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Jen Powley: When it comes to affordable housing the city can do so much better

Photo Robert Devet

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – I ran against Councillor Mason in the October 2020 municipal election. I lost. 

I wonder if Councillor Mason’s answers to the housing crisis in his guest editorial in the July 8, 2021 Chronicle Herald are sufficient. I agree with some of it, especially that all three levels of government need to work together to find solutions. But I do not put much weight in the Affordable Housing Commission report that he references, and instead look to the Housing for All Working Group’s Keys to a Housing Secure Future for all Nova Scotians put forward by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Nova Scotia branch. 

The report by the Affordable Housing Commission that Mason references relies on market-based solutions. The Housing for All report looks at doing things differently, like in places other than North America, where governments recognize that housing is a human right and subsidize housing for most of the population. 

Councillor Mason keeps referring to the fact that it is the government’s responsibility to act. He seems to forget that he is the government. He has been in power since 2012. On November 17, 2020, HRM’s Chief Administrative Officer Jacques Dubé penned an interim update on HRM’s Affordable Housing Work Plan. Dubé wrote that housing is a responsibility of both the province and of the municipality. That means that Councillor Mason is also responsible in part for the affordable housing crisis. 

While Mason argues that the province needs to build more affordable units, he and his municipal colleagues keep selling off land on the peninsula that could have been a home for affordable housing. 

First, they sold St. Pat’s Alexandra on Maitland Street, then it was St. Pat’s on Quinpool Road, and then it was the Bloomfield Centre on Agricola Street (in this last case, the city does seem to have negotiated a bit of affordable housing despite claiming it’s up to the province!). 

Maybe Councillor Mason should have thought about the affordable housing crisis before he voted to sell the municipal properties. 

I understand that developers may have deeper pockets to build on the properties than do non-profits. HRM will benefit from the development of that land when it is time to collect taxes on the property. Considering that land is often the biggest cost for non-profits, maybe with the help of the federal Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and maybe with HRM as a partner (there are incredibly low interest rates for government borrowing), the funding for building could have been found. 

With the approval of the Centre Plan, hundreds if not thousands of affordable housing units have been and will continue to be demolished, displacing middle-, low-, and no-income citizens. 

Councillor Mason looks to the province to help HRM, but I wonder why he hasn’t done more with the power he does have.

See also: Activist Jen Powley receives 2019 James McGregor Stewart Award

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One Comment

  1. Kendall Worth:

    As one of the other writers for the Nova Scotia Advacte, I read everything by the other writers and Jen Powley also inspires me.

    I wish all the best for Jen with her fight to stay out of a nursing home.

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