Few housing options for people displaced by Amherst rooming house fire, says YMCA

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Alison Lair is the manager of community development at the YMCA of Cumberland in Amherst, N.S. She is shown on Nov. 16, 2020. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Alison Lair is the manager of community development at the YMCA of Cumberland in Amherst, N.S. She is shown on Nov. 16, 2020. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

A fire at a rooming house Monday in Amherst is highlighting a growing housing crisis in communities outside of Halifax.

With so few rental units available in the area, finding affordable housing for the 20 displaced tenants presents a significant challenge, said Alison Lair, YMCA manager of community development.

She said it has been a stressful time for housing support workers who have been meeting with people affected by the fire and trying to find them housing.

"Once they have exhausted all of the avenues that are available to them, their hands are tied," said Lair, who described the situation as "incredibly frustrating."

YMCA working with tenants

A few tenants who lived in the rooming house have approached the YMCA inquiring about assistance and asking for help in starting required applications.

The provincial government recently started using hotels as accommodations for people in need of housing, said Lair. People affected by the fire can also obtain a rent subsidy through the local housing authority.

She said the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a migration to Nova Scotia by people across Canada, which has only worsened an already bad housing situation.

Lair said the recent housing announcements made by the province all seem to be centred heavily around the Halifax area with little focus on rural areas of the province, even though there is a massive need for affordable housing everywhere.

Preston Mulligan/CBC
Preston Mulligan/CBC

The YMCA has been working with the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia to create four affordable housing units in Amherst, but Lair said hundreds are needed.

She gave credit to the provincial government for "stepping up" and recognizing housing as a basic human right. She said a lack of access to housing has far-reaching consequences, including on health.

"They're all tied together," Lair said. "Somebody without a house or home ... their mental and physical health is obviously much more impacted."

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