Pandemic-related evictions expected to rise in Nova Scotia without provincial action

Thousands of Nova Scotians have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, a group of over 50 community organizations in Nova Scotia says not only are people out of work, they’re also at risk of losing their homes because they can’t afford to pay their rent without a job.

A residential tenancy protection plan has been in place by the province since March.

Effectively, under the plan, anyone who couldn’t afford their rent because of COVID-19 could not be evicted from their home until June 30.

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But the temporary eviction ban is about to expire and a collective of community and non-profit organizations anticipates that will lead to another public health disaster.

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“We fear that hundreds, or, even thousands, of individuals and families may be facing eviction into homelessness in the coming months if the province does not act now,” Mark Culligan said, a community legal worker with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service.

Culligan says a lobby group for provincial landlords in Nova Scotia estimates upwards of 2,000 applications for eviction for non-payment of rent will be submitted once the ban expires on June 30.

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Alberta introduces bill to protect business tenants from eviction during COVID-19

That estimate comes from the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia and Culligan, along with supporting signatories of the Eviction Prevention Plan that has been submitted to the province, feels government action is required to protect both tenants and landlords.

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“Landlords should not be required to forgive tenants’ debts, but they should be required to give tenants more time to repay their debts given the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic,” Culligan said.

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The plan calls on the government to extend the eviction ban for the duration of the pandemic.

It also calls for Nova Scotia to allow that no reasonable repayment plan can be refused by a landlord if the tenant can demonstrate they are in a state of financial hardship due to COVID-19.

“We are calling on the Nova Scotia government to amend the Residential Tenancies regulations to direct landlords not to refuse a reasonable payment proposal from tenants for the repayment of arrears,” Culligan said.

Affordable housing
A lobby group that represents landlords in Nova Scotia, estimates upwards of 2,000 applications for eviction for non-payment will be filed once the eviction ban is lifted on June 30.Alexa MacLean/Global Halifax

An interview request with Service Nova Scotia Minister Patricia Arab was declined.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson with the province wrote that the temporary ban was in place to give people time to access federal and provincial financial aid programs.

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Community support workers say not everyone qualifies for financial relief programs and that the Canada Emergency Response Benefit didn’t replace the loss of a full-time income for many people.

Temporary rental supplement extended
Temporary rental supplement extended

Michelle Malette, a shelter support worker in Halifax, says the rate of people experiencing chronic homelessness in the region has doubled in the past two years.

She estimates 329 people are currently at risk of being forced into the homelessness cycle and 40 to 50 of those are families.

Malette says affordable housing was widely inaccessible prior to the pandemic and that the shelter system has been forced to carry the load that years of provincial non-response to a lack of affordable housing stock have created.

“We see people coming in and renovating buildings that were generally for low-income folks to rent, working people to rent and they’ve been renovated and they are no longer affordable,” Malette said.

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Ultimately, the community organizations say people who are forced into homelessness because of COVID-19 are some of society’s most vulnerable and that more needs to be done by the province to protect them by providing them with a reasonable repayment plan option.

“When we can get a woman safe in stable housing, what we give that woman is a glimmer of hope and stability with a support system put in place,” said Dawn Corkum, a housing support worker with the Elizabeth Fry Society.

“Without stability, women are more likely to resort back to being in survival mode and that can put her at risk of being criminalized.”

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