Housing problems hit the screen

Feb 19, 2013 | News

Antigonish Affordable Housing Society

Philip Girvan, producer, and Peter Murphy, director of Affordable Antigonish, pose at the opening of the documentary film Wednesday, Feb. 13. (Rachel Psutka photo)

Take a drive through the Town of Antigonish and you’ll likely see a mixture of single-family homes, rented student houses, multi-unit complexes and other housing options that can be financially out of reach for many residents.

Affordable Antigonish, a documentary by director Peter Murphy, takes that drive, showing the often desperate and run-down conditions of some of the accommodation available in the town, interspersed with interviews of those who have first-hand experience with the issue of affordable housing.

“We did quite a few interviews to put this together and I learned quite a bit about the problems in affordable housing in Antigonish,” Murphy said, after the documentary had its first and second screenings Wednesday, Feb. 13 at the People’s Place Library.

“Hopefully it will get around to create more awareness of the problem,” Murphy said. “I hope we get it further than just Antigonish.”

The film is one of five produced with assistance from a grant from the Catherine Donnolly Foundation, with ACALA assisting Murphy on filming and post-production work.

Created over six months of filming and post-production, Affordable Antigonish follows the housing struggles of several local residents, touching on issues such as the high cost of rent, tenant-landlord disagreements, off-campus student housing and the struggles faced when anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent of one’s income goes toward housing costs.

In a panel discussion after the film’s first screening, Antigonish Affordable Housing project co-ordinator Katherine Reed said the issue is far more prevalent than many in the town realize.

“There are some very, very bad landlords in Antigonish,” Reed said. “There are also some very, very good landlords in Antigonish, but that doesn’t mean they’re providing affordable housing.”

“The people who are on the ground have an awareness of all the complications and what the problems are,” she noted. “The people who are making the policies and administrating the policies have not got one sweet clue, not because they’re bad people, just because they haven’t lived in poverty.”

Dennis Mwafulirwa, a StFX fourth year development studies and political science student from Malawi, has worked with communities in his home country and in Antigonish to determine some of the issues behind affordable housing. He said many students are priced out of university residences and look to town for cheaper accommodation.

“Housing on campus is expensive as compared to in the community, which makes more students move from the university to the community, and that makes housing in Antigonish a little bit expensive,” Mwafulirwa said.

“In some cases, students are able to live in groups. They will live 3, 4 or 6 in one house, which is probably $1,500 or $2,000. That same amount, a family that is willing to settle in that condition would not be able to afford that,” he added.

Other recommendations raised by attendees included licensing landlords, inspecting properties and having more clear regulations for all rental properties.

As attendees filtered out of the first screening after the group discussion, Murphy said he hoped that everyone was a bit more aware of the problems.

The film is available on the Casket website and will be also be screened on Eastlink TV in the next few weeks.

This article originally appeared in The Casket on February 19, 2013, attributed to Rachel Psutka.
Click here to view it.
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