Premier-elect, Province of Nova Scotia
c/o PC Nova Scotia Party
5151 George St – Suite 1402
Halifax, NS B3J 2T3
August 25, 2021
Dear Mr Houston,
Congratulations on the firm and unequivocal win to you and all your candidates, staff and volunteers. I know how hard you all campaigned and you have now reaped the rewards.
As Premier-Elect, I want to assure you that as always I stand ready to work with you, the provincial government, and your caucus on areas of mutual concern. We all want Halifax and Nova Scotia residents to have more opportunities, a brighter future, and to know all orders of government are working together for them.
Today though, I wanted to write you specifically about the ongoing housing crisis in HRM. I have listened carefully to your words and read your campaign promises and I feel we have far more common ground than that which separates us.
We both support the Affordable Housing Commission (AHC) report recommendations, but there are immediate and pressing issues that it will not be able to address.
Given our joint support for the AHC report, I am glad you’ve committed to convening the AHC and stakeholders immediately upon your swearing-in. I hope one of the objectives will to recommend short-term solutions that will bridge the pandemic rent control measures and market impact to the rapid implementation of AHC report recommendations.
I want to drill down into a few points I hope you and your future Housing Minister will discuss at the proposed summit once cabinet is sworn in.
- The first is the need for extraordinary and immediate action to address the current lack of affordable SROs, one-bedrooms, or bachelors in HRM. Ultimately none of us want people tenting or living in temporary structures, but in order for this to change, there must be viable and affordable alternatives. While hotels have been offered to many folks living rough in order to bridge the gap there needs to be something the service providers can count on.This requires innovative and quick solutions to create safe, private rooms, in a variety of configurations and for a variety of users and needs. Some could simply rental housing, some will need wrap-around services. I wrote about some of the options in my Letter to the Leaders July 29, 2021.Fully funded programs in partnership with service providers, designed by service providers, needs to be implemented.HRM can provide land and other supports to get these rooms open, but some of the capital and all of the operating needs to come from your currently under-resourced and over budgeted housing division.
- Secondly, I would like you to consider the case for interim rent control measures. What has changed the last five years is that some large REITs and other publicly listed companies have come into the Halifax market and are overpaying dramatically for property here. In one example, if you ask local developers, a large national REIT paid substantially more for a portfolio of low-income apartment buildings, between 30-50% over any reasonable valuation, than any normal investor would consider. How are they going to pay the financing on that purchase? They will implement 50% rent increases. Don’t take my word for it, talk to any other person with a deeper knowledge of our housing market, you will find a consistent story in a certain subset of purchases.Any kind of rent measure should allow reasonable rent increases, for inflation, sudden costs spikes, and even unexpected and justifiable capital expenses. But measures to stop reported 20-110% rent increases for no other reason than because they can? The government has a moral and ethical requirement to step in and moderate this. It needs to be calibrated to support the construction of new units, and can be reviewed if and when the market reaches an equilibrium of supply and demand, but it will stop predators from buying existing occupied units and overvaluing and destabilizing Nova Scotia’s housing market.
- Third and finally, you have said that you are open to my proposal that control of housing is returned to HRM, and for this I applaud you. There is a housing crisis throughout this province, but Halifax has specific and unique urban housing issues. Of major cities, only Halifax and Winnipeg do not deliver housing on behalf of their province.Council has voted to request the Province transfer of the responsibilities of Housing Nova Scotia in the Halifax region, including Metro Regional Housing Authority (MRHA), Preston Area Housing Fund, and other not-for-profits to the Municipality, and fund this transfer through property tax redirected from mandatory contribuitions. This would allow funding to grow as assessment grows.Moving forward, HRM and the Province would also need to develop an equitable approach for provincial participation and cost-sharing in Federal housing and regionally significant housing programs.The key is that this must be a collaborative approach with long-term and sustainable funding transferred with the responsibility.
I urge you to convene the Affordable Housing Commission to discuss these three issues and make recommendations on prompt actions your new Minister will be able to bring to address this crisis.
Mr. Premier-elect, our citizens need us to rise to the occasion and take several rapid and unprecedented steps. I look forward to working with you and your team to deliver this needed relief.
Councillor | Le Conseiller | Wunaqapeme’j
District 7 Halifax South Downtown