Halifax Regional Council unanimously passed a plan Tuesday to add thousands of affordable housing units to the city’s private-sector housing market.
The plan will see 3,000 new units be added in the next five years while also preserving and renovating another 2,000 in the same time frame.
The targets are part of the city’s plan to tackle the growing gap between income and housing costs in Halifax. District 7 Coun. Waye Mason called the lack of affordable housing a “crisis” in the municipality.
Citing his own experience living in subsidized housing, District 8 Coun. Lindell Smith said he’s “very thankful to be able to sit in council at this point and we’re talking about affordable housing and ways we can do things to make our residents’ lives better.”
The first of two reports presented to council staff showed one quarter of Halifax households spend 30 per cent or more on housing costs. People paying that much of their income towards housing have an affordability problem, according to Statistics Canada.
The provincial government carries the mandate for subsidizing public housing. But the city says it can leverage development rules to encourage the private sector to build affordable housing as well.
With the mandate given to staff by council, the city will develop rules for density bonusing and ask the province to give it the legislative authority for mandatory inclusionary zoning.
Trading high limits for new affordable housing units
The city says density bonusing would incentivize developers to add affordable housing into new projects by allowing them to build higher if they allot 7.5 per cent of the building to affordable housing units. For these units, rents would be lowered proportionately for households whose gross annual income is less than 80 per cent of the median family income.
The report says Housing Nova Scotia would be the group that monitors the implementation of density bonusing with landlords.
Bylaws covering density bonusing will be introduced in step with the new Centre Plan early next year.
“This is a great step forward,” Mason said.
The city has the legislative authority to create this type of density bonusing for the regional centre only. However, council agreed to ask the province to expand the legislative authority for density bonusing after a motion from District 10 Coun. Russell Walker.
Requiring new builds to be accessible for low income people
The second item the municipality wants to add to its toolkit is mandatory inclusionary zoning. This would force all new developments to include housing options at a variety of prices for most new projects.
For Halifax to move ahead with inclusionary zoning, the province will have to amend the Halifax Charter in order to give the city the legislative authority to do so.
“Morally, ethically – to be an advocate for those who have no voice, to be able to do all that we can do within our mandate with haste – is quite important,” Deputy Mayor Steve Craig said.
Manitoba already has enabling legislation for inclusionary zoning, according to the staff report. Ontario and Alberta introduced similar legislation this year.
Mason says he hopes the Nova Scotia government will be able to introduce the required legislation in the spring sitting.