‘It’s taken 20 years to dig this hole’: N.S. housing advocates call for system overhaul

Click to play video: 'Affordable housing advocates eagerly awaiting new details of provincial-federal partnership' Affordable housing advocates eagerly awaiting new details of provincial-federal partnership
WATCH: Concerned advocates are eagerly awaiting new details of how a provincial-federal partnership will benefit those who are living with or facing homelessness. Jeremy Keefe has more. – Jan 6, 2020

The Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia is hoping that the provincial and federal governments are prepared to go far beyond previous efforts to tackle homelessness when details are released about their plans for a joint investment partnership.

The association’s executive director says that a substantial shift is required to adequately address affordable housing in the province as over the years the number of households struggling to pay rent has ballooned to an estimate 35,000.

READ MORE: Affordable housing options ‘not meeting demand,’ says Halifax deputy mayor

“We have high fuel costs, high taxes, high child care costs, high food costs, we have low wages,” explained Jim Graham. “All those things put pressure on your ability to pay rent.”

In addition to those families fighting to keep their lights on AHANS estimates around 300 people in Halifax are homeless.

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With the situation worsening they say the only way to right the ship is to make a substantial change, one that prioritizes and focuses on long-term sustainability.

“It’s taken 20 years to dig this hole we’re in,” he said.

READ MORE: Feds, province to invest $394.2M in improving housing affordability in Nova Scotia

“I think what we would really like to see is a change in strategy, an acknowledgement that there’s a lot of work to do and that three years won’t do it, eight years won’t do it,” Graham explained. “There’s no easy fix, there’s no band-aid, this is housing.”

Dartmouth North MLA Susan Leblanc said over the summer her office was contacted a number of times by people who were in fear of losing the places they call home.

And now that the winter weather has set in the lack of low-cost housing options for Nova Scotians is a major cause for concern.

“I’m really worried that someone’s going to die in the cold this winter,” she said. “There’s a real lack of leadership in terms of policies to get us out of this issue.”

READ MORE: West Island community group calls for more affordable housing for seniors

Leblanc says constituents continue to come into her office saying due to the high volume of clients already in shelters, they have nowhere to go. Even going as far as indicating a few months ago she spoke with a constituent who advised that when no suitable housing options could be found, a community services worker purchased a tent for them to live in.

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None of these instances are acceptable says Leblanc who agrees that a new approach is going to be key to ensuring the trend is reversed.

“We need to support not-for-profits to buy units and properties and even land where they can build their own affordable housing units,” she said.

READ MORE: $88M invested in joint Nova Scotia’s Affordable Housing Action Plan

The provincial government partnered with the feds on a 10-year housing agreement, announcing their three-year action plan in September.

Nearly $400 million is to be invested through that agreement with an additional $70 million invested by the province as well.

The Standing Committee on Community Services is scheduled to meet this week where department officials from Municipal Affairs and Housing will discuss the province’s efforts thus far. AHANS is also slated to speak to committee members.

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