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Brandon’s hopes were high.
His north-end Dartmouth apartment was getting a new roof. For months, water had been leaking through the ceiling of his living room. After one bad rainstorm, it soaked through the drywall. He had complained to the building manager about the ceiling and mould in his apartment.
In addition to putting in the new roof, the property owner was considering renovating every unit in the building. The building manager admitted in a text that the property needed a lot of work.
“There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be done in that building,” the building manager said.
“We’re just not exactly sure if we’re going to go through with that yet, or what’s going to happen.”
That conversation happened 15 months ago. The roof’s since been replaced, but the living room ceiling still leaks and Brandon says he’s still dealing with mould. He says he’s also found bedbugs in his apartment. The wide-scale renovations that his building manager talked about never happened.
The 11-unit building on Brule Street was sold to a company at the end of June.
That has Brandon and his pregnant girlfriend worried. They pay just over $600 a month in rent, a third of the average going rate for a one-bedroom in Halifax-Dartmouth. They’re worried that the new owner will decide to go ahead with major renovations and they’ll be forced out.
‘NO PLACE ELSE TO GO’
With his partner expecting in November, Brandon is the only one working. Making ends meet is a daily challenge. The couple is afraid of the possibility of moving out and paying triple in rent.
“It just isn’t an option,” said Brandon, who asked that his last name not be used.
“We’ll have no place else to go.”
SaltWire spoke to tenants of two other units in the building. They also asked that only their first names be used.
They also complained of walls and ceilings damaged by water, as well as mould and mice. They provided pictures of mould and water damage in their units. Like Brandon, they are worried the new landlord will force them all out, using renovations as an excuse.
They don’t have to look far to see something similar happening. Just three kilometres from where they live, as many as 1,500 people living in Ocean Breeze, a Dartmouth neighbourhood of three- and four-bedroom homes, are worried about being forced out.
Last year, the Ocean Breeze property was bought by a group of local real estate investors called Basin Heights Community Limited Partnership. Its president and vice-president are Joseph Daniel and Francis Fares respectively. A few weeks ago, some residents received a letter saying their homes were set to be demolished.
Just a block away from the Brule Street property, AMK Barrett Investments bought a 23-unit apartment building on Primrose Street. The company owned by Adam Barrett tried to renovict. Residents resisted and won the case in a residential tenancies hearing.
PROFIT PRIMARY MOTIVATION
The dwindling stock of affordable rental units in Dartmouth North is being gobbled up by companies whose primary objective is profit, says Gayle Collicutt, a housing support co-ordinator with Elizabeth Frye. She says that the province needs to do more to protect what’s left by investing more in the non-profit housing sector.
The province is making some effort to maintain affordable housing in Nova Scotia through its Community Housing Acquisition Program. The program allows non-profit organizations to borrow up to $10 million to help purchase existing affordable housing.
In May, the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council received a $1.7-million low-interest mortgage to buy three buildings in Truro. The deal allowed tenants to continue to pay between $600 and $900 per month in rent.
But cases like this are few and far between, says Collicutt.
She says north-end Dartmouth is being gentrified at an alarming rate, and government has to make it easier for the non-profit housing sector to get a cut of what land remains.
Other tenants at the Brule Street building are also concerned. A couple, Katy and Jonathan, are also paying $600 a month in rent. Katy has a one-year-old baby from another relationship and is on income assistance. Jonathan, a scaffolder, has had trouble finding work but just got hired at a construction site in Oxford.
They say if they lost their home they’d have nowhere to go. They also say they are dealing with mice and mould.
Another tenant, Bobby, says he has mould in the bathroom. His rent is also $600 a month.
A few weeks ago, his unit flooded after the record-setting rainstorm. He said the window in his apartment leaks when it rains. He keeps a bucket under the window to catch the water. He says he’s hopeful that the new owner will keep the rent low and fix up the apartment building.
Noah Wilson is the owner of Robusta Properties, the company that bought the building just over a month ago. He said he supports affordable housing and has no plans to renovict tenants right now.
Wilson says he’s renovating one empty unit and has more work planned for the building. He wouldn’t say whether the work would require making people move out. He’s also unsure what will happen to rents. That depends on how much work is needed to renovate the property, Wilson says.
“Will they remain below market rate? I’m not sure what the future holds.”