Advocates in Nova Scotia are calling for more public housing to be built as the province grapples with an ongoing housing crisis.
The bulk of public housing in Nova Scotia was developed before the 1970s. After World War II, the federal government made major investments in public housing across the country, but by the 1990s, those investments largely disappeared.
“What we have seen since then is there’s been a real disinvestment in the public housing spectrum,” said Jeff Karabanow, a professor with Dalhousie’s School of Social Work.
But Karabanow says public housing remains as important as ever.
“Public housing, affordable housing, social housing are all mechanisms in which you move some housing stock outside the private sector market,” he said.
Halifax has become one of the fastest-growing municipalities in the country in recent years, which has been putting stress on the housing market and is one factor that has led to an increase in prices.
In October, Nova Scotia had the second-highest average rent at $2,443 a month — second only to British Columbia, according to statistics from rentals.ca.
“It’s no longer affordable for most people,” said Liberal MLA Brendan Maguire.
It’s why Maguire said he’s been pushing for more investments in public housing.
“We’re doing all these things for housing, but the truth is none of it is trickling down to affordability.”
Over the past year, the provincial government has invested millions of dollars into housing. In March, the province announced $22 million for affordable units. The money was given to Halifax real estate developer Clayton Developments to be used to create over 370 affordable units in Dartmouth. At the time it was announced, the province said the affordable units would be priced at about 60-80 per cent of market value.
“There is a definition of affordable, and that’s 30 per cent of your income,” said Maguire.
“You can’t move the goal line, you can’t say now it’s 60-80 per cent of market value, because market value continues to go up.”
“We need government intervention to make sure there’s housing that’s affordable for everybody,” Karabanow said.
“There’s no way we can get out of the homeless crisis, there’s no way we can get out of the affordability crisis without public and social housing.”
Demand for public housing has increased along with the prices. Between January and September 2022, the waitlist for public housing grew 10 per cent, sitting at 6,596 applicants – representing more than half of the 11,200 public units available.
Maguire said that’s especially concerning for those that are in immediate need of housing.
“If you’re a single parent with kids who just lost their apartment or your home because of rental increases, you’re being told to go to a shelter. Guess what, shelters are full, so there’s nowhere for them to go.”
In October, Minister for Housing John Lohr said the province is doing what it can to tackle the public housing waitlist.
In response to a report from the auditor general that found public housing has been improperly managed, the province announced in October it would be creating a crown corporation responsible for public housing and amalgamating five regional housing authorities into the new Crown corp.
“Frankly, we owe it to tenants, and all Nova Scotians, to manage our properties efficiently and effectively,” Lohr said at the time.
Lohr also spoke of the need to address overhousing.
“Overhousing refers to the fact that we might have a single person living in a five-bedroom unit or four-bedroom unit,” said Lohr.
The minister noted that if people moved into more appropriate units, they could get as many as 1,000 people off the waitlist. The minister said that creating more public housing units is not the best use of government funds.
“It’s enormously expensive, we can make our dollars go much further if we work with a number of different groups and fund part of what they’re building to put more affordable units in,” said Lohr.
“And that’s spread throughout the community, which is another goal.”