Nova Scotia

N.S. must 'dramatically' expand non-profit housing, deputy minister says

There's mounting concern about the availability of affordable housing in Nova Scotia as housing prices and rents have skyrocketed in the last two years.

Concerns grow as residents confront skyrocketing rents and housing prices

Souls Harbour CEO Michelle Porter (centre) speaks with project partners after the groundbreaking for the new 12-unit affordable housing building on the Eastern Shore in January. It's an example of a housing project by a community group with help from government. (Haley Ryan/CBC)

Nova Scotia's deputy minister of housing said Wednesday that non-profit housing will have to be "dramatically" expanded to address the province's housing crunch.

"We believe that this is the missing leg of a three-legged stool and that we have to grow that sector as they did in Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, Vancouver [and] Calgary in the last 30 years," Paul LaFleche said following an appearance at the legislature's public accounts committee.

That means more partnerships between the province and community groups on housing developments. Part of that effort will mean the province ensures groups like non-profits can do projects that achieve economies of scale and have access to the necessary financial management, LaFleche said.

Nova Scotia is currently facing what could be the greatest demand for housing in the province's history, as residents confront skyrocketing rents and housing prices. There is growing concern about how people without a stable home will find one and how people living month-to-month will be able to afford to stay where they are.

Affordable for the long term

Jim Graham, executive director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, said there has been no new public housing constructed in the last 30 years in the province.

Graham told the committee that one of the benefits of non-market housing is that the units remain affordable for the long term. That's a key difference from many private developments that get government funding to include a handful of affordable units, because those units are often allowed to eventually switch over to market rents.

"Historically, if people want to go back and look at some non-profit housing from the 1970s that has been well managed, well looked after, you will find that right now their rents are about 50 per cent or less of current market rents," said Graham.

Consideration of monthly incomes

During the meeting, opposition MLAs also spoke in favour of the development of a clear definition for what constitutes affordable housing.

They noted it should not be based on a percentage of market rates but rather what a person can afford to pay based on how much money they have coming in each month. 

Government officials said the prevailing view is that affordable means a person isn't spending more than 30 per cent of their monthly income on rent, although Graham noted that rent doesn't always include all the costs related to shelter, such as heat.

It was noted by several speakers that even a threshold of 30 per cent could be too much for some people. LaFleche said the government doesn't want to commit to a specific number for that reason.

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