Letter to the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission
Dear Members of the Commission,
We are writing to you today on behalf of United Way Halifax to express our grave concerns regarding the current state and trajectory of housing insecurity in Halifax, as well as our wholehearted support for the work of the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission and the opportunity it represents.
As you know, United Way Halifax has worked with the Province of Nova Scotia, Halifax Regional Municipality and several community stakeholders on issues of housing insecurity through serving as a partner and secretariat for the Housing and Homelessness Partnership (HHP) for over six years. In this time, the HHP has developed strong working relationships and made significant positive impacts through our collective efforts. A few specific examples include: implementing HRM’s first Housing First Initiative; hosting an annual housing symposium aimed at increasing the capacity of the non-profit housing sector across the province; collaboratively supporting an extreme weather response in HRM; and influencing policy decisions including the creation of the Province’s portable rent supplements and the approval of backyard suites within HRM. For this progress and more, we are grateful. However, in many respects, the HHP’s successes have been limited in comparison to the overall scope of need.
At almost every turn we face systemic challenges and inequities (i.e., insufficient incomes, speculative real-estate dynamics, restrictive land-use by-laws, social stigma, etc.) which undermine our shared efforts and reproduce negative outcomes. As of 2016, the percentage of Halifax households in a state of Core Housing Need stood at 13.7%, (about 22,000 households). Since that time, rental costs in HRM have increased by more than 3% annually, while the vacancy rates have plummeted to historic lows. Our emergency shelters have been chronically full for years, our housing support workers struggle with caseloads in the hundreds, and the number of individuals registered on the city’s By Name List has more than tripled since April 2019. In brief, we have been swimming upstream for years and the current just keeps getting stronger.
To be absolutely clear, we are in the midst of a systemic housing crisis rooted in inadequate incomes, an underregulated real-estate market, insufficient social spending, and socioeconomic marginalization. Barring substantial targeted investments in housing and strategic reforms to public policy, the future for Nova Scotians will be more of the same.
Encouragingly, through his first weeks in office Premier Rankin and his government have made some significant, initial commitments to addressing the issues at hand, but there is so much more to do.
To ensure that all Nova Scotians have safe and secure places to call home, and to give this province the opportunity for a more just and prosperous future, we must:
- Address issues of immediate housing need by:
- Extending the emergency Rent Cap legislation until a healthier housing supply is made available
- Enabling “Preserve or Replace” legislation for all existing affordable housing stock in critical markets
- Establishing temporary, affordable housing opportunities in underused existing infrastructure (i.e., hotel, commercial, office) while new, long-term housing stock is developed.
- Establish long-term stability in the housing market by:
- Allowing municipalities, the right to enact Inclusionary Zoning ordinances
- Addressing the disproportionate effects of housing insecurity on marginalized populations through targeted investment strategies
- Supporting community housing sector capacity building in the areas of property development and management
- Expanding and/or developing capital funding programs for small-scale, community oriented affordable housing construction/retrofitting
- Limiting the inflationary influences of real-estate speculation/investments by prioritizing the interests of full-time residents and primary residences
- Addressing the income gap through adequate increases in minimum wage and income assistance
In addition to the community consultation process initiated by the Commission in recent months, there is an abundance of research and recent work nationally, provincially, and locally that we ask you consider as inputs into the work of the Housing Commission’s final recommendations. These include, but not are not limited to, CMHC’s Rental Market Report (January, 2021), and the Halifax Poverty Solutions Community Report (2018); an initiative co-led by United Way Halifax and HRM in collaboration with of hundreds community stakeholders including individuals with lived experience, which provides recommendations for action related to housing, income, education, and more.
There is an unprecedented momentum and interest from so many individuals and organizations to find solutions, and we all want to contribute as productive to solving affordable and attainable housing issues. Relatedly, as always, United Way Halifax will continue to do everything we can to support our community partners, funded agencies, and the individuals and families in need throughout HRM.
However, the scope of Halifax’s housing crisis cannot be adequately addressed within the limitations of the existing system in which we play one of many parts. To achieve the equitable and sustainable improvements we all want requires a bold plan, a commitment to action, and determined government leadership. One bold plan, in which we can all rally behind.
As such, we respectfully ask for your government’s whole-hearted contribution in resolving these challenges for Halifax and Nova Scotia overall, and we look forward to working with you in a meaningful way toward these ends.
Craig Thompson – Chair, United Way Halifax Board of Directors
Sara Napier – President & CEO, United Way Halifax