N.S. film student lived in school bus. Now she's making documentary on housing crisis

·3 min read
Natasha Ernst and her husband moved into this school bus after they couldn't find a place to live. (Submitted by Natasha Ernst - image credit)
Natasha Ernst and her husband moved into this school bus after they couldn't find a place to live. (Submitted by Natasha Ernst - image credit)

Since moving back to Nova Scotia in March 2020, Natasha Ernst has struggled to find affordable housing.

She and her husband have lived in about a half-dozen rental units and spent last summer and fall living in a school bus because they couldn't find long-term housing.

Ernst said all they could find were short-term rentals and Airbnbs. Once they'd start living in a unit, the countdown was on for moving to the next one.

"It's unbelievably stressful," she said. "We can never feel settled ... you just never have that sense of home."

Ernst, who lives in Northfield on Nova Scotia's South Shore, studies remotely through the Toronto Film School. She's going to make Nova Scotia's housing crisis the subject of her final assignment for a documentary class.

While housing costs were once a selling point for living in Nova Scotia, prices have skyrocketed in recent years as the province's population grew and the housing supply didn't keep up.

Ernst chose this topic because of her first-hand experience and the impact she's seen it have on others around her.

This has included seeing people forced to live in tents at campgrounds because they can't find a place to live, or being evicted from their rentals because the landlords have sold the place to cash in on the hot housing market.

"I really just want to bring awareness because it is a whole other side of Nova Scotia that is really unfortunate because Nova Scotia is an amazing place to live, but with this housing crisis, it's really hard to live a fulfilled, sustainable life," she said.

Submitted by Natasha Ernst
Submitted by Natasha Ernst

Last October, the province announced it would spend $35 million on affordable housing to create 1,100 new spaces. That's $10 million more than originally recommended by the province's affordable housing commission. The money included 425 new rent supplements that were to become immediately available.

Pre-pandemic, Ernst and her husband lived in Calgary, but they moved home in March 2020 amid the uncertainty of COVID-19 and wanted to be closer to family.

The struggle to find long-term housing forced the couple to use money they had been saving to purchase land and instead spend it on a school bus. Their choice was to do this or be homeless.

The couple started renovating the bus and documented the process on social media. They lived on the bus last summer and fall at a campground on the South Shore.

Submitted by Natasha Ernst
Submitted by Natasha Ernst

While Ernst liked the "minimalism" of the bus, the lack of privacy of living at a campground and noisy weekends were challenging.

Ernst said they were able to find a rental for the winter. If not for that, they'd be still living on the bus, which isn't winterized. The couple plan to winterize it.

"We feel really fortunate and grateful that we had the means to be able to do that because I know a lot of people probably wouldn't have the means to buy a school bus and have that security blanket of a roof over your head, you know, so I guess we're kind of one of the lucky ones," she said.

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