The ordeal of finding an apartment in Halifax

One newcomer came east from Vancouver, hoping it would be easier to find her financial footing. Instead, she found high rents, low vacancy rates, and tiny incomes

One of our basic needs is a home. A place where the family can live and grow, love and nurture, dream dreams, and be encouraged to achieve goals. Newcomers to Halifax usually look for apartments as these are typically more affordable than buying a house, and easier to maintain. 

Until two years ago, rents in Halifax were reasonable. I recall looking for apartments and seeing rents of $1,200 to $1,700. Today those same apartments are listed in the $1,600 to $2,000 range. These are not high-end luxury apartments, but middle-class units with basic amenities. And there aren’t enough of them.

The provincial government recently announced an ambitious housing program. It will be a while before we know how that affects the situation, but meanwhile, people are struggling. 

Elaine Silva (name changed) is a new immigrant who recently moved to Halifax. “The government encouraged people from other provinces to settle down here,” she says. “Also, more and more immigrants came to live and work in Halifax because it is easier for them to get permanent residency if they do so.”

Elaine and her husband came to Vancouver in April 2019. She had an international student visa. “After two years in Vancouver, when the time came to renew my visa, I was given the option of going back to my country or continuing here as a student,” she recalls. “I decided to be a student for some more time. And we wanted to move to Halifax because we heard that it is less expensive to live there. Also, the tuition will be half of what I will pay in Vancouver.”

But it wasn’t that easy. 

“We started our apartment hunting in September 2020 for a move-in on June 1, 2021,” she says. “We sent out over 30 applications to rental companies. We were even willing to pay a whole year’s rent in advance, but none of them responded. The waiting was frustrating. It is wrong not to let the applicants know whether the apartment is available or not.”

Finally in March 2021, two replies came. “One of them had a vacancy close to our move-in date,” Elaine says. “I contacted an organization in my hometown that helps immigrants to find accommodation in foreign lands, and they advised me that I should find someone living in the building or at least close to it so that I can get first-hand information from him about the apartment we are looking at. Then followed a frantic search for such a person.”

Through social media she found someone from her native country living in the building. 

“Through him we were able to get more details about the building and the facilities provided,” she says. “We had many long-distance conversations. Since housing in Halifax had become very competitive, I realized I had to make a quick decision on whether to rent the apartment or not, even though the rent was high.” 

They took the apartment, arriving in Halifax in April 2021. They had an expensive stay at an Airbnb until their June 1 move-in date. And then, an unpleasant discovery: life in Halifax is no cheaper than it was in Vancouver. 

“It’s a very unfair situation,” Elaine says. “Rent keeps increasing, but the minimum wage remains the same. Nova Scotia has one of the lowest minimum wage rates. Where will people find the extra money? Even if they find the money, there are no apartments available.” 

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