Advertisement

'It's profound': Housing strategy for African Nova Scotian families nearing completion

Curtis Whiley is one of the community leaders helping develop the needs assessment and strategy report. (Shaina Luck/CBC - image credit)
Curtis Whiley is one of the community leaders helping develop the needs assessment and strategy report. (Shaina Luck/CBC - image credit)

A community-led effort to find solutions to the housing crunch faced by Black families in Nova Scotia is almost finished, in what's believed to be a first for the province.

"It's always been an issue within the Black community," said Sunday Miller, the property consultant for Akoma Holdings, one of the organizations on a steering committee that's been working for nearly two years to develop the housing needs assessment and strategy.

She sees the report, which was developed with government funding, as deeply significant.

"I think the unfortunate circumstance is that, those who had their own homes, there's been so many of them who've had them taken away," Miller said.

She points to events like the demolition of Africville and the way some Black families were denied clear title to their land as examples of how many Black Nova Scotians were unable to use real estate as a foundation to build up wealth.

Last fall, Akoma opened an eight-unit affordable housing development to help address the problem. Miller said choosing the successful applicants was difficult.

"Some were living in hotels, and that's because there was no more room left in the shelters," she said. "Others [were] living in shelters and maybe have their children with them."

Miller said she's looking forward to the report being released soon.

Sunday Miller is with Akoma Holdings Inc. She is looking forward to the release of the African Nova Scotian housing needs assessment and strategy.
Sunday Miller is with Akoma Holdings Inc. She is looking forward to the release of the African Nova Scotian housing needs assessment and strategy.

Sunday Miller, the property consultant for Akoma Holdings, is looking forward to the report being released. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

"It helps us understand what we need to work on," she said. "It's about time to listen to the community."

Work on the strategy included 19 consultations over the summer of 2023, where 164 people gave input at meetings around the province.

Curtis Whiley facilitated the meeting in Upper Hammonds Plains, a suburb of Halifax.

"People shared their experiences with not being able to even gain secure rental housing, even outside of our community," he said.

Some people want to live where they grew up but can't find an affordable rental, he said. As well, he said homes are being built but they are out of the price range of many first-time home buyers.

"You don't see as many of those smaller, modest type housing units available, especially in our communities," he said.

Michelle Simmons holds the keys to her new home in Dartmouth, N.S.
Michelle Simmons holds the keys to her new home in Dartmouth, N.S.

Michelle Simmons holds the keys to her new home in Dartmouth, N.S., last fall. Simmons was one of the successful applicants for Akoma's eight-unit affordable housing development. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

This forces people to move anywhere they can afford, scattering the historically Black community — which is why he's hopeful about the upcoming strategy.

"It's profound," Whiley said. "We haven't had a race-driven housing study, I don't think, ever conducted that's this comprehensive."

Last fall, Nova Scotia released a five-year housing strategy for the province as a whole. It aims to stimulate the construction of more than 41,000 units over that time.

Akoma hired a Toronto-based consulting company to research and write the African Nova Scotian housing needs assessment and strategy.

SHS Consulting has experience creating housing strategies for different jurisdictions in Canada, such as the region of Peel and Richmond Hill in Ontario, the Alberta Social Housing Corporation and the City of Moncton.

The company researched and analyzed census data to understand things like what housing is available to Black families in their communities and to account for gaps between incomes, household sizes and household types.

Emphasis on community land trusts

Adrienne Pacini, a partner at SHS and part of the team recording the information brought forward in the consultation sessions, said the report will include an emphasis on ideas like community land trusts, which is a co-operative type of land ownership where land is used for goals that are determined by a group.

"We tried to organize all of our many, many ideas into some big and bold moves," she said. "Many of those moves are very entrepreneurial in nature."

Other ideas in the report include protecting real estate from market speculation, and increasing the stock of housing operated by the non-profit sector.

Pacini's firm has done housing reports for governments, but this is the first one driven by people in the community. She said that makes it "very special," with a different character from government-driven reports.

Adrienne Pacini is a partner with SHS Consulting, the company responsible for researching and writing the report on housing for the African Nova Scotian community.
Adrienne Pacini is a partner with SHS Consulting, the company responsible for researching and writing the report on housing for the African Nova Scotian community.

Adrienne Pacini is a partner with SHS Consulting, the company responsible for researching and writing the report. (Morgan Hotston/Courtesy Adrienne Pacini and SHS Consulting)

"I think it's going to be really reflective of what the community is actually looking for, and hopefully energizing to them to be able to take on some of these new ideas and ventures themselves," she said.

"And we just are going to need the government to actually help fund those great ideas."

Funding for the housing strategy included a $139,000 grant from the provincial government, which it gave to Akoma in 2022.

In an email, the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation told CBC News it is "working closely" on housing solutions for people in Nova Scotia, including the African Nova Scotian community, but it did not want to release any details on that work yet.

The housing needs assessment and strategy is expected to be released in April.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

MORE TOP STORIES