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Looking for Change: new video tackles lack of affordable housing in Antigonish

by Robert Devet

See video

Looking for Change is a documentary about the lack of affordable housing in Antigonish. Just like an earlier video on the same topic, it is produced by ACALA, the Antigonish County Adult learning Association.

The documentary, close to an hour long, provides an in-depth look at housing issues in both the Town and County of Antigonish. It includes segments on the Paq'tnkek First Nation and several African Nova Scotian communities.

There is something a bit different about this documentary.

There are no poor people pointing to leaking ceilings and talking about their landlords from hell, as so often is the case with documentaries about poverty and housing issues.

Deborah Jenkins, director of the documentary, believes that people looking for support, be it from government or from charitable organizations, are too often subject to unfair scrutiny and judgements.

“I hear people say, oh that person is wearing a leather jacket, she should definitely not be going to the food bank. She should sell her leather jacket, or he should quit smoking. It is as if you have to have a certain income to deserve privacy,” says Jenkins.

This is why we are not invited to view the living conditions of people featured in the documentary. Their testimony is sufficient.

Instead, we meet frustrated local councillors, housing activists and officials talking about the endless bureaucratic hurdles they face trying to get solutions in place.

For Jenkins, this is the core of the problem.

“I have always thought that government is working in its own interest, and that interest does not include people living in poverty,” says Jenkins.

Katherine Reed, project coordinator at the Antigonish Affordable Housing Association, agrees that it is just too difficult for ordinary citizens to make solutions happen.

“We are having trouble already establishing a committee of people who can drive a project and own the project and rent it out to people, and get the money from government and do all that stuff,” Reed says in the documentary.

“It's murder trying to get people to sit around the table and consistently come to meetings and be ready to sign on the dotted line when it comes to taking responsibility, borrow half a million dollars from the bank. You want your name on the document?”, Reed wonders.

Jenkins thinks that there are two areas where all levels of government need to spend money.

“One is to put in place a guaranteed base income for people. But even then the capital cost of housing is still a major challenge, so that needs to be addressed as well. Then you have a good baseline for a social good.”

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