Nova Scotia

Province told that rural N.S. has 'affordable housing crisis'

A coalition with representatives from six south shore municipalities has told a legislature committee, rural organizations have specific problems when it comes to trying to help people find affordable places to live.

'But because it is hidden and not easily measured doesn't mean that it doesn't exist,' says advocate

Rental sign.
Housing advocates told a provincial committee on Thursday that rural areas are suffering. (CBC)

Helen Lanthier's message to provincial politicians Thursday about housing problems in rural Nova Scotia had a sharp focus.

"Rural Nova Scotia is really experiencing an affordable housing crisis," she told members of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development.

Lanthier is a member of the South Shore Housing Action Coalition. The coalition includes representation from six municipal councils, as well as local women's shelters and individuals interested in housing issues.

She said although "more than 65 per cent of Nova Scotians live in rural communities," there is a growing concern that housing programs, projects and services aimed at those most at risk of becoming homeless are more centralized in Halifax.

Helen Lanthier is a member of the South Shore Housing Action Coalition. (Helen Lanthier)

Lanthier told the committee that rural homelessness is often not as visible as it is in the city, nor as well documented. 

"But because it is hidden and not easily measured doesn't mean that it doesn't exist," she said.

Martin Laycock, a senior official in the just renamed Department of Infrastructure and Housing, outlined what the province has pledged to do.

That includes "spending $7.5 million to support the creation of 156 new affordable housing units [and] an additional $2 million to help even more low-income Nova Scotians keep their home safe or make adaptation."

Nova Scotia and Ottawa have pledged to do more, but Lanthier said it hasn't been easy for rural-based groups to tap into the millions of dollars that have been promised, simply because of a lack of data to back up their requests.

She pointed to the Rapid Housing Initiative announced late last year by Ottawa for projects that had to be completed within a year of financing.

"There was no way that we were prepared to do that," she said. "We didn't have the data.

"We have all kinds of ideas. We are innovative in our thinking in small communities because we have to be and we were not able to access that funding at that time."

'Almost like it's a two-tiered system'

She also pointed to public transportation as part of the criteria for accessing funds.

"So many communities in this province don't have transportation for people who don't have cars," said Lanthier. "There are so many barriers that urban centres don't have.

"It's almost like it's a two-tiered system."

New Democrat MLA Claudia Chender asked Lanthier if short-term rentals have also created a problem.

Lathier said they have in communities such as Lunenburg, near her home.

"The number of short-term rental accommodations has skyrocketed, from our perception," she said. "We don't have data, and so we can't we cannot actually prove that.

"But it is, it appears, to be a real issue in impacting the availability of affordable housing, affordable rental housing."

Dalhousie University assistant professor Ren Thomas, co-chair of a new provincial affordable housing commission, told the committee Nova Scotia needed to look to other provinces for inspiration on how to tackle the problem.

"We need to share data and information, learn from each other and collaborate on projects more than we're doing now," she said. "We also need to protect the affordable units that we have already built.

"There is, as we know, a lot of good work being done across Canada that we can learn from."