Opposition calls on N.S. government to build more affordable housing
Premier says building more housing is key, but opposition leaders say focus should be on affordable units
Nova Scotia's opposition party leaders say Premier Tim Houston has an oversimplified view on solving the province's housing crisis, and that his government needs to be doing more for the province's most vulnerable residents.
Houston was pressed during Question Period at the legislature on Wednesday about the work underway to get people living in tents into some place more secure, and on the need to construct more housing that is truly affordable.
The premier told reporters outside the chamber what he told MLAs inside — that the solution to the housing crisis is to build more housing. More housing would lead to a change in demand, he said, which would mean more options for people in need.
"It's just simple math," said Houston.
"When you have people looking for homes, you build homes. People fill them and that fills them across the spectrum."
Construction costs way up
Building that housing will take time, he said.
"But at some point in time, if we can build enough housing there will be housing for everyone across the whole spectrum."
What is not being constructed right now is more public housing. There are about 11,200 units across Nova Scotia owned by the government. Houston ignored questions about why his government is choosing not to build more.
His housing minister, John Lohr, provided more insight into that question.
Lohr told reporters that it's the view of the government that it can get more bang for its buck, particularly in the midst of a labour shortage that's already straining construction capacity, if money is directed instead toward supporting co-operative housing projects and projects spearheaded by non-profit agencies.
The province's Finance Department released statistics on Tuesday showing that residential building construction prices in Halifax are up 11.7 per cent over this same time period last year. Building costs for low-rise apartment buildings (fewer than five stories) were up by 12.1 per cent, while high-rise apartment building costs were up by 9.1 per cent.
Working with a broad spectrum of groups
Lohr said the government needed to do a "deep dive" into management concerns the auditor general recently raised about the province's housing authorities. The minister recently introduced legislation that will merge the five authorities into a single entity, a move intended to bring more consistency and efficiency in the way public housing is managed.
Meanwhile, the province is also spending money to support projects under the rapid housing initiative, through for-profit developments and other avenues such as increased support for rent supplements, said Lohr.
"We're really working with a very broad spectrum of groups across the community," he said.
"I don't think that there's any one particular answer in the housing spectrum."
But NDP Leader Claudia Chender said there needs to be a more concentrated focus on building new affordable housing.
A need for more affordable options
Chender said the province needs to use the definition of affordable housing that considers rent as no more than 30 per cent of a person's monthly income. Rent supplements have been the only substantive help the Tories have offered low-income people so far for housing, she said, and even that has problems.
"As the rents go up, those supplements become harder and harder to implement," she told reporters.
"So we need thousands of [new affordable] units."
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill said the number of people living in tents is a sign that the government must develop emergency housing stock as soon as possible. He doesn't expect the private sector to come through when it comes to new emergency and affordable housing stock to meet demand.
Churchill told reporters that he'd also like to see affordable housing development grants open to everyone, not just large players.
"If you want to put a nanny suite in your basement or a tiny home on your property that's going to be affordable, normal citizens should be eligible for those affordable housing grants that are only available right now to large developers. And they are not going to build those buildings in rural Nova Scotia. The market is too risky for them."