HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's Progressive Conservative government is joining with Ottawa to fund 222 public housing units as the province battles an ongoing shortage of affordable homes.
Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr and Halifax MP Andy Fillmore said Wednesday during a news conference the new units will house 522 people, including families, individuals and low-income seniors, on provincially owned land in Halifax, Cape Breton, Bridgewater, Kentville and Truro.
"There's housing needs in all these communities and wait lists in all these communities," Lohr said.
The need is urgent, with a waiting list for public housing that is close to 5,000 people, and tent encampments in Halifax parks providing a visible reminder of the shortage of affordable rental units.
The minister said the province is planning to begin construction next spring, with the goal of housing the first residents by 2025-26 and completing construction over the next five years.
The province will cover $58.8 million of the $83-million cost, with Ottawa providing the remaining $24.4 million for the energy-efficient housing.
It's a significant shift for the province, where successive governments have avoided construction of public housing, while the existing stock has deteriorated or wasn't upgraded to accommodate older residents and people with disabilities.
Lohr said over the past year, his own views "softened" towards building new units, as he started to hear staff reports of the problems — such as removing asbestos — that emerged when his department contemplated renovating older units.
The minister said it made sense to partner with Ottawa in a shift toward new construction of80 accessible units, and cabinet then decided to add further provincial investment to build the total of 222 units.
Fillmore said that the funding under a bilateral agreement is a sign that Ottawa is trying to shift back into its traditional role of promoting affordable housing.
"Those decades of underinvestment have caught up with us, and that's nowhere more evident than in Canada's stock of affordable housing, which has now reached a crisis here at home and across the country," the Liberal MP said.
The province said in a news release that the housing will have rents set to incomes and will be operated by the Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency.
Suzy Hansen, an NDP member of the legislature, welcomed the announcement but added it will only start to deal with a long-standing problem that has deepened as the province's population grew.
"It's a drop in the bucket when you think of the numbers. When you split it up between five areas ... it hardly touches the wait list (for public housing)," she said after the announcement.
Lohr said his department is also beginning work on several pilot projects to create mixed-income housing on provincial lands, though figures and details weren't available on Wednesday.
He described the refurbishment effort as potentially resembling the Regent Park urban redevelopment in east-end Toronto.
He also said the province will consider selling off some existing public housing that is no longer suitable for low-income residents because of issues such as their remote location.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2023.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press