The housing plan released by Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservative government is receiving high marks from some advocates who hope to see it lead to solutions to the province’s housing crisis.
Under new legislation brought forward Wednesday, the province’s two-per-cent rent cap will be extended until December 2023 to protect tenants once the state of emergency ends.
The announcement also included investments in affordable housing units and creating a planning task force to focus on faster planning and development approvals for large residential projects in HRM.
Kevin Hooper, the manager of partnerships and community development with United Way Halifax, said the announcement was “impressive in its understanding of the issues” from a holistic perspective.
“To get the results we want, we need a systemic response, and this is one piece of the puzzle that will get us there,” he said.
Hooper said while the legislation isn’t a silver bullet, it’s a good start in fixing the longstanding issue of housing affordability in the province.
“It’s not just the people without housing who are suffering,” he said.
“It’s society, the province as a whole. There are costs associated with people being unhoused … we all need to take responsibility for this and we need to take it seriously and treat it as the crisis that it is.”
Not everyone is a fan of the legislation. In a release, Kevin Russell, the executive director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia, said his association wasn’t consulted beforehand.
“Continuing to ignore the private sector and failing to meaningfully consult on solutions with the private sector will make it difficult to build the new housing stock Premier Houston talks about,” he said.
Russell noted the rising price of insurance and said the rent cap will make it difficult for people to invest in properties.
“Make no mistake, anti-small business measures like what was announced today by the Houston government will force many smaller landlords to sell up and leave the sector,” said Russell’s statement.
Hooper, meanwhile, said he won’t take a position on the long-term impacts of rent control, and said many of the affordability issues Nova Scotians are struggling with are also felt by landlords.
“I empathize with that, but I do feel as though we’re in a crisis situation and we need to find some measure in the immediate term to stop the bleeding, so to speak,” he said.
“And if a temporary rent control measure is what we can do to make an impact, or at least stem that bleeding, then I think we need to do that.”
Hooper also said income assistance and wages need to be increased in general to help Nova Scotians meet their everyday needs.
“Costs are increasing across the board and incomes aren’t. And until we rebalance that equation, where people can afford to at least pay for the basic necessities, then we’re going to continue to struggle,” he said.
“You can’t have a large proportion of the adult working population spending 40 to 50 hours a week at a job that doesn’t pay their bills.”
A ‘bright light’
Part of the housing plan also includes investing $10.1 million over two years to provide wraparound supports, shelter and culturally-relevant housing for people struggling with homelessness.
Of that, $931,000 will go toward supporting people transitioning out of correctional facilities. This includes funding for the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia.
Emma Halpern, the executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society, said she was “surprised” and excited by the announcement.
She said it’s the first time she’s seen an announcement like this acknowledging the intersection of criminalization and homelessness.
“To really see in an announcement where they say, ‘We’re going to work on the specific needs of folks who have been incarcerated and make sure that there are services in place to help people who have been incarcerated or who are incarcerated as they reintegrate,’ is phenomenal,” said Halpern.
“We’re now going to have funding to be able to provide intensive case management that’s needed in order to properly support people who have an intersecting set of needs from homelessness, to criminalization, to mental health challenges.”
Jess MacDonald, an addictions counsellor and outreach support worker with the Elizabeth Fry Society, said her work in ensuring clients get what they need has been “challenging, mentally and physically.”
During a typical day, she does outreach services, which includes moving people to and from places, getting them necessities like cell phones and minutes, and answering questions for them.
But it’s a lot of work, she said.
“They’re really on their own a lot of the day. I can only be so many places … There hasn’t been a lot of support up until recently for anyone, especially those who are homeless,” she said, adding that the new funding is “wonderful.”
“Some of them have been experiencing this their whole life, and this is kind of the first bright light for them.”