Nova Scotia

Minister says new housing task force won't override HRM's vision for city

John Lohr says the task force will aim to speed up approval of housing projects.

Coun. Waye Mason has raised concerns group could clash with municipality's plans

Housing Minister John Lohr says the intent of the new housing task force is to solve housing issues across the entire province, not just HRM. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's housing minister says a new housing task force will have the ability to compel both the province and the Halifax Regional Municipality to move faster on approving large residential developments.

"We know that there's a vast demand for more supply," John Lohr told CBC Radio's Information Morning on Monday.

"There are many people looking to rent or just build and haven't got the ability to do that so this task force, we're hoping ... will speed that up."

The group is part of the provincial government's ambitious new housing strategy unveiled last Wednesday, and will include two HRM representatives, two provincial representatives and a chairperson appointed by Lohr. 

While the province's plan to tackle the housing crisis has been met with cautious optimism by many, Halifax councillor Waye Mason has also voiced concern the task force could duplicate work that's already being done and take decision-making power away from the municipality. 

Mason has said municipal officials weren't consulted before the province created the housing group and a new regional transportation group.

"In terms of the vision that the HRM has for the city? No, this is not about changing that," Lohr said. "This is about looking at how we can increase housing supply."

Some municipal councillors, in Halifax and elsewhere, are concerned the new housing strategy could overstep. We hear a response to those concerns from the province's Housing Minister John Lohr.

Mason is also worried the task force could override HRM's Regional Plan and Green Network Plan, which provides protection for places like the Purcell's Cove backlands and the Blue Mountain-Birch Cove Lakes Wilderness Area.

"I don't see that as being something that the task force will change," Lohr said.

"I think the vision of the city for where construction happens and where construction doesn't happen won't change at all. I think this is about applications that are in process that have just been delayed by various things."

District 7 Coun. Waye Mason, seen standing outside city hall in this file photo, has raised concerns that the province's new housing task force will clash with plans HRM is already undertaking. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The province's housing strategy includes keeping a two per cent cap on rental increases in place until Dec. 31, 2023, spending $35 million on 1,100 new affordable spaces, and protecting tenants from so-called renovictions.

The lack of affordable units and shelter space in the Halifax area has meant many people are living outside, including in Meagher Park on Chebucto Road where several tents have been set up.

"We're very, very concerned about homelessness and about these individuals in HRM, but it's a problem across the province," Lohr said.

He said more details will be announced soon to help people experiencing homelessness before winter sets in.

With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning


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