, and it all stems around the lack of housing."
A problem for employers
Some people end up finding housing farther away in Digby and Yarmouth and have to travel to the area for work, said Gilles Theriault, the managing director of A.F. Theriault and Sons Ltd. in Meteghan River.
"It makes it harder to keep our employees because they go on to other jobs that are closer to where they live," he said, "so if I can employ them and have them live as closely as possible to the shipyard, it works better for them financially and it just works better for our community."
Finding affordable places for the company's medium-income employees to buy or rent nearby is becoming "more and more problematic," Theriault said, and he's happy the municipality is taking the situation seriously.
Council has its sights set on two school buildings that will become vacant in the next year or so once another school is built. A new long-term care home is also being built, which will leave the current building empty.
A study looking at the issue will be before council in the coming weeks, but LeBlanc said it's too soon to say who would ultimately pay for and develop these properties. He said he'd like to see a mix of low-income and higher income units.
'There's a lot at stake'
Natalie Robichaud, the executive director of the Société Acadienne de Clare, worries a lack of housing options could deter young Francophone families from moving back to the area.
"I think there's a lot at stake," she told CBC Radio's Information Morning recently. "I have a lot of friends who want to come back."
Robichaud, who is also Information Morning's community contact, would like to see more resources for non-Francophone newcomers to learn about the history and culture of the Acadian communities, as well as have the opportunity to learn French.
"A history of why is this place French and why is it so fragile, and why is it important that we keep it, you know, things like that," she said. "There's work we could do on our end to kind of meet people halfway."
Lester Doucet, an associate broker with Remax Banner, said he's inundated with calls, texts and emails at all hours of the day from people in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere in Canada eager to move to the relative safety of Nova Scotia during the pandemic.
He said 2020 was his best year in his two decades in business. Just three months into 2021, he nearly has that record beat.
But Doucet also worries about the impact this housing frenzy will have on the community.
"Our powers that be, I hope they're planning on buffering something here to make it possible that there's going to be places for people to live in, and they won't have to worry about losing their shirt," he said.
The municipality's housing action plan is a long-term solution to an urgent problem, but LeBlanc said it's a start.
"It's not an easy challenge to overcome, but I think we're on the right path," he said.
With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning