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N.S. budget ‘overlooks’ low rental vacancy rate: critics say

N.S. provincial budget outlines investments aimed at improving access to housing
WATCH: The Nova Scotia government has announced a ‘series of investments’ for improving access to affordable housing throughout the province but opposition critics and frontline housing staff, say a missing piece is building more affordable housing units and addressing the record low rental vacancy rate. Alexa MacLean reports.

The new provincial budget includes a series of investments aimed at addressing widespread issues around affordable housing and homelessness.

From rental supplements, to the single largest increase to the Child Benefit since it was created – provincial housing minister, Chuck Porter, says millions are being invested into helping those in need of stable housing.

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While the hiring of 27 new housing support workers is welcome news for those on the front-line of a housing climate that’s been described as a crisis, some wonder why more than 39 new affordable units aren’t being built.

“Locating units is a major barrier. We need affordable housing in this province, and in this city, and in this country, actually,” Miia Suokonautio said, the executive director of the YWCA.

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Suokonautio says the housing program at the YWCA is ‘always full’ and that affordable housing is an issue that is particularly challenging for single women who have children.

She says the negative impacts on children outcomes are greatly amplified for mothers who can’t find a roof to put over their head, and housing support workers are a crucial part of that challenge.

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“The support and backing of a housing support worker is absolutely foundational for people to be able to house folks in our programs,” she said.

A recent survey shows the rental vacancy rate in Halifax sits lower than in major cities like Vancouver and Toronto, at only one per cent.

NDP MLA Lisa Roberts feels the latest budget doesn’t “do enough” to address the widespread issues that come from not having enough rental vacancies to go around.

“You can have more support for housing support workers, in the end they are struggling to find units for people in the same housing market where many people are struggling to find units,” she said.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia attempts to find balance as it prepares to regulate its $70M short-term rental market

Porter says there is ‘more to come’ on the province’s plans to work with partners and increase the amount of affordable housing units in the province.

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Currently, joint funding from the province and federal government will go towards constructing 39 new affordable units.

Porter says the hiring of more housing support workers will help find housing in a rental market that’s growing increasingly more difficult to access,

“They know where the one per cent [rental vacancy rate] is. They’re the ones out there everyday, who are doing that work, who know and have, with great success, found homes for people,” Porter said.

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Short-term rentals like Airbnbs, have been criticized for taking away rental stock from an already limited housing market.

The province hasn’t put any short-term regulations in place, although more is expected at some point this year.

Roberts says short-term rental regulations can’t come soon enough.

“Effective short-term rental regulation and rent control, would have an immediate impact and then we need to be working with those non-profit organizations to figure out ways that we can add to the social market housing stock,” she said.

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Porter says work is being done to repair existing housing stock and increase the vacancy rates through new construction, although nothing beyond the 39 new units has been announced at this time.