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'Billions required': No easy fixes for N.S. housing shortage

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A Nova Scotia government committee got an update Tuesday about the ongoing efforts to bring more affordable housing to the province - and just how big a job it actually is.

"We hear about millions (of dollars)," said Michael Kabalen, Executive Director the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia.

"Unfortunately, the challenge is going to require billions." 

At last count, 1068 people in HRM were experiencing homelessness, said Kabalen, noting there are many others in smaller communities that aren't being counted, but he offered other striking statistics.

"765 - that's the number of people who've been in that situation for six months or more. It's a long time. And the reason we track that differently is because, after six months, the outcomes become almost catastrophic. You can resolve your homelessness within six months, you've typically risen out of that and you won't return, but if six months or more go beyond, it is a catastrophe to your life, and it takes a lot more support for that individual."

The Standing Committee on Human Resources was told there are a myriad of reasons for the housing shortfall, including no planning for the current population boom following decades of stagnant or declining population.

Halifax-Armdale MLA Ali Duale a proud immigrant himself, noted he's heard complaints from constituents that the influx of immigrants has made housing unaffordable for everybody.

He also questioned the wisdom of a provincial goal of doubling the province's population.

"What was your role, not you, but your department, for these kinds of visions and these kinds of ideas?” Duale asked Municipal Affairs and Housing Deputy Minister Byron Rafuse.

"Quite frankly, that is a short sighted view of the world," said Rafuse, with nods around the room.

"The government recognizes that immigration is necessary, it's needed. The goal to double the population is not just an aspirational goal, it's a goal to help the province grow. It allows us to provide the services that are needed for the citizens. If you look at healthcare, we need immigration to help deliver the healthcare we need. We need immigrants to actually help build the houses that we need."

Scores of projects are being initiated - or underway - across multiple departments.

The province believes basic economics will lead to solutions.

"'Supply' is the most beneficial way to get at the issue," Rafuse told reporters after the meeting.

"The province has and will intervene into the markets, so we are impacting the supply and demand curves," he said.

"Our recently released Housing Strategy, the analysis included in that demonstrated that the best for us to address this issue is to increase supply," said Rafuse.

But Kabalen argues more is needed.

Supply without subsidy will just continue to keep most rents inaccessible to those that need affordable housing," he said.

CMHC estimates some 40,000 units would need to be built in Canada to bring affordability back to levels seen in the early-2000’s.

Kabalen says most will need government subsidies, because developers building today won't put a shovel in a ground knowing rents will be going down in the future.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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