Nova Scotia

Residents protest slum housing in Cape Breton

Dozens of people rallied in Sydney on Wednesday to call for a crackdown on slum landlords.
People rallied in Sydney to urge the municipality to crack down on slum landlords. (Wendy Martin/CBC)

Dozens of people rallied in Sydney on Wednesday to call for a crackdown on slum landlords.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, wants the Cape Breton Regional Municipality to do more inspections of rental properties to make sure they're fit to live in.

Lucy Gouthro and her elderly mother were among the 40 people who joined the rally at the Civic Centre, clutching photos of her last apartment in North Sydney.

"The ceilings were falling down and the doors were falling off," Gouthro said of her mother's one-bedroom apartment, where she paid $500 a month.

"There was mice in there and rats, and I had to plug them up."

Members of ACRON said they have heard similar horror stories across the municipality, but in most cases, tenants are afraid to speak out for fear of eviction.

"Women, especially, that we deal with are desperate and they have nowhere else to turn," said Wanda Earhart, who works with Every Woman's Centre.

"They either abide by the place they're living in or they're given an eviction notice, and so they have nowhere else to go."

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has said inspectors can only respond if a tenant files a complaint.

They say the minimum standards bylaw offers protection to those tenants who do complain.

Kim Desveaux, the municipal councillor for New Waterford, said slum housing is just one symptom of a much broader problem.

"It really starts people to think, 'Why are people accepting that?' and 'Why are they putting up with that?'" she said.

"A lot of that stems back to low income, lack of opportunity and social ills that we, as a society, need to repair."

The rally organizers said they're hoping to work with councillors, municipal staff and landlords to come up with some ideas on improving rental housing.

They've asked to appear before the next meeting of Cape Breton Regional Council.