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No place to call home

The students of Halifax universities are struggling to find affordable apartments. 

“My original intention was to get an apartment for myself. After a little searching, I realized that was a bit of a pipe dream,” says Nicole Rushton, a second-year student at Saint Mary’s University. Rushton moved to Halifax two years ago to work and pursue her education, and she has been looking for a place to live since last September.  

“There’s nothing affordable to live in, in a safe area or a clean building, which are priorities of mine because I am a young female,” she said.  

“I was making 13 dollars an hour – so over the minimum wage – and working five to nine-hour days a week and it was not a sufficient income to be able to afford an apartment on my own.”  

Rushton isn’t the only one who has been unsuccessful in her search.   

“The hunt for housing in Halifax is very hard if you’re trying to find a bug-free, a rat-free place for a decent price,” said Cristalle Watson, a second-year Dalhousie University student. “I saw this one two-bedroom for $1,250 and it was horrible. It stank, it was mildewy, it was tiny, cramped little rooms, things were broken and dingy; it was kind of disgusting.” She pointed out that despite the state these houses are in, the rates still run high.  

In fact, according to and the Dalhousie Off-Campus living guide, to rent a two-bedroom apartment in the south end of Halifax, prices run upwards of between $1,400-1,600 a month. Excluding utilities. On Kijiji Halifax, prices range from between $1,400-1,500 for places in Dartmouth or Bedford and from $1,500-2,200 for two-bedroom apartments in the downtown core.  

In addition to students, these prices affect young professionals and families.  

“You can literally be in one area of Halifax where a one-bedroom is $1,000 and then a block-and-a-half away, another one-bedroom is $1,700,” said Paul Cyr, a SMU alumnus who’s been watching the local housing market inflate since he graduated a few years ago. “There’s a disillusion that everything is fine in Halifax but what the problem is that we are a heavily populated school city. You know, you have NSCAD, you have Dal, you have Saint Mary’s, you have [Mount] Saint Vincent, and so on and so on.” 

2016 study through the Association of Atlantic Universities found that Halifax welcomes more than 6,000 full-time students to its universities each year – and studies continue to show that that number is increasing as the years pass. “You’re having this influx of international students who are buying and renting during school but the thing is; there are no starter homes anymore, there are no affordable apartments,” said Cyr. 

Adriana Wissman was forced to live that reality during her first three years living in Halifax. 

“With literally tens of thousands of kids flocking to the city during the school months, there was so much competition around these apartments,” said Wissman, a fourth-year student at Dalhousie and the University of King’s College, who originally moved to Halifax from the United States for school. 

“Freshman year I lived on campus, but then for both sophomore year and junior year, I tried with friends to find an affordable apartment that was in an OK location. Both years we ended up giving up and living in dorms again because the rent was always too high compared to dorm prices.”  

According to Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives’ 2016 living wage report, the living wage for a family of four (assuming one child is in daycare and the other is in after-school care) in Halifax is $19.17/hour. As of January 2018, minimum wage in Nova Scotia is $11/hour. 

“If you have student debts, if you have a car payment, if you have a child, or if you’re starting a family or whatever it is, it’s almost like you’re starting to get pushed out of here,” said Cyr, who has struggled to find a salary that matches up with the cost of renting in Halifax.  

“I’m not asking for affordable housing, I’m asking for fair prices.”


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