Renoviction ban tied to wrong measure

As the housing crisis in Halifax becomes more visible than ever, an important piece of housing legislation is set to expire. The provincial government’s ban on ending leases for the purpose of residential renovations– commonly referred to as a ban on “renovictions”– has been celebrated amongst the community sector. We have heard story after story of tenants who had spent years, some even decades, in an affordable rental, only to find themselves on the brink of homelessness when landlords take on major renovations. When that happens, it’s often a community service provider who scrambles to help them find other housing before they become homeless.

Increasingly often, other housing isn’t found in time. The ban on renovictions gives a measure of security to renters living on a low income, who can’t afford to move. It also means direct service providers can focus on finding housing for the folks who are facing homelessness for other reasons. However, the ban on renovictions is tied to the provincial state of emergency, enacted when the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly two years ago. The provincial state of emergency is slated to end later this month.

Vulnerable people most impacted

We believe that lifting the ban on renovictions now will have immediate and dramatic effects on vulnerable people. It will most certainly add pressure on our funded partners and other service providers, who are already over capacity and unable to meet all of their clients’ needs. In addition to housing needs, they’re also supporting people with food, mental health support, employment and skills building and connection. Everything they do becomes harder when a client loses their housing.

We expect that lifting this ban will also have implications on our healthcare system. Our most vulnerable residents living on a low income often have disabilities. Some may be seniors. Chronic disease and complex health problems are more difficult to treat when people are homeless or housing insecure. The life expectancy of people experiencing homelessness is drastically lower. Others impacted may be families with children. Safe housing is an important social determinant of health and impacts children for their entire lives.

Additionally, we believe the renoviction ban is tied to the wrong measure. The housing crisis preceded the COVID-19 pandemic, with record-breaking low vacancy rates in early 2020. The impacts of the pandemic have only exacerbated the housing crisis. Our population continues to increase, while the housing supply still lags far behind. For every homeless person who secures housing, there are many others still waiting. Others who have housing today are in danger of becoming homeless. Their housing is unaffordable or unsafe or unsuitable for their family.

Residential tenancies improvements not enough

While the recent changes in the residential tenancies act are good first steps to protecting vulnerable tenants, we worry that those measures are not enough. Even with extra notice and compensation, the historically low vacancy rate makes finding housing next to impossible. We know that some older buildings do need renovations and recognize this ban should not be a permanent measure. However, a home in need of renovations is better than no home at all. Finding ways to maintain and preserve affordable housing stock should be a priority. Safe, affordable, appropriate housing is a human right. We are all responsible for making that a reality in our province. We ask that the provincial government consider holding off on ending the renoviction ban until other solutions for tenants and landlords can be explored, to help mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable residents.