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There has been much discussion in the municipality since the CBRM council voted last Tuesday to pass a new planning and economic strategy for the municipality. The strategy includes many changes to the policies that currently guide municipal planning and land use bylaws. Realtors, planners, community organizations, local homeowners, and long-time residents of the CBRM have all recently had their voices heard, some of whom, like The Third, were at Tuesday’s council meeting.

While the new strategy took two years to complete and replaces many outdated policies and creates some much-needed new ones, the 72-page document is quickly becoming known for what some are calling a “free-for-all” approach to economic development and planning. That’s why realtors, retired planners, and local homeowners dominated the speaking podium at the council meeting. Their top concerns are the impact that these new policies will have on housing prices as well as how homeowners will be (negatively) affected by neighbours who decide to erect structures such as restaurants, retail stores, six-unit apartment buildings, or rooming houses on their properties. Of particular concern to some opposed to the plan is the absence of proactive oversight by the municipality for the many changes that this plan introduces.

While the Director of Planning for the municipality outlined that the national building code has rules for the design and construction of both new and existing structures, the strategic plan approved by the council does not (at least, yet) include any measures for the CBRM to regulate, licence, or monitor these future structures coming to a town near you. That means, for example, that (currently) there is no cap on how many people can live in boarding houses or restrictions on how small – or big – a boarding house can be.

However, some in our community – those who will likely be greatly impacted by the changes – were not in attendance at the council meeting nor did they provide any feedback during the CBRM Forward consultation process. So, The Third decided to reach out to some international students to get their thoughts on how the new planning strategy might impact their lives. While none agreed to have their names published, three international students who have each been living in the municipality for at least one year talked to us on the condition that we not publish their names. The Third agreed.

It likely comes as no surprise to readers that the students we talked to were reluctant to believe that the new strategy will make it easier for them to find appropriate accommodations. One student thought that he might attempt to find a better-quality room, cheaper rent, or just a place with fewer renters; but the student admitted that he doesn’t think he will be able to find anything better than the place he has now. “No, greedy landlords will just raise rents.” Another added, “I don’t think so, even with less-than-ideal conditions, many properties are overpriced.” The third student admitted that between her 5-day-a-week school schedule and her requirement to be on a bus route, she simply didn’t have the time to look for something that “probably doesn’t exist.”

When The Third asked directly about how the new bylaws surrounding boarding houses might impact them the three students didn’t hesitate to share their opinions. “That sounds like a quick fix that will benefit those who want to make money off us,” said a student surprised by the news of the changes. Another student thinks that the municipality needs a more comprehensive approach that considers the situation of people living in overpriced and overcrowded housing. “With the increasing number of students, CBRM has to do something else than letting more students cramp in a small space. We all know how dangerous it is.” The quietest of the three, said softly, “Easier to find, harder to live.” All three reminded The Third that more rooms to rent doesn’t change the fact that there are limited employment opportunities in the CBRM.

“Even though we come here to study, having a part-time job helps us to stay here and manage with the inflation. Higher rents and no jobs don’t sound good to me.” As our conversation was coming to an end, the students gravitated to one question: Why do people want to make their lives even more challenging? “Students are already being scammed by selling a dream that is a lie and this will make their lives here even worse,” one concluded. The female student had the final word. “Why should we pay more to live here and live in a slum? Our living conditions are dangerous, overcrowded, sometimes even life threatening.”

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