Future Site of Compass Coop Housing Project pictured above.
Last week there was an outpouring of concern, frustration, and anger about the lack of affordable housing in Nova Scotia, especially around providing safe and appropriate housing for the most vulnerable in our community.
I’m angry and frustrated too. I’ve been in this fight for nearly a decade, but now I need your help.
This was inevitable and largely avoidable. There was work that needed to be done and all levels of government failed to act. I’ve been pushing the Province for change for eight years, with both the NDP and Liberal governments. I keep thinking we are finally seeing change, that it is turning around, and I’ve been wrong. The suffering continues to grow.
I get a lot of calls and emails from people defending the structures and tents in parks. They make passionate arguments that if these folks are living in substandard shelters it is because there is nowhere else to go. That’s painfully true. The rapid population growth in Halifax is resulting in increased rents. It’s a disaster in plain sight.
I’ve also received a lot of calls and emails from other residents saying it is about time these structures be removed. I want residents to hear me when I say we need to remember we’re talking about people living in these parks. They are human beings, and our neighbours. They need our compassion.
They deserve better than they have been getting. The current situation is all of our failure, and something we should be desperately ashamed of as a community.
The fact is these shelters and tents are not safe or appropriate housing. We must do better. We can’t let people live in unsafe structures. Hotels are a safe alternative.
Minister MacLellan confirmed in an interview that the Province will continue to pay for the hotel rooms until these folks find a permanent home. We need to hold the Province to that promise because it’s a start, but it’s not enough.
I’ve written a lot about what HRM is doing, and what we want to do but can’t. We are doing things from AirB&B regulation to taxing new development to give grants to not for profits, from allowing backyard suites to allowing special care homes in all zones. You can read more here.
Council also wants to be able to require below-market housing and require truly affordable units in new developments. I’ve said we need limited rent control. We’ve asked the Province for those powers and changes, repeatedly, for years. So far, we’ve been denied.
I know people are sick of hearing this: in Nova Scotia, the Provincial government is responsible (legally) for housing, shelter, rents, and tenancy. Municipalities are responsible (legally) for the buildings, specifically where stuff can be built and for fire and safety. We can only do what we are legally allowed to do by the Province. In a number of ways our hands are tied. Right now we cannot use land-use bylaws to require affordability. NDP MLA Lisa Roberts went into detail about it on her website.
Is there hope? I think so. The current government’s own Affordable Housing Commission report was released just two weeks ago. It recommends many needed changes and funding.
I’m working on a letter with some council colleagues to send to the Rankin government demanding immediate action to address the short-term and long-term housing crisis. It is clear that business as usual is not enough. We need large-scale, rapid action to address this crisis, and we cannot wait. (update – Council is voting next week to send a letter as HRM, and I sent a letter July 7 as a Councillor).
So yes, be mad. I know I am.
Housing needs to be the single most important election issue in Halifax and Nova Scotia in the next Provincial election. We need to show every last candidate that the dignity of every last one of us is non-negotiable. Write your MLA, and make your demands known to all the candidates in the upcoming election.
There are people in the city tonight that need our help. And there are even more people who are ready and willing to do so. Count me among them. Be angry, but know the municipal government cannot fix this alone, and the current circumstance is largely out of our control. Help Halifax get what it needs to fix housing, and demand that the Province acts now.
If you want to know more or have specific questions about next steps, please email me and let’s talk.