Nova Scotia

Critics say province building wrong type of houses amid housing crisis

Nova Scotia's plan of building more homes to solve the housing crisis is being criticized by Halifax Regional Municipality councillors and a planning professor.

Halifax councillors say provincial government moving too fast with city developments

Coun. Lisa Blackburn has expressed concern over the province's housing development plans. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

Nova Scotia's plan of building more homes to solve the housing crisis is being criticized by Halifax Regional Municipality councillors and a planning professor.

The province's task force on housing selected nine areas for fast-track housing development this year. Two of those areas have recently been approved: the former Penhorn Mall site in Dartmouth and Indigo Shores in the Sackville area. 

The housing task force was designed to speed up the process of approving and developing land, but some HRM councillors say that comes with the price of ignoring public consultation and municipal government.

There was a municipal by-law restricting development at Indigo Shores to 25 homes a year, but developer Armco Capital applied to have that cap lifted. The request went to the North West Community Council, which voted against it.

"But the province was able to get around our vote," said district 14 councilor Lisa Blackburn.

Housing Minister John Lohr issued a ministerial order forcing the HRM to amend the by-law.

Now Armco Capital is planning to build 150 housing units there. There is no timeline for the developments yet, but the province is hoping to see it happen quickly.

"Certainly I would have kept the cap in place at 25 houses per year," said Blackburn.

Moving too fast, councillor says

Blackburn said city services like transit and parks won't keep up with development and communities could end up feeling incomplete and unsustainable. "We can't accelerate our timelines just because the province has accelerated theirs."

Sam Austin is not concerned about the pace of development at the Penhorn site.

"We have to do our planning process faster. But I don't think what the province has done here with the housing task force is really much of anything," said Austin. "All that's happened at Penhorn is they've shaved maybe three or four months off the process."

Austin said the province is ignoring community consultation.

"This [Penhorn development] plan was practically done. So really what the province has done in terms of speeding up the process is they've done so by eliminating the public."

Other selected areas, like Sandy Lake, have drawn some objections from the surrounding communities. 

Austin and Blackburn also criticized the province for the types of development taking place in these areas.

"They will help the folks in the middle bracket who are feeling the pinch, but they're not going to help anyone who is sheltering in a park or living in an apartment and fearing that they might be renovicted," said Austin.

"Those houses are certainly not in any way, shape or form affordable housing," said Blackburn about the Indigo Shores project.

Province should become a housing developer

Jill Grant is a professor of planning at Dalhousie University who specializes in suburban development.

"The idea of trying to get more housing out seems like it will be a way to meet the desperate need for housing and also maybe bring down the prices. But, that's not the way that the system of housing production works," she said.

Grant said with most products, you can increase supply to meet demand, but the pricing of a house varies so greatly it can't be compared to other commodities.

"New housing is more expensive to produce and it tends to have all the bells and whistles, the granite countertops and open plans, the kinds of things that people are looking for in contemporary housing. So it's not going to be affordable. It's going to be the high end of the market. And that's not going to do much to solve the housing crisis."

She said the problem is relying on private developers, because they need to make a profit. She wants the province to become a developer and to focus on affordable and social housing in denser areas. 

"The idea of fast tracking it, the province is trying to make it look like something is happening when that's not really the case."

In a statement, the province said their fast-track plan will get more housing on the market faster. 

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