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

When Tiffany Campbell returned to the East Coast after years of working and saving money in Alberta, she dreamed of buying a house and raising her son in Nova Scotia. But after a few months, his plans changed dramatically.

The 32-year-old says she has been renovated from the first apartment she rented in Halifax. She and her 7-year-old son have moved twice more in a year, looking for affordable housing.

And they still haven’t found it. Campbell says she spends more than 50% of her income on an apartment uptown, where she and her son share a bedroom.

“At the time I got here it was just impossible,” Campbell said. “I love this city, but I never imagined that by coming here, we would be placed in this kind of position. Things are truly exceptional in Halifax. I did not imagine that for the Maritimes.

Campbell came to Nova Scotia to pursue a doctorate in social anthropology at Dalhousie University. She grew up on the east coast and thought housing would be affordable in the area.

But despite a full scholarship, two part-time jobs, no vehicle and use of her university’s food bank, she says staying in Halifax is untenable.

Campbell’s son’s artwork is on display in their apartment. She says she worries that moving several times a year will negatively affect her childhood. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Campbell is among more than 30 young adults who spoke to CBC News this fall and say they feel pressured to leave the province they hoped to build their lives in because the rent is too high and they believe owning a home is inaccessible.

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

“It reminds me of 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 have to constantly rewrite the story of my life.”

Rents have increased the most in Atlantic Canada

According to data from the rental housing website Rentals.ca that was analyzed by data firm Urbanation, rental prices in Atlantic Canada have increased by 32.2% over the past year, making it the jump the highest in Canada.

Although Nova Scotia has implemented a temporary 2% rent cap for existing leases, rent can be increased for a new lease if a tenant vacates or is evicted. Rentals.ca measures the listing price of unoccupied units.

Based on a sample of approximately 150 rental units in Halifax, Rentals.ca reports that the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city is $1,819 and the average rent for a two-bedroom unit is of $2,240.

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

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

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

“During the pandemic, a lot of people discovered Halifax and decided to move there, which increased the demand. Immigration is very high in Halifax, it also increases the demand… there is not any just not enough supply in Halifax.”

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

However, the number of people leaving the province for other parts of Canada also hit a six-year high in 2021-22. People between the ages of 20 and 40 represent more than half of those who move to other provinces.

High house prices

Average residential real estate prices in Nova Scotia have also risen since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, peaking in April of this year at more than $450,000, according to the Nova Scotia Association of Realtors.

While the average price of residential units has since dropped to less than $400,000, it’s still nearly double the average from 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.

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

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

In 2021, they reviewed 20 homes and made offers on four. Normore said they offered $50,000 to $87,000 above asking prices and overbid each time.

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

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

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

They are not alone. According to 2021 Statistics Canada data, 45% of Halifax households spend almost a third or more of their income on housing. This is the highest percentage of any Canadian city, ahead of Toronto and Vancouver.

Normore said for years he was optimistic about his time in Nova Scotia, but “that optimism slowly turned into pessimism.”

“I’m by no means the only person… going through this,” he said. “The majority of people you know, my former colleagues around my age, we’re all in exactly the same boat. We’re renting. We don’t have a realistic path to homeownership 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 Squeeze, a charitable think tank that studies the impact of systemic issues across generations.

He said young people in Halifax now face the “affordability pressure” that has long been talked about in British Columbia and Ontario, and it’s setting them back further than previous generations.

Young people disproportionately affected

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

“We often joke that a younger demographic eats too many avocado toast or drinks too many lattes, or they have the right, they’re lazy. But that’s not the case. The data is clear,” he said.

“The younger demographic is attending post-secondary education more, paying more for the privilege, and starting with student debt more often, to land jobs that, after adjusting for inflation, pay thousands of dollars less.”

He said not being able to afford a house or pay rent can have a profound impact on the lives of young people at a time when they may be looking 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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