Nova Scotia’s next government faces an uphill battle to fix housing issues

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While candidates and parties are busy calling for votes during this summer’s campaign, many Nova Scotians are asking in return for solutions to declining housing affordability.

The issue looms large on all major party platforms, but ideas vary as much as the color of houses in Nova Scotia.

They range from rent control, which is the central tenet of the NPD platform, to new taxes for non-resident landlords, which is the proposal that takes up the bulk of the PC’s housing plan.

Neil Lovitt said the variation is at least in part due to the fact that the housing problem is vast and each part focuses on different areas.

“There is more than one housing crisis,” said Lovitt, vice president of planning and business intelligence at Turner Drake & Partners, a real estate consulting firm.

One, he said, is felt primarily by the lowest income people “who have been ignored and underserved for a long, long time.”

This crisis, while not new, has become undeniable over the past two years as the number of homeless people has increased across the province, as evidenced by the tents and sheds that have sprung up in some of the public spaces of Halifax.

The other crisis described by Lovitt is a crisis that has developed more recently, now affecting middle-income people who feel strained by rising rents and may void the opportunity to own property on a increasingly expensive and fiercely competitive market.

New builds promised, but could be difficult to deliver

Lovitt said increasing the supply of housing is undoubtedly part of the solution.

In Halifax alone, he estimates that a shortfall of 20,000 to 25,000 units has grown over the past five years. He arrived at that figure while performing data analysis for the province’s Affordable Housing Commission earlier this year.

Left to right: Nova Scotia PC Party Leader Tim Houston, Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill, and Nova Scotia Liberal Party Leader Iain Rankin. (SRC)

Each platform of the major parties recognizes the need to build more housing. New Democrats have pledged to build 1,000 new non-market units – a mix of public, non-profit and co-op housing to be determined.

The Liberals say they would encourage the construction of new private markets by reducing the HST if the developer includes affordable units.

PPs say they would sell or lease public land for developers to build on, also with the caveat that some must be affordable.

But whatever approach the next government takes to increase the housing stock, it will be difficult to correct the deficit, Lovitt said.

“There are now a number of years of high and sustained demand levels. And the homebuilding and construction industries are really at full capacity in many ways that are not just based on government restrictions. or government bottlenecks, ”he said.

“There are problems with the availability and cost of building materials, labor and equipment shortages… throughout the supply chain [there are] a lot of constraints that are really going to be difficult to manage as a government because they are in many ways beyond government control. “

A construction crane seen just north of the Citadel in downtown Halifax. Population growth has overtaken new housing construction at HRM over the past 5 years, according to analysis by real estate consultant Neil Lovitt. (Anjuli Patil / CBC)

In the meantime, Lovitt has said he expects the rental market to tighten. The best available measure of the state of the market is the rental vacancy rate, which Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation publishes retrospectively at the beginning of each year. In Halifax, the vacancy rate hit an all-time high of 1% in 2019. It dropped to almost 2% in 2020, but Lovitt thinks it’s a dud.

As pandemic restrictions ease, he said he expects the population to start growing faster again and the vacancy rate to fall back down.

“I could solve any other problem”

When the market is tight, people with smaller budgets are squeezed out first, and they might end up working with Ashton Stephenson or someone like him.

Stephenson is an Intensive Case Manager with MOSH Housing First, a project based at the North End Community Health Center in Halifax.

Its clients are chronically homeless people. In addition to helping them find housing, he said much of his job is helping them meet other basic needs, including food, clothing and medical care.

“The most difficult thing to solve is the room in the accommodation. I feel like I could solve any other problem.”

Stephenson said it was no surprise that an increasing number of people are living in tents and sheds around Halifax.

“I know people who live in tents and I know people who ask me for help for people who live in tents. It’s hard to see that this is someone’s house,” he said. he declared.

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Municipal and provincial responsibilities overlap when people move to public realm. The Halifax Regional Municipality has taken the position that the sheds must be gone, but it is the province’s job to find another place for the people who use the sheds to live.

CBC News asked each of the main party leaders what they thought of the municipality’s handling of the situation and how a government under their leadership would handle the issue.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said “all openness and flexibility” should be given to those who live in public spaces, and an NDP government would encourage the municipality to be more lenient.

CP chief Tim Houston said he “had not gone into details” about the city’s decision to remove the hangars.

“But I know this: that as Prime Minister I understand the crisis and I will seek solutions that actually address it, as opposed to brief band-aid talking points,” he said.

Rankin did not directly say what he thought of the municipality’s approach, but said his party was committed to providing hotel rooms to anyone willing to accept one as a short-lived solution. until more housing can be built.

He said he expected 100 new supportive housing units to be available by September.

Different regions, different problems

Halifax isn’t the only part of the province that needs more housing. Dawn Ferris said there was also an availability and affordability crisis in her part of the province.

Ferris is the Executive Director of the Cumberland County Transition House Association, which operates a women’s shelter in Amherst, Nova Scotia called Autumn House.

During the four years she lived in the area, she said she saw rents and house prices soar. Typically, women don’t stay at Autumn House for more than six weeks, but Ferris recently said she regularly extends the deadline because it takes longer for women to find their next home.

An NDP rent control sign next to a sign representing Bedford South candidate David Paterson. The NDP has made a concerted effort to spread the message that it supports permanent oversight. (Jean Laroche / CBC)

At the surface level, the problems in different regions may look the same, but a little further down reveals some important differences.

In Cumberland County, for example, Ferris said the lack of public transportation was exacerbating the housing crisis. Lately, she has helped some women move to Moncton, New Brunswick, or Halifax, instead of staying in their home community.

“It’s a housing crisis everywhere, but when you have public transport to get around, sometimes it’s easier for people to land,” she said.

Rural public transport is not an issue that was not addressed by any of the major political parties in this election, but Ferris said it could be part of the solution in Cumberland County.

“Even though there were only three buses going through the entire county range in the morning, then three buses going through the entire range in the late afternoon.”

This is not the only solution Ferris is looking for. She said it’s clear her community needs more housing built. She is also in favor of rent control, something the NDP has been pushing hard for this campaign.

Conservatives and Liberals differ on this point and have said they will not extend rent control beyond the COVID-19 state of emergency.

But there is one thing they all seem to agree on. Like Ferris, all of Nova Scotia’s political parties have used the word “crisis” to describe the state of housing. Voters will decide on August 17 who can test their solutions.


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