Nova Scotia

N.S. government unveils details of new housing agency

Nova Scotia’s minister responsible for housing released the details of a new agency to oversee public housing in the province that keeps control within government.

Housing minister will have ultimate oversight

John Lohr, the minister responsible for the province's Emergency Management Office, has responded to criticism over how it handled disaster relief in Cape Breton in the wake of post tropical storm Fiona. (Robert Short/CBC)

Nova Scotia's minister responsible for housing released the details of a new agency to oversee public housing in the province, and he's keeping control within government.

Housing Minister John Lohr tabled legislation Thursday that will amalgamate the five regional housing authorities and dissolve their boards in favour of a new Crown corporation with an advisory board that is ultimately answerable to the minister.

"At the end of the day, as minister, I'm the one who answers to the legislature for the questions about what's happening, and future ministers will," Lohr told reporters.

The new Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency is intended to modernize provincial housing programs and increase accountability. A recent report by the auditor general flagged concerns about inconsistencies between housing authorities in dealing with applications and waiting lists, along with with shortcomings in their oversight.

"Frankly, we owe it to our tenants and to all Nova Scotians to manage our properties more effectively and efficiently."

Lohr said the creation of the new agency was also informed by recommendations from the province's affordable housing commission, although creating an entity under the minister's control is not what the commission's report suggested.

Instead, it called for an independent authority with financial and decision-making powers. Lohr said that option was considered, but the government preferred to keep an active role for the minister.

Liberal MLA Braedon Clark has concerns about the lack of independence for the new agency. Clark said the government should follow advice it received from experts.

Liberal MLA Braedon Clark at the Legislature Thursday. (Robert Short/CBC)

"If you have control over something you can dictate policy and I think that's the [aim] of this premier and this government."

Lohr said the goal is to do a better job getting people into housing suited to their needs, fill available units quickly and improve management of the housing waiting list, which had almost 6,600 applicants as of last month.

New Democrat MLA Suzy Hansen said one way for the government to tackle that backlog is to build more public housing. The changes Lohr announced don't go far enough, she said.

New Democrat MLA Suzy Hansen at the Legislature Thursday. (Robert Short/CBC)

"It's not going to change anything," she told reporters. "It's not going to change the numbers on the waitlist."

The minister said the government feels it can make its money stretch further by supporting other projects, such as cooperative and non-profit developments, along with funding rent supplements.

But Hansen said rent supplements only work when there is housing available to be supplemented.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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