N.S. government releases list of properties to be made available for housing development

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The Dartmouth Non-Profit Housing Society will develop 18 new affordable housing units on this site in Cole Harbour. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)
The Dartmouth Non-Profit Housing Society will develop 18 new affordable housing units on this site in Cole Harbour. (Paul Palmeter/CBC - image credit)

The Nova Scotia government has identified the first 37 pieces of land it owns that it will make available for housing developments.

"Nova Scotians need housing. Right now the lack of available and affordable housing is challenging people, families and communities across this province," Housing Minister John Lohr told a news conference in Halifax on Tuesday.

Of the sites announced, two of them are furthest along. The Dartmouth Non-Profit Housing Society will build 18 affordable units on a site on Circassion Drive in Cole Harbour, while proposals are now being evaluated for land at 1 King St. in Dartmouth

Pieces of land on Tremain Street in Windsor; Chapel, Mechanic and Elm streets in Springhill; and six residential lots near the site of the former Bowater Mersey paper mill in Brooklyn, are all now opened for proposals. Lohr said the remaining sites would be opened for bids following more preparation.

A focus on affordable housing

Department officials told reporters that unlike a traditional request for proposals, the government will use a less restrictive method to consider options for this land. Lohr said the aim is to get as much affordable housing as possible developed, but he said the province also needs other types of housing.

Final approval on each development will be made by Treasury Board members, said Lohr.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

The government is using the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation definition of affordable housing as it applies to the National Housing Co-investment Fund. In that context, at least 30 per cent of the units in any given project have to cost less than 80 per cent of the median market rent.

Successful proposals will be based on what best meets the needs of a community and the land in question. What is ultimately approved would also dictate how much the land is sold for. Government officials said the process isn't about making money, and noted land would be sold for much less to non-profits, co-ops and other community groups than it would to a developer of market-rate housing.

Opposition MLAs want faster action

The initial pieces of land selected were picked based on how quickly they could be prepared and because the communities where they're located have the highest need for new housing. That includes parts of Halifax Regional Municipality, Cape Breton Regional Municipality, Bridgewater, Yarmouth, Wolfville, Pictou County and New Minas.

Opposition housing critics said they were pleased to see the announcement from the government, but both Liberal MLA Lorelei Nicoll and New Democrat Suzy Hansen said the province could go further, faster.

Hansen said the government could use a first-right-of refusal approach to acquire property.

"We know that there are a number of apartment buildings, there's a number of pieces of properties that are up in the market right now that we could be, you know, buying up and using for affordable housing," she said.

Nicoll said she has concerns about whether there are enough tradespeople to build the projects as quickly as is required.

Both Hansen and Nicoll said the province's definition of affordable housing should be tied to a person's income and ability to pay, rather than market value.

Help to address homelessness

Tuesday's announcement by the government makes good on a recommendation from the province's affordable housing commission last year to identify as much government-owned land as possible that could be made available for housing developments.

Lohr said those efforts would continue, and be adjusted as necessary, until the province's housing crisis is solved.

The announcement came on the same day a point-in-time count showed at least 586 in the Halifax area were experiencing homelessness on April 7. Authors of report believe the actual number of people in need is actually higher.

Lohr said his department continues to work with officials in the Community Services Department to try to create as many housing options as quickly as possible. The province has partnered with several community groups in recent months to support more shelter spaces, long-term hotel stays and the conversion of motels to affordable housing sites.

"We're doing a lot, but I'm not happy," said Lohr. "We need to do more and we will do more."

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