Questions for Leaders regarding Affordable Housing in Halifax

VIA EMAIL

Gary Burrill, Leader
New Democratic Party NS
603-5151 George St
Halifax, NS B3J 1M5

Iain Rankin, Leader
Liberal Party NS
1400-5151 George St
Halifax, NS B3J 1M5

Tim Houston, Leader
Progressive Conservative Party NS
1003-1660 Hollis St
Halifax, NS B3J 1V7

July 29, 2021

RE: Questions for Leaders regarding Affordable Housing in Halifax

Gentlemen,

I watched the debate last night with great interest and was pleased that housing was a major point of discussion. I am writing today to ask some specific questions that I feel my residents and voters throughout HRM and Nova Scotia would appreciate your parties’ answers to.

Yesterday I commented on Twitter that the market will not provide below market (affordable/ deeply affordable) housing no matter what the Province does to increase supply, and also that rent control (and I support some limited rent control) won’t create affordable below market units. The problem is more nuanced than this binary.

The Province needs significant investment in affordable below-market units, especially single room occupancies (SROs) and bachelor/1 beds. We need the Province to fund wraparound supportive housing for those in need, to increase increased Income Assistance rates to reflect the true cost of housing, and of course, HRM needs to be empowered to require affordable/low rent units in large developments through inclusionary zoning.

I would appreciate it if each of you outlined what you proposed to do in the first 30 days after the election to house people who have no housing at all. What are you going to do to address the most vulnerable, to ensure the programming and staff are available, to do the right thing?

What follows are five areas of concern, some possible solutions for each, and a question for you regarding what your party proposes to do to address these concerns.

1. Wages and resources for existing services

One of the challenges that are bogging down the response to the current housing crisis is our existing long-suffering service agencies are insufficiently funded. The core funding for these shelters and housing providers needs to increase both so they can provide competitive wages and more staff. Existing shelters find that the new Federally funded programs are funded better, and pay more per hour to staff, creating new stress. There are two and half times more people facing housing precarity now than five years ago, and funding has not kept pace with the real operational demands.

Both new and existing shelter programs struggle to obtain funding to have adequate staff, and as a consequence, struggle to run their sites in a way that minimizes impact and friction with neighbours. HRM is allowing special care homes in all neighbourhoods, which is right and just, but the Province needs to provide sufficient funding that these shelters and homes are run in the least impactful way possible.

Will your party increase funding to shelter and service providers for better wages, more admin staff, and to provide for well-run programs in all shelters and homes?

2. HRM needs immediate housing, we cannot wait for even the Rapid Housing Initiative projects

A lot of work is underway to build new affordable units, but even the RHI projects take 12-24 months to build. Right now in Halifax there are several dozen living in tents and structures in parks as a part 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.

One solution could be to buy a couple of hotels and convert them into SROs. Expropriate if you must. We need hotels renovated to have kitchenettes or common kitchen areas. One hotel won’t solve the problem, as women and children need to be in separate facilities. Dispersal of these clients around HRM rather than clustering all of them at one site is the best approach. Smaller older hotels are assessed for $700,000-$2.7 million and probably could be purchased for twice that.

Another option would be to obtain modular workforce housing from Western Canada and set it up as temporary housing around HRM. The municipality would be able to assist in identifying sites. A 2014 126 bed set of three 42 unit Jack and Jill dorms is currently located in Manitoba. Including demobilization, transport, and set up in Halifax, these could be set up here for $1,100,000 landed and ready to occupy.  Setting them up in smaller 15-20 unit clusters (as recommended by service agencies) would drive this price up somewhat.

These are just two examples of things that could happen immediately to create needed housing options. All of these options would require operational funding, but simply put, there are many options and no excuses for people sleeping outdoors.

Will your party take immediate steps to ensure a rapid increase in supply of transition housing, that keeps pace with current and future demand, regardless of how many people require it, so that no Nova Scotian has to face sleeping outside because there is no place for them?

3. Supportive Housing is needed for those most vulnerable who need wrap-around services

Clients have a mix of needs. Some need transitional supports, and some need permanent supportive housing. The lack of these types of housing can cause some clients to stay in shelters for much longer than shelters are intended to be used because they have nowhere else to go that can support them.

One program that is a good model is the Women in Supported Housing (WISH) is a longstanding program of YWCA which was recognized by CMHC as an outstanding housing first program when it was launched. The YWCA holds the lease with private landlords, ensuring rent on the first of each month, insurance coverage by YWCA Halifax, repair of units, and access to an intermediary in the event of any issues, maintains all properties in good repair, furnishes all units, and through our housing support workers, provide one-on-one in-home support at least once per week as well as 24/7 on-call assistance. And participants have access to safe, affordable housing with full furnishings. More programs like this program to other clients in need would cost $15,000-$20,000 per participant per year

Another is run by VETS Canada, who operates a 15 bed facility in Edmonton that provides wraparound services including employment and training services, housing location and supports, financial programs, crisis supports, community services opportunities, and more. Two staff and programming cost around $185,000 a year.

These are just two examples of programs that are needed and costs that need to be addressed.

Will your party ensure that needed funding for wrap-around services and supportive housing is immediately made available sufficient to address the needs of our most vulnerable residents?

4. Rapid Housing Initiative can go farther

The Province can use the Federal rapid housing initiative better. Instead of fully funding the development from the grant, the Not-for-profits housing proposals could instead use the $12M as down payments on loans held by Housing NS that would be repaid (or earned back) over time. Housing Nova Scotia should be at the table discussing lending for the RHI projects to increase scale, as would any private developer.

Will your party change the RHI approach to enable many more builds, more quickly, by providing no-interest loans and earned back funding to service agencies?

5. Nova Scotia needs a plan for no-eviction housing

The Province needs to work with service providers to create housing for clients who for whatever reason are likely to be evicted. There are best practice cases that can be adopted to provide a modified program similar to the WISH program outlined above, but designed to ensure the supports and services are available, and flexibility is there, to break the cycle of eviction for clients who face these challenges.

Will your party work with service providers to create the needed no eviction programs for those who are the most challenging to find housing for?

I look forward to your answer to these questions and any other specific programs and solutions you propose to launch within 30 days of being elected as government that would address these issues.

Thank you,

Waye Mason
Councillor | Le Conseiller | Wunaqapeme’j
District 7 Halifax South Downtown

CC:     Halifax Regional Councillors
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