(two weeks ago, I wrote this post, and said I was writing a letter to the Premier. This is that letter)
Honourable Iain Rankin
Premier of Nova Scotia
PO Box 726
Halifax NS B3J 2T3
July 7, 2021
RE: Affordable Housing in Halifax and Nova Scotia
I am writing to thank you for your government’s announcement yesterday that you will both fund and act on the recommendations of the Affordable Housing Commission.
As you are aware, Nova Scotia in general and Halifax, in particular, faces a housing crisis the likes of which we have not seen since the Second World War.
Halifax’s rapid growth these last five years has brought a measure of economic prosperity that is a boon to the entire province. At the same time this almost ten percent increase in Halifax’s population, over 41,000 people, has strained every single affordable housing organization, social agency, and shelter provider to the breaking point. We need to work together to address housing challenges at a scale we have not experienced before.
I am glad the Commission’s recommendations will be funded and I look forward to the proposed legislative changes that need to come forward in the next session. Halifax in turn will continue to work to address all applicable municipal recommendations in the report.
As you are aware recently some well-meaning residents felt that the only solution to safely housing people living rough in tents outdoors was to erect unheated, unsafe, not to code shelters in municipal parks. The fact is these shelters and tents are not safe or appropriate housing, but people felt driven to do this because the Province has not increased the supply of appropriate deeply affordable housing and shelter as the demand has increased.
I was also pleased and relieved that the Province has confirmed what Minister MacLellan stated previously – that the Province will provide temporary shelter for these unhoused folks, especially those removed from HRM parks and put in hotels, and that these people will remain sheltered in hotels until housed.
I am writing you today to expand on some additional steps I believe the Province needs to take to address this growing crisis. None of these are new things, none of them are revolutionary, and many of them are already under discussion by your government. What is needed now is urgency and resolve.
First of all, let’s agree to a shared definition of success to the immediate crisis: that the goal must be to finding safe and affordable housing for the 14 people in these structures in parks, the 15 people waiting to move into these structures, the several dozen living in tents, and a plan to address the remainder of the over 400 people identified by housing agencies as unhoused. Current plans to house the 14 people in structures are admirable but can only be considered a start. We need far more than 14 beds and we need them quickly.
Second, I request that the Province provide funding to build and operate sufficient supportive housing for those with drug, mental health, and other issues who are unable to live independently, and who may suffer further harm if placed in a conventional shelter. These folks are often a poor fit for shelters and need more than a hand up, they need help to recover, or in some cases, may need support to live independently for the rest of their lives. This is arguably the biggest gap in our system today, one we urge you to make a priority.
Third, please continue to make increases to the Income Assistance program. While your recent increase was welcome and past due, the rent allowance continues to be far too low. Not just too low to pay market rents, but too low to provide sufficient rent to a not-for-profit or housing authority to come anywhere near covering their operating and maintenance costs.
Fourth and finally, changing demographics and lifestyle choices mean the large inventory of bachelors and one-bedrooms in Halifax South, historically home to most of these unit types, are starting to move up-market in price, leaving thousands of folks with no affordable alternatives, as most of the inventory of these unit types is in this area.
I urge you to create a plan for a significant rapid increase in the number of affordable single room occupancy or bachelor apartment spaces for residents facing repeated housing challenges, who have been street-involved, who have lived rough.
Simply put, the folks who were living in parks and are now being moved to hotels have few to no choices about where to go and the area has close to zero vacancies. Government action is required to create units for these folks.
Projects such as purchasing and repurposing a hotel or creating several villages of prefab trailers or Pallet Shelters clusters are the kind of innovative programs that must happen in order to see needed units by end of the summer or early fall.
There is nothing this community needs more than to have Halifax work with the Province to take rapid action of a sufficient scale to provide needed solutions.
I think we both agree, now is not the time for municipal/provincial squabbling, partisan point-scoring, or business as usual. I look forward to working with you and your government to address the real and urgent needs of our residents.
Councillor | Le Conseiller | Wunaqapeme’j
District 7 Halifax South Downtown
CC: Premier (by mail)
Members of the House of Assembly
Halifax Regional Councillors