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Halifax social housing tenants rally to save their homes

by Robert Devet

Tenants of Harbour City Homes who have been evicted, rallied at the Central Library, asking Housing Nova Scotia to stop ignoring the loss of affordable housing in the North End. Photo Robert Devet
Tenants of Harbour City Homes who have been evicted, rallied at the Central Library, asking Housing Nova Scotia to stop ignoring the loss of affordable housing in the North End. Photo Robert Devet
Dan Troke, CEO of Housing Nova Scotia, talked with the protesters but made no commitments. Photo Robert Devet
Dan Troke, CEO of Housing Nova Scotia, talked with the protesters but made no commitments. Photo Robert Devet
There are subsidies for landlords, but people who have lived in the community for years are ignored,say the protesters. Photo Robert Devet
There are subsidies for landlords, but people who have lived in the community for years are ignored,say the protesters. Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) - Tenants of Harbour City Homes rallied at the Halifax Central Library today, to tell Dan Troke, the CEO of Housing Nova Scotia that affordable housing stock in the city is dwindling. Troke was attending a conference at the library.

In August the tenants learned that their landlord, a non-profit affordable housing society, is selling nine properties on Brunswick Street and Artz Street in north-end Halifax. Sixteen families are losing their homes.

Harbour City Homes says it is has to sell because it can no longer afford the properties.

“This is about Housing Nova Scotia needing to step up to the plate and listening. We need more affordable housing in the city,” Deb Key of the Brunswick Street Tenants Association tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

Housing Nova Scotia is the provincial government corporation that champions affordable housing. The organization reports to Community Services minister Joanne Bernard.     

“We want subsidies for the co-ops and the non-profits reinstated. People are losing their homes,” Key says.

“Today Nova Scotia Housing is holding a seminar for landlords (at the library). They are handing out money to landlords for rent subsidies.  But people who have lived in the community for years are ignored,” says Key.

Linda Beaver is one of the tenants slated to lose her home.

“I ve been there for 36 years, and my neighbour downstair was there for 51 years. This is a real community, we all know each other, there are 16 different families affected,” Beaver says.

“I am not against development, but why take all the properties that are affordable, and not put anything back?”

Both Beaver and Key emphasize  that the rally is about more than just the pending eviction of the Brunswick Street tenants.  

And they argue that many of the so-called affordable housing alternatives offered up  are not affordable at all.

“Why call it affordable when you make minimum wage, and you are being charged $800 a month,” said Beaver.  It[‘s a ridiculous. If you have any emergency you’re out of  luck. You’ can’t afford to have an emergency, I guess.”

Housing CEO Dan Troke joined the group and talked to many of the protesters. Trope said he was willing to talk to anybody any time. The protesters countered that numerous efforts to set up such a meeting had no results.

Stephan Richard, director of Community Relations and Public Affairs at Housing Nova Scotia, told the  Halifax Media Co-op that organizations such as Harbour City Homes have a responsibility to maintain their stock.

“Sometimes,for whatever reason, they make a decision that disposing of the property is the best course of action. There is not enough supply, so losing supply is not a good thing,” says Richard. “That doesn’t make it easier for people in that situation.”

At the end of the day there was a bit of relief for the Brunswick Street tenants.

“We just got out of a meeting with Joanne Bernard, we caught her coming out of the legislature,” poverty activist Evan Coole tells the Halifax Media Co-op.

“There now is a bit of a guarantee for the tenants. They will get a rent supplement wherever they go, and also a meeting with DanTrope.  It’s not much, but it’s more than the tenants started out with in the morning,” Coole says.

As if to illustrate that affordable housing shortages in the North End are structural, a new issue made the news just as the evicted Harbour City Homes tenants were offered a bit of relief.

This afternoon  during question period at the legislature the NDP asked about the fate of residents of Brunswick Street Housing, another apartment building on the same street, who are facing sharply increased rents.

This happened after Housing Nova Scotia cut a subsidy because a mortgage with the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) matured this year.

The government says it has no obligation to provide the subsidy now that the housing agreement between the province and the CMHC has expired.

A press release issued by the provincial NDP mentions how Shirley Joyce, a senior who has lived in the building for 30 years and saw her monthly rent increase by almost $300.

She has been unable to keep up with her bills, the press release states.  On Friday she was handed an eviction notice and told she had two weeks to vacate her apartment.

“I have no idea what I’m going to do,” Joyce is quoted as saying. “In two weeks I have no place to stay.”

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