Young people living in Halifax say they are being priced out of the city they love

Gina Grattan stands near her apartment in Halifax, on May 24.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Gina Grattan moved to Halifax from her hometown of Amherst, NS, when she was 18, and she says living in her chosen city is becoming difficult – despite working two jobs.

“Halifax is my home, and I’d like to stay here for as long as I can,” Grattan said in a recent interview. “But I really do feel like I’m being priced out.”

The 25-year-old, who works full time for Dalhousie’s student union and part time with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says she can’t save money and lives paycheque to paycheque.

“I have no savings, which I think is shocking for someone who works two jobs to not be able to have any kind of emergency fund,” she said.

Grattan’s experience is not unique. A study from RBC and Canadian think tank Youthful Cities found that Halifax is the least affordable city for young people aged 15 to 29 compared to 26 other major Canadian cities.

The affordability index compared to the cost of living and average income for young people in 27 cities, and it found that the average young person in Canada runs an average deficit of $750 a month. Young people in Halifax, meanwhile, run average monthly deficits of $1,290.

Grattan pays $1,200 a month – half her monthly income – for a one-bedroom apartment, not including utilities or wireless internet. Compared to what she hears her friends are paying for housing, she says her rent seems like a bargain.

A May 2022 report from Rentals.ca found that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Halifax is more than $1,600 per month. Housing, student loan payments, wireless internet and utilities cost Grattan $2,000 each month – “and that’s before I even start thinking about getting groceries,” she said.

Halifax’s last-place ranking in the affordability index for young people doesn’t surprise Kendra Coombes, the NDP’s status of youth critic. The index, she said in a recent interview, reflects what she’s been hearing from young Nova Scotians over the past year “regarding the rising costs of everything.”

Coombes said she’s disappointed the governing Progressive Conservatives didn’t establish some kind of ongoing rent control or “put more money directly into people’s pockets.”

“We had the chance with the budget and they didn’t take it,” she said, referring to the provincial budget tabled March 29.

Brian Comer, minister responsible for youth, said in an e-mailed statement that “the rising cost of living is making it tough on many Nova Scotians, including young people.”

The government, he added, is talking to its counterparts in other provinces and has reached out to the federal government to discuss the cost of living. Comer noted also existing programs, such as bursaries for students in health-care studies and financial incentives for those in the skilled trades, that are designed to “help graduates and students launch their careers in Nova Scotia with good, well-paying jobs.”

For Douglas Wetmore, a 24-year-old administrative co-ordinator in Halifax who says he’s “in love” with the city, the cost of groceries and rent is making it hard to stay.

“This is where I’d like to live, but I feel like I’m being pushed out,” he said in a recent interview.

“It feels like the city is being designed to squeeze any sort of income out of youth and just push them aside.”

Wetmore, who was born in New Brunswick and moved to the Halifax region as a kid, says he and his partner currently pay $850 each per month for the apartment they share. In 2019, they were paying $500 each per month.

Leaving the city to find more affordable rent doesn’t feel like an option to Wetmore, who doesn’t own a car and relies on public transit.

“Let’s assume that I did want to ditch public transit. In the last few months, that also looks very unappealing because of the rising cost of gas,” he added. Gas in Halifax currently sits just above $2 per litre.

Wetmore says he and his partner feel relatively protected by the province’s two per cent annual rent cap, which is set to expire Dec. 31, 2023. But it means they can’t plan financially past the end of 2023, he said.

“Affordability is not going to change overnight, but for predictability, we can be implementing solutions as early as tomorrow by just keeping the rent cap in place,” he said.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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