Affordable housing is a nationwide issue that was a key topic discussed by cities across Canada during the annual Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Halifax last May.
“It’s been frustrating that the housing crisis, particularly in our larger cities, continues to be a sore spot,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, while addressing the opening of the conference.
“We haven’t been adding to the social housing inventory in this country for really 20 years in any substantial way, so that backlog is real.”
On the Nova Scotia front, Halifax Deputy Mayor Waye Mason is hoping the province will shift its control of affordable housing back to the municipality. He says that’s something that hasn’t happened in over two decades, but in his eyes, it’s required to make progress in the housing-crunch issue.
“We know that the majority of people who have housing issues and are facing challenges with paying for housing live in Dartmouth and Halifax, and what we’re worried about is that there have not been a lot of new affordable housing units built,” Mason said.
Mason had a motion passed by regional council last January that would see a staff report created to assess whether the responsibility of housing programs within the boundaries of Halifax be given to the city on behalf of the province.
“Part of what we’re exploring is should we have more of a role in delivering affordable housing, should the province contract it back to us like they used to before 1996, or are there other ways that we can partner with them to better deliver housing,” he said.
According to Housing Nova Scotia CEO Dan McDougall, affordable housing is an area where investments are being made.
“We’re certainly focused on reducing the public housing waitlist. Since 2015, we’ve been able to reduce it by over 25 per cent and it’s our objective to reduce it by a further 10 percent each year over the next three years,” Dan McDougall said.
He also adds that a new rent supplement strategy aims to further reduce the public housing waitlist, which currently sits at 3,519, according to the province’s education department.
The province has committed $3 million to the rent supplement program this year, but that will double to $6 million next year and $9 million the year after.
“The rent supplement initiative that we’re initiating this year intends to reduce the waitlist by 10 per cent each year in the next three years, so that’s huge,” said said McDougall.
McDougall says the province invested $40 million in maintaining and preserving our public housing portfolio last year, and that 500 units have been built since 2015.
Mason feels that number is simply not enough to meet the backlog of demand for affordable housing units.
“The fact that a couple hundred of rent supplements and a couple hundred renovated units are happening right now, is not enough to really address the increased demand. We have a demand for more affordable housing in Halifax and it’s only going to get worse.”
A spokesperson for the province says they are discussing increases to the program, as well as moving towards a rent supplement that would have a supplement assigned to a person rather than a property.