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The Difficulties of Apartment Hunting, and Finding an Affordable and Safe Place to Live in Halifax When You are on a Low Income

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
[Photo: Natascia Lypny]
[Photo: Natascia Lypny]

In this article, I want to address what I have experienced being a low-income person trying find an affordable apartment in a safe neighbourhood. I will also touch on landlord discrimination.

The shelter allowance for persons with disabilities who are on income assistance, such as myself, is $535 per month. This amount has to pay for the rent of an apartment, utilities included.

Up until 10 years ago this $535 allowance was acceptable. However, over the last decade rents have slowly increased, and within the past three years rents have shot above and beyond this $535 limit.

Landlords who price their apartments based on what people living in poverty can afford often end up managing slums, and their buildings are located in unsafe areas of the city.

As such, income assistance clients have been paying above and beyond their shelter allowance for rent, digging into the little additional money they might have. Why? Because few landlords keep rent prices within that range. 

The killer factor for income assistance clients is that many landlords choose not to include the cost of power or heat in what they charge for rent. This means that tenants have to pay these costs out of their own pockets — through their $238 personal allowance — as opposed to it being covered by their shelter allowance.

The following are examples of non-affordable apartments located in a safe neighbourhood that I found during an apartment search in late 2012:

  • A bachelor apartment on Lucknow Street priced at $747/month, with only heat and hot included in the rent. Power was not included in the price.
  • A one-bedroom apartment priced at $940/month with all three utilities (heat, hot water and power) included. I must say this Hollis Street apartment was rare, because most landlords do not include power in their price for rent.
  • A one-bedroom priced at $1,400/month on Barrington Street. No one living in poverty of any type can afford that price, whether you are on income assistance, the working poor, on a pension, or even self-employed.

I was not surprised to unearth the above information: after all, the South End of Halifax is one of the city’s most expensive neighbourhoods. It’s also one of the best to live in.

It’s as if the landlords charging these rents do not care about the different reasons why people are unemployed and living in poverty. Some of these persons have work limiting disabilities, for example.

These landlords also seem to ignore the fact that persons living in poverty have the right to live in safe neighbourhoods.

Not all the time, though. The superintendant of the apartment on Lucknow Street, who gave me a tour, said he "doesn't blame me" for wanting to move out of North Dartmouth. He also expressed regret that his building's rent wasn't within my price range, and that he didn't have the authority to change it.

During my search, I found two different affordable apartments located in safer and better neighbourhoods than where I live now: North Dartmouth.

The first apartment I found within my price range was located in the Hydrostone area of Halifax. I applied for it and got turned down. The only contact with this landlord was through email. When I tried to find out why I had got turned down, the landlord would not speak to me.

The second apartment was located in Armdale Rotary area of Halifax. I also got turned down for this apartment. When I attempted to talk to the landlord, he was rude to me. One day after talking to him, he sent me an email telling me to look for an apartment in another building. 

Other landlords I attempted to interview for this article did not return calls or turned down my requests.

It would seem, from my perspective landlords, as businesspeople, only care about making money. They do not care about those living in poverty only having a certain amount of money that they can spend on rent.

More than that, the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancies Act gives landlords the flexibility to raise rents at least once a year. (Most provinces in Canada have laws around rent control. Nova Scotia does not.) This gives landlords even more lead way to disrespect the fact that an income assistance client only gets $535 to cover shelter expenses.

Do they even care if we become homeless?

People in living in poverty already have innumerable stresses in their lives. Trying to find an affordable residence in a safe neighbourhood should not be as serious an additional stress as it is now. 

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