The status quo isn’t good enough, according to housing officials who say a three-year action plan — the first phase of a 10-year federal-provincial funding agreement — doesn’t go far enough to address the challenge of providing affordable and suitable housing for those who need it.
Officials from the department of Municipal Affairs and Housing, The Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia and MLAs came together as the Standing Committee on Community Services held a meeting in Halifax Tuesday.
A recent joint federal-provincial partnership will see a cost of $400 million shared between the two levels of government in an effort to better serve those who are seeking affordable housing options.
But much of the meeting’s discussion pointed to a lack of initiative being taken in the short-term to fix what they’re calling a systemic crisis.
“You cannot tell if it’s actually focused on change or it’s actually focused on the status quo,” said AHANS executive director Jim Graham.
“And if you look at it closely, it looks to me like it’s focused on the status quo.”
The deputy minister of municipal affairs and housing, Nancy MacLellan, indicated that the initial three-year term has been designed as a starting point, and while details haven’t been released about the remaining seven years just yet, beyond phase one a shift is likely going to occur.
“It’s the 10-year agreement with the federal government that compels a three-year action plan,” she explained.
“What we’ve recognized is this first three years has to be focused on stabilizing our existing housing stock and growing the community housing sector to support long term growth.”
The meeting added another element to what MLAs hear when door-knocking, as members from all three represented parties attended.
There, they were provided the opportunity to ask questions about a situation that’s high on many of their constituents’ priority lists.
And while they all indicated it was informative, it’s a situation in which answers aren’t always immediately available.
“I learned that there was sort of a nodding agreement between the two witnesses that things ought to change,” said PC MLA Steve Craig. “What I did not hear is how it’s going to change.”
As a new face on the Community Services Committee, Liberal MLA Margaret Miller said she learned a lot from the presenters, but wasn’t surprised by hearing how dire the need is in the province.
“It was good to see how much money is going to be going in in the next 10 years,” said Liberal MLA Margaret Miller. “But it certainly showed the need today, that more needs to be done and where the deficiencies are.”
The meeting was also attended by two members of the NDP caucus, including Housing Critic Lisa Roberts.
She said the province should act swiftly to tackle the issue, as it’s one that will only worsen with time.
“There was a housing strategy that was rolled out in 2013, there was a plan to invest in Bloomfield,” she explained. “There was a reluctance to go forward with that investment and now we’re seven years later and the costs of construction have gone up a great deal.
“I think the solution is the development and the support of the non-market housing portion of the housing market. That includes co-ops and it includes non-profit organizations and it includes good quality public housing.”