Members of the Nova Scotia chapter of anti-poverty group ACORN gathered Wednesday outside the office of a property developer in Halifax to draw attention to the severity of the housing shortage in the city.
The demonstration took place outside of BANC Group headquarters, a company that received a $115.5-million low-cost loan from federal Crown corporation Canada Mortgage Housing Corporation in June to build 76 "affordable units" in a 324-unit apartment complex it plans to build on Joseph Howe Drive.
The apartments are expected to cost between $1,455 and $1,844 a month depending on unit type, according to the federal Department of Families, Children and Social Development.
"That is not actually affordable," said Hannah Wood, the chair of ACORN's Halifax chapter, who was joined by about 20 protesters. "We don't want public dollars going to unaffordable housing, we want it to actually be affordable and not just subsidizing the industry of developers."
The project will be required to maintain at least 76 units with rents at or below 30 per cent of the median household income in Halifax, including 65 units that would be set at or below 21 per cent of median household income.
The median income the CMHC is using to measure affordability is $89,510. The minimum wage in Nova Scotia is $12.95 an hour, which means a yearly income of under $27,000 for someone who works a standard work week.
Nova Scotia ACORN said the CMHC definition of affordable housing is inaccurate and out of touch.
"Forty-two per cent of Nova Scotians make less than $30,000 a year," said Wood. "So what would actually be an affordable unit for them would be $700 a month."
The president of BANC Investments, Alex Halef, is a member of the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission. His office declined to comment on the protest outside their building, or the cost of their "affordable units."
ACORN members did not just gather in Halifax Wednesday. Across the country, co-ordinated demonstrations were carried out in nine cities by the organization's 120,000 members.
The organization had two demands for the federal government and the CMHC. Firstly, to protect existing affordable housing by not allowing so-called renovictions and demovictions or the gentrification of current affordable housing. This would include creating rent control policies in all provinces and creating a rent relief fund.
Secondly, to create a minimum of 1.2 million units of affordable housing across the country in the next decade.
This would include keeping the housing affordable for perpetuity, not for 10 to 21 years as is the current standard, and would mean changing federal housing initiatives to focus on people in acute housing need — those who have a household income between $10,000 and $30,000 per year.
CBC has reached out to CMHC and the office of federal Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen for comment.
A 12-year-old named Xan Clarke was at the Halifax demonstration holding a large banner.
"If people don't have affordable housing, they'll be out on the streets," he said. "You can't just hope for a miracle."
Wood agreed, and had a message for Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, who was sworn in on Tuesday, and who has repeatedly said rent control is not something he plans to continue.
"If you don't want to be known as the premier who let this problem get worse, do something about it," she said. "[This] means creating affordable housing, keeping rent control, and looking at the problem for as bad as it actually is."
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