Following the Nova Scotia government’s announcement that 222 public housing units will be built throughout the province, one Halifax Regional Municipality councillor is feeling an extra sense of optimism about how the new supply will impact his district.
Coun. Paul Russell said it’s “fantastic” that $48 million of the funding will be allocated towards constructing units in his district of Lower Sackville. On Wednesday, the provincial and federal government announced a plan to add to the public housing stock for the first time in three decades.
“The $83 million that the province is investing in public housing is phenomenal,” he said.
“What we’ve been seeing with the unhoused population is that more and more of those people are working, and in some cases, there’s a couple working two full-time jobs and they still aren’t able to afford a home.”
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.
Russell said the housing need throughout the municipality is “extreme,” with a skyrocketing increase of people in the area sleeping rough since 2018.
“In 2018, we knew about 18 people across HRM that were homeless and in 2023, in July, we had about 178. It doesn’t include those who are living in other structures, these are people strictly living in tents,” he said, noting that the population continues to outpace housing construction.
“If we can get some of the (new) housing around (Lower Sackville), that will really help … we have a good sense of community spirit here, and I would hope with more housing availability that we can maintain that.”
While the investment in Lower Sackville is aimed to ease some hardship, Russell said the struggles in his district extend “far beyond” housing availability. A primary issue, he said, is food insecurity.
Michelle Porter, CEO of the non-profit food shelter Souls Harbour Rescue Mission which recently opened a location in Lower Sackville, said new housing may help relieve some of the issues surrounding food access.
“We’ve only been open a matter of weeks … and we’re already serving forty people a day a hot nutritious meal, so the need is there,” she said.
Porter said she was surprised when she learned that such a large portion of the overall investment would be dispersed in the Lower Sackville area but welcomes the investment.
“The need is there and perhaps it’s like ‘Before this gets out of hand, let’s move to Lower Sackville,’ … the tent cities are there, there’s people living outside in Lower Sackville which is something that’s not happened before,” she added, expressing her concerns for the upcoming winter months as tents continue to pop up.
Although some residents are eager to see results, questions are being raised regarding the distribution of development. Municipalities like Yarmouth and Amherst have questioned the province’s decision to send a majority of the funding to Lower Sackville as opposed to other rural regions.
Building near existing public housing is one of the reasons cited by the province for the selected locations.
“Since our plan is to build adjacent to existing public housing buildings and add density where possible, these locations presented opportunities that could be leveraged quickly and easily,” said Heather Fairbairn, a spokesperson for the province.
The public housing units will be built on provincially-owned land close to existing public housing developments in Cape Breton and Halifax Regional Municipality along with spots in Bridgewater, Kentville and Truro.
Despite the welcome news, Russell said he hopes that similar incentives will continue to be announced in response to the increasing demand for affordable housing as more residents are priced out of the market.
“We need public housing; 222 units is not going to solve the problem around the province … I’m optimistic that this is the first of many announcements for public housing,” he said.
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.
The province said on Wednesday that the first residents will be welcomed into the new public housing in 2025-26, with construction set to begin in next spring and continue over the next five years.