Pandemic increases demand for housing help

·5 min read

EASTERN SHORE – A combination of pandemic-related factors is increasing demand for housing help on the Eastern Shore.

Executive Director for LEA Place Women’s Resource Centre, Myrene Keating-Owen, says the centre is seeing more requests for help in housing as a direct result of the pandemic.

“There has been a loss of income – either totally or decreased hours for individuals or households. There has been an increase in homes that were once rented or vacant being purchased mostly by those from out of the area.”

Lack of transportation opportunities, Keating-Owen says, as well as childcare needs – with schools closed all spring – and the slowing of renovations occurring, have all attributed negatively to personal finances and an ongoing housing crisis.

“It is hard to estimate how many more need help,” she says. “We assume we see only the tip of the iceberg. We know of the need from talking to other service providers and community partners. There are often other factors which take priority – so the housing may come up, but not at the top of the list.”

“I have been seeing an increase in women applying for rent subsidy programs with their private landlords. It is also common for many young people to stay with their family for longer after completing their education, move back with family between jobs or couch surf at multiple residences,” Lisa Snyder, support worker with LEA Place Women’s Resource Centre, tells The Journal in an email.

“My general sense is that a lot of people don't know about public housing, [or] they have been discouraged from applying – told the wait list is long – or they don't accept pets. Awareness would certainly help, not just by the public, but by all those involved in professional and volunteer helping roles in our communities,” says Snyder.

Keating-Owen explains the centre’s support worker is full tilt with more than 200 contacts monthly.

“Unfortunately, LEA Place does not have the resources – human or financial – to spend more time on this crucial issue. There are many issues – housing is just one that is extremely overlooked and needs more time.”

The executive director says they use resources available to them to get information out to those in the community who could use support.

“Housing, local non-profits like Gerald Hardy Memorial Society, Literacy and Sexual Health are good contacts. We also have close partnerships to government local service providers, a regular newsletter, social media and word of mouth.”

The provincial government agency responsible for the administration and delivery of affordable housing solutions for low-to modest income Nova Scotians is Housing Nova Scotia. The Eastern Shore is served by Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority in HRM and the Eastern Mainland Housing Authority in Guysborough, Antigonish, and Pictou counties.

Krista Higdon, communications advisor with the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing, tells The Journal, “Every Nova Scotian deserves a safe and affordable place to call home. Finding housing for those who need it is a group effort and we have had success working with our partners.”

Higdon says, “We offer programs to assist a range of people including renters, homeowners and first-time homebuyers. Each program has its own eligibility criteria and application process.”

“We also provide funding to our partners who have hired housing support workers and housing locators,” says Higdon. “Our partners include the Salvation Army, Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, Adsum House, Welcome Housing, and others. We also encourage partnerships between non-profit and private sector landlords and developers.”

People in need of a place to live often face many challenges and for a number of reasons may not have the resources they need to change their situation.

“It can be they have no phone and access to Internet to navigate the process or the courage to reach out,” Keating-Owen explains.

“Not knowing where to start in a system that is uncoordinated with community is difficult,” she says. “Basically, non-profits are trying to fill the gap in service delivery.”

Housing needs to be safe, clean, affordable and accessible to services and schools, Keating-Owen says.

“Women with mental health and addiction issues face additional barriers. There is no second stage housing in rural areas. It is extremely difficult to find an affordable place to live while on income assistance – especially if there are two or three children and the size of housing required is not affordable.

Wait lists for affordable housing also presents a barrier to women we serve. It is a small community and – if someone gets evicted – word travels fast and many landlords won’t rent to unemployed or someone with bad credit.”

Snyder says, “Housing NS provides programs and services to all ages, genders, marital and family situations. There are specific programs for those looking to buy or rent. There are also special programs for seniors and persons who have a disability. There are even programs to assist landlords.”

Depending on where residents live, the financial criteria to qualify for programs are different.

Snyder explains, “I usually suggest that they contact either Metropolitan Housing or the Housing Authority directly to ask about which program might best suit their needs and regarding the status of programs. For example, there may be wait lists for rental housing, or a wait list for repair - even after an application is approved.”

Residents can obtain applications directly from either agency.

“We have the applications here at LEA Place for those we help,” Snyder says.

“I will often assist with completing the forms, helping the person round up their support documents – especially proof of income. I will help mail or fax the documentation throughout the process which includes application, approval and final work report. I sometimes am requested to help identify potential contractors to bid on work.”

The most significant benefit provided to people who are eligible to apply for assistance, Snyder says, is “… these programs definitely help with affordability, whether it's repair, down payment or renting a unit that has the rent fixed to a percentage of income. Also, the Housing Authorities have social workers available to their tenants, which can help with other issues.

Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal