Nova Scotia

Project aims to create 'unified voice' for community housing groups in N.S.

There’s a call out for Nova Scotians involved in the community housing sector to band together in tackling Nova Scotia’s housing shortfalls.

'If you have a sector-based association, the stronger your sector is going to be,' professor says

Organizers say the pandemic underscored the need to examine and improve the housing sector that serves some of the most vulnerable Nova Scotians. (CBC)

There's a call out for Nova Scotians involved in the community housing sector to band together to tackle Nova Scotia's housing shortfalls. 

Low rental vacancy, rising rents and a growing number of people experiencing homelessness are problems that came to the fore in Nova Scotia in 2020.

That underscored for Pauline MacIntosh, of the St. Francis Xavier University Extension Department, the need to examine and improve non-profit and co-operative housing.

"There's a tremendous need for housing for people who live on low income in the province … which has become illuminated by the COVID-19 pandemic," MacIntosh said.

"If we have a stronger group of community housing sector players and actors who are able to provide more housing for people who need it, that strengthens our society and our communities as a whole."

MacIntosh launched the project earlier this month with an online survey and is planning engagement sessions that will run through the spring and summer.

The St. FX department and the Montreal-based Community Housing Transformation Centre are spearheading the project and have enlisted collaborators from across the province.

MacIntosh said invitations have gone out to several hundred individuals. As responses come in, a database of community housing groups will take shape.

MacIntosh says those interested will be able to provide feedback for the project throughout the spring and summer. (Submitted by Pauline MacIntosh)

Striving for a unified voice

The work comes on the heels of the provincial government instituting a temporary cap on rent increases and creating an affordable housing commission tasked with making recommendations for long-term housing solutions. 

It also lines up with a spending spree by the federal government on housing infrastructure to be built by community-based organizations within the next year.

Some of those dollars have already been allocated, with more than $8 million coming to Halifax, and some are still being distributed across the country.

MacIntosh said one of the goals of her project is to create a unified voice among Nova Scotia's non-profit and co-operative housing groups so they can better advocate for their collective efforts. Another goal would be to take advantage of funding opportunities like the ones that have lately been on offer.

Karen Brodeur can vouch for the power of having a unified voice. She's the Atlantic manager for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, and the president of Compass NS, a non-profit housing co-operative. 

Brodeur said the federation had a large role in getting Compass off the ground five years ago. Since then, the co-operative has amassed more than 75 housing units across Nova Scotia.

"That type of innovative work probably can't happen unless you have some type of a sector organization to help you to do that," she said.

Hand in hand with commission's work

Brodeur also sits on the province's new affordable housing commission, which is due to submit a report at the end of May. 

She said the work of the commission and the work of the community housing project go "hand in hand."

"I think since the affordable housing commission is looking at how we can actually move the needle on sustaining and developing and transforming the current sector, this will give us a baseline, and also help us to recognize what already exists and then what's needed."

Establishing a permanent association

Catherine Leviten-Reid is an associate professor in community economic development at Cape Breton University who studies affordable housing and is sitting on an advisory committee with the community housing project. 

She said she hopes the project will lead to a permanent association with a mandate for collaboration and advocacy. 

"There's this pretty strong understanding among practitioners that if you have a sector-based association, the stronger your sector is going to be," she said.

Leviten-Reid said Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec already have successful community housing associations.


Taryn Grant


Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at