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Advocates say Nova Scotia budget neglects affordable housing crisis

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HALIFAX -

The Nova Scotia budget presented this week neglects people struggling with affordability and those on the edge of experiencing homelessness, housing advocates say.

The government's budget, tabled Thursday, allocates $21.6 million to offer 1,000 more people rent subsidies, and $8.2 million to emergency and overnight shelters. But there is no new money for public housing.

Michael Kabalen, with Affordable Housing Nova Scotia, said in an interview Friday that rent supplements are a valuable "stopgap" but that the province is in dire need of new affordable housing options.

"It's needed," Kabalen said of the province's housing-related investments announced in the budget, "but it doesn't house people who are experiencing homelessness or those who need affordable housing today."

Kabalen said his group was aware of 884 people experiencing chronic homelessness in the Halifax area -- a figure he said has tripled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hannah Wood, the Halifax chair of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, said in an interview Friday that government support for public housing is "the biggest core need to be filled."

"So I think (government) missed a real opportunity to at least start the major investment that's needed to build back up our reserves of affordable housing," she said. "We haven't had a major investment in affordable housing construction since the early 1990s."

The province's capital plan released last week included $21 million toward repairs to its existing public housing, with no money earmarked to build more.

For the second consecutive year, the centrepiece of the Progressive Conservative's budget is health care. The $14.4-billion budget allocates $750 million more for health care compared with the prior fiscal year. Health-related investment is expected to reach $6.5 billion in 2023-24 -- accounting for about 45 per cent of total spending.

Kabalen said he understands the province is focused on improving the health-care system, but it should recognize that Nova Scotians are more likely to be in good health if they have housing.

"We know that the social determinants of health say that when you lose your housing, you're more likely to experience significant health deterioration," Kabalen said.

"We're focusing on building hospitals and incentivizing nurses, and that's very important. But the hope would be that we take a holistic approach to health care and also make investments in housing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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