Nova Scotia

N.S. government extends 2% rent cap until Dec. 31, 2023

Amid a provincewide housing crisis, the Nova Scotia government is announcing its new housing strategy.

Premier and housing minister announce provincial housing strategy

The province announced Wednesday it will spend $35 million as part of an effort to build 1,100 affordable housing units across Nova Scotia. (Allison Devereaux/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government is enshrining the current two per cent cap on rental increases in law until Dec. 31, 2023, as part of an ambitious plan intended to address the province's housing crisis.

Premier Tim Houston and Housing Minister John Lohr made the announcement during a news conference in Halifax on Wednesday.

Houston said the effects of a lack of available housing are clear, as is the situation with homelessness that's resulted in tent cities popping up in parts of Halifax Regional Municipality.

"We see Nova Scotians forced to live on the streets and the reality for them is that winter is coming," he said.

"We know enough right now to take action and we're obligated as a government to do so."

That action includes the extension of the rent cap, which was first introduced in November 2020 and could have ended in February 2022. While Houston and the Tories have steadfastly said increasing supply, not rent control, is the long-term solution, on Wednesday he acknowledged a bridge is required until more supply is available.

"Tenants need help and they need certainty," said Houston.

Watch video of the Halifax Mayor Mike Savage's news conference:

Whether that will be enough time to get sufficient housing stock in place remains to be seen, but Houston said he believes "considerable progress" can be made in that time.

The province has experienced a population boom in recent years, but housing availability has not kept pace, said Houston. Government does not know how big the gap is in terms of need, although some estimates place it at 20,000 units or more.

Houston said responsibility for that falls at the feet of government.

"Government of all stripes at all levels, despite taking credit for population growth, didn't take the necessary steps to plan for, prepare for and keep up with the demand."

$35M for housing

As part of the plan released Wednesday, the government will spend $35 million on affordable housing to create 1,100 new spaces. That's $10 million more than originally recommended by the province's affordable housing commission. The money includes 425 new rent supplements that will become immediately available.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill called the announcement a "resplendent victory" for people who have fought for greater supports for renters in recent years. He said it's proof public action can help shape government direction.

"Public pressure can accomplish a lot and it has accomplished a great deal in this situation," he told reporters.

Burrill said the news had him thinking of the people who have been willing to publicly share their stories about the struggles they've faced to remain in their homes or find a place to live. He said his party would continue to fight for permanent rent control.

Watch video of the government announcement:

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin called it a good day for Nova Scotia, the government and those who pushed for action on the housing file.

The province will build three new student residences on the Pictou, Akerley and Ivany campuses of the Nova Scotia Community College.

In an effort to address homelessness, the government will spend $10.1 million over two years. The hotel shelter model will be expanded, but it will now include 24/7 wraparound services for people while they stay there and work to transition to other housing.

Lohr said the government is still looking for a partner to house the program, but he said it will not just focus on the Halifax area. There will also be increased funding support for community groups that work with people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

Protection from renovictions

The government also introduced changes to the Residential Tenancies Act on Wednesday intended to give renters more protection from so-called renovictions, a situation where a landlord forces residents to leave a building so it can be renovated and rents then substantially increased.

The changes introduced Wednesday include preventing landlords from being able to charge different amounts of rent for tenants who rent month to month rather than yearly, as well as protections related to getting back a damage deposit.

Tenants will now be required to be given at least three months notice before a renoviction. If a tenant does not agree to leave, the landlord must make an application for an eviction order. Landlords will also be required to give the tenant between one and three months rent depending on the building size.

Violations of the new protections can lead to further compensation for tenants, including having their moving expenses covered or paying the difference between the cost of the new unit and former unit for up to a year.

"It won't be impossible for a renoviction to happen, but there will be significant protections for the tenant," said Lohr.

Changes to zoning

Other legislative steps the government is taking include changes to the Municipal Government Act and Halifax Regional Municipality Charter to allow for inclusionary zoning, the practice of integrating affordable housing in new developments. The province is also establishing a task force to ensure faster planning and development approvals for "appropriate residential projects in HRM." Houston said the aim is to create a measure of accountability for the efforts, while Lohr said it's about the two levels of government working together to solve a problem.

The province is continuing with its inventory of government-owned land that is appropriate for development and it's also looking at ways to expand the labour force of skilled workers to work in the trades.

A regional transportation group will also be created to focus on roads, ferries and public transit to create a master transportation plan for HRM in anticipation of further population growth.

Although the municipality did much of that work several years ago, Lohr said they're looking for formalized communication and to ensure any plans are adaptable as population rates increase.

The premier said the work could also lead to the province playing a much more active role in funding public transit than it traditionally has in the past.

"The traditions are what have got us to where we are today, and that's in a housing crisis."

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