The Nova Scotia government has announced plans for the construction of new public housing in the province for the first time since 1993.
Housing Minister John Lohr said the project, jointly funded by the provincial and federal governments, will create 222 new rent-geared-to-income units to serve 522 families, individuals and low-income seniors in Bridgewater, Kentville, Truro, and multiple sites in Cape Breton and Halifax Regional Municipality.
"As we sit here today, two governments are coming together on solutions and a shared commitment to bring more housing to Nova Scotians," Lohr told reporters at a news conference in Halifax.
"While we didn't get here overnight, we're taking the bold action needed to increase housing supply in our province."
$83-million project includes 80 fully accessible units
Building new public housing is not something the Tory government initially favoured as it looked for ways to address the province's housing crisis. But Lohr said the combination of getting federal funding for 80 new fully accessible units and challenges his department was encountering as it tried to renovate old stock, sold him on the province building new.
"My staff pointed out that this was a pretty inefficient way of doing it," he said about renovating existing housing.
"We would tie the unit up for a year. Sometimes there were secondary problems that we would get into — maybe possible asbestos sometimes, or other issues — and we didn't really result in a very good accessible unit."
The buildings will go on provincially-owned land close to existing public housing developments and be operated by the Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency.
The project will cost $83 million over five years, with tenants expected to begin moving in in 2025-26. The province is putting in $58.8 million for the project, while Ottawa is kicking in $24.4 million.
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said affordable housing stock has reached a crisis point across the country. And while affordable housing may be a provincial jurisdiction, Fillmore said tackling the housing crisis will require the help of everyone after successive governments ignored the issue for years.
"We all own a piece of it and we all have our own jurisdictional boundaries we need to observe," he told reporters.
"We are working hard to play within our lines, work with provinces to change some of those lines where we need to, to provide more capital and get more units built."
Opposition MLAs welcomed the news, but pointed to the fact that the need far outstrips what was announced Wednesday.
"We've got a housing crisis in the tri-counties," Liberal Leader Zach Churchill told reporters.
"There's no new builds that have been announced for the tri-counties, nor in the eastern or northern parts of the province. So we do have to see a plan in those other areas to help with the affordable housing waitlist that we have in those areas."
Over 4,900 on public housing waitlists
Provincewide, there are 4,790 people on the non-priority waitlist for public housing and 117 people on the priority waitlist.
NDP housing critic Suzy Hansen said those numbers underscore how much work remains to be done.
"If we split it up between the five areas, we might get 40 units or more," she said of Wednesday's announcement.
"But that doesn't even touch the waitlist, it doesn't even touch the priorities, it does not touch those that are in tents. So, you know, it's really, really good that it's happening. I think we need to expand upon that and continue to do that work."
Kevin Hooper, the social development and partnerships manager with United Way Halifax, said Wednesday's announcement indicates a growing awareness of the disparity between the cost of housing and the incomes of average people.
"We're at a point now where a lot of people just can't afford what the private sector is producing," he said in an interview.
"We need housing that … can achieve a greater degree of affordability and especially rent geared to income."
Hooper said the need for affordable housing in Nova Scotia "is tremendous, and it's growing every day." That's because as the cost of living continues to climb, the wages people are earning are not keeping pace, he said.
"People just aren't making enough money to pay for their housing. They're also not making enough money to pay for their food and all the other essentials of life."
A report released by Food Banks Canada on Tuesday gave Nova Scotia a failing grade for efforts to reduce poverty.
Hooper said the affordability issue will require "multiple interventions" to make improvements.
'We hope this is the first of many'
Michael Kabalen, executive director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia, said Wednesday was a great day for people who have advocated for new government-funded affordable housing and for people in the province who are at risk of homelessness.
"We finally see both the federal and provincial government make a meaningful investment in affordable housing," he said in an interview.
Kabalen called the 222 units "a great start," but said "many, many more" units are needed, given the size of the public housing waitlist.
"As builders of housing we recognize how difficult it would be to make an announcement in one swoop" to deal with the waitlist, he said.
"We hope this is the first of many investments."
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