Nova Scotia

N.S. housing strategy met with largely positive reviews, some criticism

There has been mixed reaction among tenant advocates and landlords to Nova Scotia's provincial housing strategy announced Wednesday.

Tenant groups say changes welcome but landlords say there was no meaningful consultation

Nova Scotia announced an ambitious housing strategy on Wednesday. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Housing stakeholders are divided over the merits of Nova Scotia's ambitious plan to address the province's housing crisis.

The measures announced on Wednesday include keeping a two per cent cap on rental increases in place until Dec. 31, 2023, $35 million on affordable housing to create 1,100 new spaces and protection from so-called renovictions.

Fiona Traynor of Dalhousie Legal Aid Service called the strategy a "big victory" for renters in Nova Scotia.

"I think it shows that the provincial government recognizes the entrenched housing crisis that people are living through, and they've done something about it that secures people's future for the next three years," she said.

Fiona Traynor, with Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, said the new strategy represents a recognition by the provincial government that the housing crisis exists and needs to be addressed. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

In May, the Housing for All working group recommended building nearly 35,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years.

"So we'd like to see the government fulfil that recommendation and build … all the affordable housing that's needed going forward," said Traynor. "[The strategy is] a start, but it's not going to … solve the housing crisis that people are living in now."

She said the plan to integrate affordable housing in new developments, a practice called "inclusionary zoning," is an important step — but said for-profit developments couldn't be the only solution to the housing crisis.

"We need more affordable social housing, and they need to commit to be doing that and building more of that," she said. "So people have secure, safe and affordable housing for themselves and their families."

Anita Stewart, a housing support worker with the non-profit A Roof Over Your Head, said the promise of 1,100 affordable housing units is a great start. She'd like to see some of the units allocated to rural communities, like in Antigonish and Guysborough counties.

"We need affordable housing units and we needed them many years ago," she said. "So let's stop talking and let's start building." 

Some rural communities are expected to receive extra support after Adsum House for Women and Children launches it's Diverting Families program in East Preston.

The non-profit will receive $630,000 to expand the pilot project to Nova Scotians living in Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby.

Sheri Lecker, the executive director of Adsum House, said the program will work directly with families who are in crisis due to homelessness or impending homelessness.

"We believe that this is something that can work outside of Halifax in other communities, in specific settings," she said. "When I see that there is this kind of investment, I can't help it — it gives me a lot of hope."

Sam Hall, a Nova Scotia ACORN member, said the announcement was a pleasant surprise and she was thrilled.

Sam Hall is a member of Nova Scotia ACORN, and said she was 'pleasantly surprised' by the new strategy. (Francois Le Blanc/RC)

ACORN has been pushing for an extension of the rent cap and Hall said she was "extremely happy" to see it extended to December 2023.

"Despite whatever personal convictions different politicians have about rent control, the fact of the matter is this is what is needed to keep people safe in houses in the immediate future," she said.

Hall said she would like to see a more permanent form of rent control as well as vacancy control.

She welcomed the news about new affordable units and inclusionary zoning, but said the work isn't over for affordable housing advocates.

"We have seen a tonne of affordable units going up that are absolutely at prices not relevant to what people who are in need of affordable units can actually afford," she said. "So we need to keep an eye on that and make sure that the prices these affordable units are being rented at are actually relevant to the problem and are actually affordable to people who need it."

Strategy based on facts, not ideology, says analyst

Neil Lovitt, a vice-president with Halifax real estate consultant Turner Drake, said he was pleasantly surprised by the response from the PCs.

"They came at it from a number of different angles … and also demonstrated a willingness to let facts and the truth of the situation to dictate their response than more of an ideological position," he told CBC's Information Morning, noting the PCs were the party "most hawkish" toward rent control during the recent provincial election.

Lovitt said building 1,100 affordable housing units at a cost of $35 million is a good start, but it's not enough to solve the housing crisis.

One thing Lovitt said was missing was the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission's recommendation that social housing be moved out of government and into the hands of a Crown corporation. He said a move like that would allow investments to be made over the long term, rather than on political cycles.

"That to me was the keystone of the AHC report and the action that could have the biggest benefit long term," said Lovitt.

Kevin Russell, executive director of Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia, said landlords in Nova Scotia were not consulted about some of the solutions contained in the strategy. (Preston Mulligan/CBC)

Wednesday's housing strategy announcement was met with a considerably less enthusiastic response from the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia, which represents landlords in the province.

Kevin Russell, the association's executive director, said the province failed to hold meaningful consultation with the private sector on possible housing solutions.

"We've had some casual conversations, but there is no meaningful consultation," he said. "So, you know, we expected more, but it didn't happen."

Russell said the extension of the rental increase cap caught the association off guard. He said the two per cent cap was not keeping pace with rising expenses and many landlords were facing "severe financial pressures."

Citing rising insurance premiums and heating costs, he said it is going to be a difficult year for landlords. 

"When you look at other rent control systems in the world, when this happens, the smaller landlords will leave the business... they'll take units off the market until they can make some sense out of where the regulations are going in the long term," Russell said.

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With files from the CBC's Information Morning, Mainstreet

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