Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia ponders affordable housing

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

A newly released report and recommendations from the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission endorse a role for private sector rental options, and call for both financial incentives and regulatory supports to help upgrade existing buildings and deliver new housing supply. The 17-member Commission was appointed in late November at the same time the provincial government imposed a 2 per cent cap on rent increases retroactive to September 2020 along with a moratorium on evictions for renovation purposes.

After consulting widely and drawing on thousands of submissions, the report sets out an action plan to address housing need and forge more effective partnerships to achieve that outcome. That includes calls to: restructure the management of the provincial public housing portfolio; incorporate more market-rent units to bolster the economic viability of affordable housing projects; and create opportunities to convert surplus provincial and municipal properties for housing uses.

“Government housing organizations in other parts of Canada and the world have adapted and transformed to meet the needs of those they serve, and we have to do the same,” notes Eiryn Devereaux, Nova Scotia’s deputy minister of Infrastructure and Housing and the commission’s co-chair.

Of interest to private sector landlords and developers, the commission recommends: establishing a loan fund for repair and renewal of affordable market housing; reviewing regulatory barriers to new housing supply; and exploring tax credits and fee reductions for the production of new affordable housing. It also proposes giving municipalities the authority to invoke inclusionary zoning “in combination with appropriate incentives to avoid any additional costs to the development” and sketches out a number of potential actions related to renter protections.

The latter would entail extending the current rent increase cap and eviction prohibition to the earlier of either the lifting of the provincial state of emergency or February 1, 2022. Other suggested measures include:

  • In collaboration with municipalities, tenants, landlords, and other stakeholders, explore opportunities to support eviction prevention, provide temporary assistance to low-income households facing evictions due to planned renovations, improve access to legal aid services, and consider developing retention plans to prevent the loss of long-term renters that are at risk of being priced out of their neighbourhood.
  • Review the Residential Tenancies Act to examine opportunities to improve renter protection and strengthen landlord-tenant relations. This should include options to minimize the impact of evictions due to renovation on tenants and improve the overall efficiency of the application process and the administration of the program.
  • Work with other government bodies, such as the Human Rights Commission, to address concerns related to discrimination, especially during renter application processes.

“The pandemic has exacerbated Nova Scotia’s affordable housing crisis. Strong, decisive and immediate action from our government is needed,” asserts commission co-chair, Ren Thomas, an associate professor at the Dalhousie University School of Planning. “There is no magic solution, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. The one silver bullet is our ability to work well with each other, and, as partners, we can chart a new course to meet today’s demand and plan for tomorrow.”

The Nova Scotia government is now considering the commission’s report.

“It is clear that affordable housing is a priority for Nova Scotians and it will continue to be a priority for government,” maintains Geoff MacLellan, the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing. “These recommendations will help us make evidence-based decisions about how to move forward.”

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