Nova Scotia

Halifax councillors concerned about climbing cost of emergency housing

Council has agreed to pay $1.2M more for the units, bringing the estimated cost of the project up to $4.9M.

Total cost of the 62-unit project has risen to $4.9M

A bird's-eye view of where modular housing units are being installed in Dartmouth. (Halifax)

A number of Halifax regional councillors are raising concerns about the escalating cost of providing modular units for people experiencing homelessness in the municipality.

Council has agreed to pay $1.2 million more for the units, bringing the estimated cost of the project up to $4.9 million.

During debate Tuesday, Coun. Sam Austin said he's not surprised by the growing bill, given how quickly the project has been moving in the middle of a pandemic.

"We have brought 24 units into HRM that didn't exist before," said Austin. "In just four months, no one else has managed anything like that."

Modular units that will house 26 people at a site in Dartmouth will be ready by the end of January. It will be mid-March before the units for 36 people in Halifax will be ready. 

No construction money coming from province

Several councillors toured the units Tuesday morning and said they were impressed. But some of Austin's colleagues expressed concern about the municipality footing the bill alone when housing is a provincial responsibility.

"Here we are again throwing money into this crisis," said Coun. Tony Mancini. "The lead on this is supposed to be the province."

HRM's CAO, Jacques Dubé, told council the province has committed $2 million to help people who use the modular units, but no money for construction costs.

"The understanding from the get-go is we would provide the space and they will provide the wraparound services," he said.

Dubé acknowledged there is a great need with approximately 450 people "sleeping rough" in HRM.

He said the province has funded about 200 shelter spaces in the municipality for the past five or six years, although he noted HRM has grown exponentially during that time.

Mayor Mike Savage told council he will continue to make the case with provincial officials that the region needs more support.

"We do have to be mindful of the costs and it can't go on forever," said Savage. "It is not, strictly speaking, part of our mandate, but it is our responsibility, it is part of our community."

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pam Berman

Reporter

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

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