The Nova Scotia and federal governments plan to build 222 new public housing units — the first time the province has added to its stock in nearly three decades.
Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr and Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said during the Wednesday announcement that the housing units will be made available to families, individuals and low-income seniors in rural and urban communities.
The units will be built on provincially-owned land close to existing public housing developments in Bridgewater, Kentville, Truro, as well as multiple locations in Cape Breton and Halifax Regional Municipality.
Lohr said the first residents will be welcomed in 2025-26, and construction will begin this coming spring, and continue over the next five years.
While government said the project will go a long way to help Nova Scotians find affordable housing, Lohr admitted there are shortfalls.
“Even at a low level growth assumption, we’re short units and we know that,” he said.
There is currently a waiting list of close to 5,000 people for public housing, as well as tent encampments in Halifax parks — all signs of an affordable housing crisis.
The province is pitching in $58.8 million to the project, while the federal government is contributing $24.4 million.
Public housing is residential space owned and operated by the government, with rent based on a household’s income rather than market rates.
The units will be operated by the Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency, a Crown corporation created in 2022 following a damning auditor general report that found the stock was poorly managed by the province’s five former housing authorities.
Nova Scotia has around 11,200 public housing units and the average age of the structures is 42 years. The last significant public housing project was completed in 1995.
Lohr told reporters his stance on building new units “softened” over the past year, when he heard of the problems his department encountered while trying to renovate aging units.
Fillmore said that the funding under a bilateral agreement is a sign that Ottawa is trying to shift back into its traditional role of promoting affordable housing.
“Those decades of underinvestment have caught up with us, and that’s nowhere more evident than in Canada’s stock of affordable housing, which has now reached a crisis here at home and across the country,” the Liberal MP said.
‘Can’t even say it’s a good start’
Reaction from Halifax municipal councillors to Wednesday’s announcement was mixed. Council has been outspoken about the housing crisis and the insufficient housing stock from the province.
Coun. Sam Austin said on social media that the announcement needs to “be a start and not an end,” while Coun. Waye Mason simply said it was “not enough.”
In an interview, Mason said 222 units across the province when the population of Halifax itself is growing by 20,000 per year is insufficient.
“We need probably 1,000 to 2,000 social housing units a year, because as the population grows, the number of people who need the below market housing grows,” he said.
“So it’s a start, but I can’t even say it’s a good start. We really need to aggressively be building a lot more housing.”
Meanwhile, the province’s Liberal leader is concerned about where the new units will be located.
“I am concerned that there are regional gaps,” Liberal Leader Zach Churchill told reporters.
“We have a housing crisis in the tri-counties. There no new builds in the tri-counties nor in the eastern and northern parts of the province, so we need to see a plan in other areas.”
— with a file from Global News’ Alex Cooke and The Canadian Press