Barrett, the Privateer

This week the Chronicle Herald ran two stories about HRM residents who can no longer afford to pay their rent.

One is alive, and one is dead.

Grace Fogerty is a 63 year old woman who works at a gas station.  She has lived in her Spryfield area apartment for 10 years.  Her rent, which was $725 a month, will increase in April by $650—an 90% increase.   She simply can’t afford to pay $1375 a month for a one bedroom apartment on Dutch Village Rd.  

Not yet old enough for Canada Pension, to make ends meet, Fogerty has to work as many hours as she can at a job that pays little better than minimum wage.  Her support system and her health have taken a beating.  Recently, her daughter passed away, and  both Fogerty’s  parents died.  If she has to pay more in rent, she will have to forego drugs which are important to treat her various medical issues. 

Halifax rent increase: 130%

Roy “Joe” Clark took his own life the day the rent at his apartment at 58 Main Ave. would have increased by $250 to $1600 a month.  Roy had lived on disability . 

Photo courtesy of Chris Lambie, from the Chronicle Herald.

In 2019, he and a roommate split the $695 rent for the same apartment.  In June 2019,  Adam Barrett, owner of AMK Barrett Investments, bought the building.  AMK owner Adam Barrett has  refused to even give an interview to the Chronicle Herald journalist following story.  In addition to owning AMK, Barrett is co-owner of Central East Developments in Dartmouth which has evicted apartment tenants; his company is also responsible for mass evictions in the Fairview area last fall. related company BlackBay Real Estate Group sent Clark a letter warning that the rent was going up to $1350 a month – a 94% increase.  Less than a year later, in May 2020, BlackBay sent a letter to say the rent was rising again by $250 on Oct. 1.  The letter said if Clark couldn’t pay, he would have to move out by that date.    Over a period of one year, Clark faced a rent increase of more than 130%.

Oct 1, 2020 was the same day Clark took his own life, according to the results of an autopsy. 

Clark’s nephew, Shaun Clark, said Roy had looked everywhere but had not been able to find an affordable apartment.   Aged 62, on disability and living alone, finding a decent apartment in HRM on a low income is next to impossible.

What is new and very revealing is the attitude of  BlackBay Real Estate’s  ‘tenant relations’ officer,’ Chris Khoury, who manages AMK properties.   In Halifax, we’ve reached the point that landlords or their agents are allowed to publicly insult, dismiss or condemn tenants for being poor, being sick or being unlucky.  

What’s more Khoury, Barrett’s manager, outright attacked the deceased and his family by challenging them this way: 

  • “Do they have proof?” there is a link between Roy Clark’s death and the rent increase?
  • “Did he leave a paper saying that he killed himself because of that?”
  • “It’s very … inaccurate to say that someone committed suicide due to their rent increase when they’re not here and there’s no proof”

Khoury justified the catastrophic rent increase this way.  First he said that if  the properties are upgraded, rents have to reflect the improvements.  Second, Khoury stated the original building was “fully run down”.

Courtesy of TheCoast.ca

Let’s look at this.  This building and the others that Barrett has purchased was run down.  Barrett’s company AMK bought it cheaply.  The company upgraded the electrical, the plumbing and then it raised the rents – not a little but exponentially.  What AMK wants to do is to increase the rents so they compare to rents in downtown Halifax.   AMK does not want to rent to poor tenants or people on assistance. 

Adam Barrett, photo taken from LInked In

This is a classic move that could be called “block busting.”  Buying up older or neglected apartment buildings, upgrading them and renting them for sometimes double the rent. 

What can be done? Since neither Mayor Savage nor Premier Stephen McNeil seems committed to much besides handwringing and claiming high rent is a weighty matter, perhaps complaints to the NS Human Rights Commission could help. 

For example, the renter who faces homelessness due to being unable to afford their new ‘upgraded’ apartment could file a complaint.  Landlords such as Barrett are discriminating against tenants on the basis of “source of income.”  In other words because a tenant is on disability, on pension, or receives social assistance — in effect the tenant is being denied an apartment.

A novel solution– maybe

Or perhaps women pushed out of their homes could file a complaint on the basis of sex.  28 % of senior women live in poverty, compared to 24% for senior men.

As recently as last year, Canadian women earned about 87 cents for every dollar that men earn. But one-third of women earn $15 or less an hour. Also because of having to take time off  to raise their children, women are often shut out of permanent and full time jobs  with decent pensions.  In 2009, Canada Pensions paid to women were only about 65% of those of men. 

Organizations like ACORN have been standing up for the homeless and people losing their homes because of rent-gouging landlords.  Rent control has been mentioned, but McNeil as recently as this week absolutely refuses to consider it.  He probably  has many friends amongst the builders, the landlords and in the developers’ community.  Clearly their money talks.

Featured image: Courtesy of Britannica.com

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