Why some young Nova Scotians say they can’t afford to stay in the province

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When Tiffany Campbell moved back to the East Coast after spending years working and saving in Alberta, she had dreams of buying a house and raising her son in Nova Scotia. But after a few months, her plans changed drastically.

The 32-year-old says that she was renovated from the first apartment she rented in Halifax. She and her 7-year-old son moved twice more in one year to search for cheap housing.

And they still haven’t found it. Campbell says she spends more than 50 percent of her income on an apartment in the north end of the city, where she and her son share a bedroom.

“When I got here, it was just impossible,” Campbell said. “I love this city, but I didn’t imagine coming out here that we would be put in this kind of position. Things are really unique in Halifax. I didn’t imagine this for the Maritimes.”

Campbell came to Nova Scotia to pursue a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University. Growing up on the East Coast, she thought housing would be affordable in the region.

But despite having a full scholarship, two part-time jobs, no vehicles and using her university’s food bank, she says staying in Halifax is unsustainable.

Campbell’s son’s artwork is displayed in their apartment. She says she worries moving multiple times in a year will negatively affect his childhood. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Campbell is among more than 30 young adults who spoke to CBC News this fall who say they feel forced to leave the province they had hoped to build a life in because rent is too expensive and they believe that owning a home is unattainable.

Some said they plan to move with family in other provinces or move where wages are higher. But the common theme is the struggle to find housing in Nova Scotia.

“It reminds me of what happened when I was in high school … A lot of young people had to go out west,” Campbell said. “It makes me sad because I feel like I’m constantly having to rewrite the story of my life.”

Rents rose the most in Atlantic Canada

According to data from the website for rental properties Rentals.ca analyzed by data firm Urbanation, rental prices in Atlantic Canada have increased by 32.2 per cent in the past year, making it the highest jump in Canada.

Although Nova Scotia has one temporarily two percent. rent ceiling in place for existing tenancies, the rent can be raised for a new tenancy if a tenant leaves or is evicted. Rentals.ca measures the listing price of unoccupied units.

According to a sample size of about 150 rental units in Halifax, Rentals.ca says the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is $1,819, and the average for a two-bedroom unit is $2,240.

Many of Campbell and her son’s belongings are still packed up after their last move. She says there isn’t much room in their studio apartment to unpack. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

The company says Halifax is the 18th most expensive city to rent in a list of 35 city centers across the country. Some of the most affordable cities on the list are Edmonton, Quebec City and Regina.

“Halifax, for a medium-sized city, has had a lot of problems with housing,” said Paul Danison, director of content at Rentals.ca.

“During the pandemic, a lot of people discovered Halifax and decided they wanted to move there, so that increased demand. Immigration is really high in Halifax, it also increases demand … there’s just not enough supply in Halifax.”

Data from Statistics Canada reflects this trend. Immigration to Nova Scotia from abroad more than doubled last year from pre-pandemic levels. And after decades of emigration to other provinces A total of 14,079 people were added to Nova Scotia’s population last year due to migration from other provinces. 80 percent of them were from Ontario.

But the number of people leaving the province for other parts of Canada also hit a six-year high in 2021-22. People between 20 and 40 make up more than half of those moving to other provinces.

High housing prices

Average home prices in Nova Scotia have also been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, peaked in April of this year at more than $450,000according to the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.

While the average price of residential units has since dropped to less than $400,000, it is still nearly double the average compared to five years ago.

Paul Kershaw, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health, said the numbers are startling.

“Back in the mid-1970s, when today’s baby boomers were young adults coming of age, it took about four years of full-time work to save a 20 percent down payment on an average-priced home in Halifax,” Kershaw said. “If you flash forward to today, it now takes 12 years.”

Marius Normore, 29, and his partner started saving for a down payment on a home in Halifax in 2018, where average prices were about $225,000.

In 2021, they looked at 20 homes and made offers for four. Normore said they bid from $50,000 to $87,000 above the asking prices and were outbid each time.

Marius Normore says he and his partner wanted to buy a home and raise children in Nova Scotia, but it was out of reach. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

As of mid-2022, the couple were still spending most of their income renting an apartment in Bedford and felt they would never get ahead by staying in Nova Scotia.

“The best analogy I can use is it’s like football,” Normore said. “You run toward the touchdown, and the closer you get, the further away the goal line moves.”

They are not alone. According to Statistics Canada data from 2021, 45 per cent of households in Halifax spend close to a third or more of their income on housing. That’s the highest percentage of any Canadian city, ahead of both Toronto and Vancouver.

Normore said for years he had been optimistic about staying in Nova Scotia, but “that optimism slowly turned to pessimism.”

“I’m by no means the only person … going through this,” he said. “The majority of people that you know, my former colleagues around my age, we’re all in the exact same boat. We’re renting. We have no realistic path to home ownership at this point.”

So Normore and his partner made the difficult decision to leave. They moved to Newfoundland to buy a house and got their keys in early November.

Normore and his partner packed up their apartment in Bedford and moved to Newfoundland. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Kershaw is also the founder of Generation Squeezea charitable think tank that studies the impact of systemic problems across generations.

He said young people in Halifax are now facing the “affordability squeeze” long talked about in British Columbia and Ontario, putting them further behind than previous generations.

Young people are disproportionately affected

Kershaw said now is the time for policy changes at all levels of government to prioritize housing affordability.

“We often joke that a younger demographic is eating too many pieces of avocado toast or drinking too many lattes, or that they’re entitled to being lazy. But that’s not the case. The data is clear,” he said.

“The younger demographic is going to graduate school more, paying more for the privilege and starting with student debt more often to get jobs that, adjusted for inflation, pay thousands of dollars less.”

He said being unable to afford a home or pay rent can have a big impact on young people’s lives at a time when they may want to settle down and start a family.

Campbell agreed.

“It has a huge impact on your mental health,” she said. “There’s just a huge amount of insecurity among my peers and myself, so it’s something we all struggle with.”

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