Editor’s note and update: On Oct. 20, 2021, Premier Tim Houston reversed his position and announced that rent control will remain in the province –– with rental increases being capped at two per cent –– until Dec. 31, 2023. The following article is unedited and was published on Oct. 1, 2021, in issue 154-3 of the Dalhousie Gazette.
While rent in Halifax continues to rise, Nova Scotia’s Premier Tim Houston wants to put a stop to emergency rent control in the province. This change could be a threat to those in Halifax, including students, who cannot sustain a raise of more than two percent in their monthly rent.
Houston announced his position on rent control at a press confrence after his swearing-in ceremony back in August. “I don’t see a scenario with extending [rent control], that’s not something that I’ve been focused on. I feel very sincerely that the solution to the housing crisis is more housing stock,” Houston said to reporters.
Since November 2020, rental price increases have been capped at two percent in Nova Scotia, a temporary restriction included in Nova Scotia’s state of emergency as a response to COVID-19. The rent cap, which was introduced by the Liberal Party of Nova Scotia, is scheduled to end by either February 2022 or when the state of emergency ends.
That state of emergency is likely to end sometime after Nova Scotia enters phase five of its reopening plan, which is slated to happen Oct. 3 as of Oct. 1.
For one student who aged out of foster care, “It’s brutal”
The association of community organizations for reform now (ACORN) held a rally to keep the rent cap on Sept. 23. ACORN is a tenants union made up of moderate-to-low-income renters.
Second-year Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) library tech student Riley Rhodes attended the protest. “I’m here because the housing crisis is getting to be exceedingly outrageous. The lives of poor people need to begin to matter,” said Rhodes.
Rhodes grew up in foster care. He said this leaves him particularly vulnerable to the end of rent control.
“You turn 19 and you’re dumped in the deep end, you have no backup plan. You’re either on the street or you’re lucky enough to have an apartment,” he said. “If anything happens, you have no safety net, you have no backup plan. There’re no parents to give a fuck if you sink or swim. It’s brutal.”
Though not a member of ACORN, Rhodes wants to see more support from the province for students and youth who age out of foster care and need to navigate the housing market on little income.
Specifically, Rhodes said the province should help those who age out of foster care with basic living expenses many students rely on their parents for, such as help with purchasing furniture and covering the first month’s rent.
“I had nothing. When I came into care, I didn’t have a blanket. My care worker didn’t give two fucks, and I aged out with nothing. I was lucky to have a small support system that helped me, but it was very much the right place at the right time. And most foster kids are not as lucky,” he said.
ACORN Demands the province keep the cap
Marjorie Penderton, the secretary for the mainland chapter of ACORN, said the rent cap helps elderly and disabled people afford housing. “We’re here to protest today, for economic justice, for the poor and the people on fixed incomes. My pension puts me in poverty. I can’t work, I have disabilities,” Penderton said. “I had spine surgery, which is very serious. But I keep going. I’m going to protest this to the end until we hear from the province and the municipal government about some kind of rent control.”
Gary Burrill, the MLA for Halifax Chebucto and the leader of the Nova Scotia New Democratic Party (NDP), is fighting Houston to keep the rent-cap in the province.
“So many people now in Halifax have received notices from their landlords that on the first day of the first month after the lifting of the state of emergency, they are going to receive rent increases of $300, $400, $500 or even $600,” Burrill said in an interview with the Dalhousie Gazette.
Burrill is not just pushing for an extension of emergency rent control but hopes to bring permanent rent control to the province.
“A majority of Canadians live in jurisdictions where there is a permanent rent control system, which protects people from these sudden astronomical increases that force people out of their places where they’ve been often for decades,” he said. British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec all have some form of rent control.
Justin Lunderigan is one of the people concerned about having to move for more affordability. Lunderigan is a poet who spoke at the ACORN rally, he said when it comes to removing the rent cap Houston is “out of his mind.”
“He’s not worthy of leadership. Who does he care about? The middle class, upper-middle class and ultra-rich? Is that what Halifax is going to turn into? An investor’s city? I love my city, always loved my city. They’re taking away what we like about this place, the people and the affordability,” he said.
Lunderigan said racism and prejudice have made him and his family’s search for affordable housing even more difficult.
“I have personally noticed the looks that we will get when we go to apply to landlords. They’ll speak so friendly and sweet to us on the phone, and then when they see that we’re Indigenous, you get a completely different reaction,” Lunderigan said. “It’s gotten to the point where I think I might even have to move away. I might have to leave Nova Scotia, leave Mi’kma’ki and I don’t want to do that.”
DSU demands rent control
Aparna Mohan, the interim vice-president (academic and external) at the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), spoke at the ACORN rally on behalf of the students struggling with the housing crisis.
“There are students who are couch-surfing … and living in less than acceptable circumstances because they either cannot afford better or there’s too much competition for better affordable housing,” Mohan said in her speech.
“We regularly get bursary applications at the student union from students who are approaching bankruptcy and houselessness and are constantly wondering whether they can pay rent next month or whether they’ll have to choose between groceries or a roof over their head. That is not acceptable.”
After her speech, the Gazette spoke to Mohan about what the DSU has been hearing from students about the housing crisis.
“We get emails from international students who are just so caught up in figuring out how to get to Dalhousie that they don’t have time to figure out housing,” said Mohan.
According to Mohan, international students are hit particularly hard by the rental market. “We’ve heard from [international] students who are asking for classes to continue online, just to accommodate the fact that there’s no housing here and they would be much better off just staying home. And these are students who haven’t set foot on Dalhousie campus at all.”
Pablo Rios, an international third-year creative writing student at the University of King’s College, said that a potential rent increase is difficult to understand for those who are new to Halifax. “There’s so much fear. When I finished by first year at King’s I was excited to move into a new house. But as soon as I started hearing the stories, I worried landlords would never take my side.”
Mohan and the DSU would like to see more support from Dalhousie regarding housing, “Dal does have such an opportunity and leverage to advocate [for housing justice]. And that’s not what we’re seeing happen. We know that the student affairs office, for example, is doing a lot of advocacy. But we need to see it from more from the university.”
Burrill does not believe the Conservative government’s private sector approach to the housing market is responsible to citizens, including students.
“The student population ought to be treated with more respect than to leave them to the pressures of the private market at a time when the private market is putting extraordinary upward pressure on renters,” he said.
Dal off Campus housing team
The Dalhousie off-campus housing team is one of the offices in Dalhousie Student Affairs trying to help students find housing in this difficult and changing market. They help connect students struggling with housing with bursary programs or legal aid. Just recently they housed a number of students temporarily at the Double Tree Inn in Dartmouth from Sep. 1 to Oct. 6.
Heather Doyle, special projects director for student affairs, said rooms were provided to students who “just don’t have a place to live and are potentially homeless, or their apartment is ready Oct. 1, but they have nowhere to go until that date.” She said most of these accommodations are for international students.
Doyle encourages students to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance.