KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – There is a severe housing crisis in Halifax and many other Nova Scotia towns. As in most any crisis, it’s painful for everybody, but the very poor, and especially also the racialized poor, are bearing the brunt.
However, when you listen to Housing Nova Scotia senior bureaucrats at yesterday’s Community Services Standing Committee you do not get a sense of urgency.
What you do sense is a reluctance to create more public housing and other types of long term affordable housing, even though there are some 5,000 people officially waiting for affordable housing at this time. With 40,000 people rent-poor in Nova Scotia that list would no doubt be a lot longer if people thought they would qualify within a foreseeable future.
See also: News brief: Rent poor in Nova Scotia
The focus for the next three years is stabilizing our existing housing stock, said Municipal Affairs and Housing deputy minister Nancy MacLellan in a scrum after the meeting.
And even after that growing the public housing stock substantially isn’t in the cards, MacLellan explained. Focus will remain on rent subsidies.
“Us owning more in the long haul isn’t necessarily the right answer,” MacLellan explained. “The sustainability model is for us to all have a mixed use mixed income approach so that we’re able to have market rent while we’re (also) having rent geared to income and affordable housing. We have (public housing) high rise buildings of people who have low incomes, and the incomes don’t sustain the development of the building, as they are now. So we’re operating at a loss. And that’s not sustainable for us.”
Claudia Jahn and Jim Graham of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS) also spoke at yesterday’s standing committee meeting. The AHANS views are markedly different from the Nancy MacLellans of this world.
As a side note, in several news articles about yesterday’s meeting the AHANS people are described as advocates, but they’re more than that. AHANS partners with the federal and provincial government to administer a variety of housing and homelessness-related programs. This makes their contrasting views all the more significant.
Affordable housing stock is in decline, and we’re losing affordable housing stock to demolition, conversions to condos, short term rentals, and rising rents, Graham told the committee.
Meanwhile, tenants are also dealing with pressures from rising food prices and utility costs, high childcare costs and low wages that don’t keep pace with inflation, he said.
“There are 40,000 households in core need. The government’s three year strategy is talking about a handful of new units, 87 in all , and is talking about another handful of rent supplement designations. That won’t make an impact,” said Graham in a press scrum after the meeting.
Meanwhile, arrangements with landlords to provide affordable housing are good but they have limits, Graham said.
“When you time limit the affordability then you shallow the impact. Because what happens is you make a short term investment and really haven’t accomplished anything in the long term. The same is true for the private sector subsidies based on new construction which also have a 15 year timeframe. You just pushed your problem further down the road and let someone else deal with it,” Graham told the committee.
“It speaks to the need to have a different model, you need a nonprofit sector that is in this business for generations, not for 15 years, you need something that is long term,” he said.
Graham also pointed out that there are some 240 people homeless in Nova Scotia, but that there is no public housing stock at all for single individuals who aren’t seniors.
Meanwhile questions from NDP MLA Lisa Roberts about rent control were shrugged off by MacLellan, as were pressures put on housing stock due to conversions to full time short term rentals such as AirBNB.
So how bad is the housing crisis? Just listen to Street Navigator Eric Jonsson, comparing the current housing situation with even a couple of years ago. Jonsson spoke at a panel on housing and homelessness late last year.
“As someone who works with folks who are homeless, I would say there has been a huge change in a very short time. We used to house six to ten people a month. We’re lucky to house one a month right now. It is creating really unsafe and really, really scary living conditions for the folks that we’re working with.”
“If you’re on social assistance, if you’re Indigenous, if you’re African Nova Scotian, and if you’re a single mother, those barriers are just more exaggerated now,” Jonsson said. “We’re finding a lot of landlords saying, no, we don’t take people on income assistance. And we have landlords saying I’m not racist, but I don’t want those natives, they cause problems.”
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