Halifax's 'aggressive' goal of 5,000 affordable homes in 5 years

Councillors in Halifax have agreed to a target of 5,000 affordable housing units over the next five years.

Councillors hope to more than double the current number of affordable housing units across the municipality

So-called density bonuses mean developers can build taller buildings if they include affordable units in the city centre. But provincial approval is needed for the bonuses in other areas of the municipality. (Robert Short/CBC)

Halifax regional council has endorsed what the mayor says is a bold goal of having 5,000 affordable housing units in the city within the next five years.

A quarter of the households in the municipality spend 30 per cent or more of their household income on housing, according to the Housing and Homelessness Partnership, a local coalition dedicated to combating homelessness. 

Mayor Mike Savage said Tuesday the new target means opening 3,000 new affordable units in the municipality with the help of Housing Nova Scotia, non-profit groups and the private sector.

"It is an aggressive target for us," he said.

Council also hopes to encourage private developers to create units for people with low to moderate incomes.

Employed but homeless

Deputy Mayor Steve Craig, who represents Lower Sackville, said he's aware of one person who is employed but resorted to sleeping in a car because they could not find an affordable place to live.

"We need to move forward, to be an advocate for those who have no voice," said Craig. "To do all that we can do within our mandate."

Affordable housing could see monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment drop as low as $886 from $1,400.

Taller buildings, more affordable units

Rent supplements and increasing the number of licensed rooming houses could help Halifax reach its goal.

Planning officials are also hopeful council's endorsement of a so-called density bonusing program will make a difference. It means developers would be allowed to construct a taller building if they agree to create a percentage of affordable housing units within that building.

Jacob Ritchie, a municipal planner, said a seven-storey building could be increased to 14 storeys if nine units in the building were designated affordable. 

More work needed 

"This is not the full solution for affordability in Halifax," said Ritchie. "This is just an effective way to deal with the new, private rental market."

Halifax can only offer density bonuses to developers in the city centre. Provincial approval is needed to provide it in other areas of the municipality.

That disappointed a number of councillors, including Coun. Russell Walker, who represents Halifax-Bedford Basin West.

"I have four units under construction, six or seven that will get underway shortly, who won't qualify for this," he said. "So affordable housing won't be in those buildings."

Regional council has asked planners to work with the province so density bonuses can be expanded to other areas of the municipality.

About the Author

Pam Berman


Pam Berman is CBC Nova Scotia's municipal affairs reporter. She's been a journalist for almost 35 years and has covered Halifax regional council since 1997. That includes four municipal elections, 19 budgets and countless meetings. Story ideas can be sent to pam.berman@cbc.ca