Nova Scotia government touts land-for-housing plan as way to reduce shortages

·3 min read

NEW MINAS, N.S. — Nova Scotia's government is providing some of its surplus land in an Annapolis Valley village to help defray the cost of building 24 co-operative housing units.

The Progressive Conservative government is touting the project proposed for an empty lot in New Minas, N.S., as the latest evidence of how the allocation of 37 surplus provincial sites for housing will make a dent in the chronic shortages.

A coalition of non-profit groups known as the Valley Roots Housing Association says it will build units of one, two and three bedrooms for a variety of incomes.

The coalition says it expects that rents will be a maximum of 80 per cent of the rent of comparable units in the private market.

It says the project will be set amid green space, use passive solar energy and include two units accessible to people with disabilities.

Project consultant Earl Mielke says the province's donation will make the project viable, adding that purchasing the land would have cost about $1 million.

He says the next step will be to seek assistance through federal and provincial programs that provide subsidies to non-profit groups that develop housing.

Mielke estimates that the project would require about $7 million in capital, with the final cost dependent on the price of construction materials once it gets underway next year. He said the housing co-operative would be a mix of "some people paying full rent, and some getting a little help."

The provincial donation of land is conditional of the project including affordable units.

Premier Tim Houston has argued that the best way to reduce the widespread shortages of affordable housing is to take a wide approach to increasing the supply across all income levels.

However, NDP Leader Claudia Chender has argued that the province needs to be moving more quickly to address housing shortages and resume building some public housing on its own. She said the announcement on Wednesday was a step in the right direction, as the province should leverage all the resources it has to create housing.

However, she said rents capped at 80 per cent of the market rate will only help a portion of low-income Nova Scotians in need of housing.

"Eighty per cent of a market rate of $1,200 (per month) for a two-bedroom is still hard for a lot of people in this province, particularly working families and people who aren't making great wages," she said in an interview.

"Any development like this is a good thing, but it's only a drop in the bucket of what's actually needed."

John Lohr, the minister of municipal affairs and housing, said in an interview Wednesday that the province boasts one of the highest densities of public housing per capita in the country, with 11,200 public housing units.

He said the priority is to "do a better job of looking after the public housing we have," noting that the province plans to spend $50 million in the next four years to upgrade its public housing stock.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 10, 2023.

The Canadian Press