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Cape Breton housing vacancy rate hits historic low


The population in Sydney, N.S., has gone up for the first time in decades, but the number of places to live has gone down.

The housing vacancy rate for 2023 in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) was 0.8 per cent, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

It’s among the lowest vacancy rates for any municipality in Nova Scotia. It’s also down from 1.5 per cent in 2022, and an average of five per cent when the population was in decline.

"We're seeing strong demand tied to immigration in Cape Breton, but at the same time not enough rental construction is taking place if we were to compare it to other jurisdictions like Halifax,” said Kelvin Ndoro, senior analyst for CMHC.

Despite that recent growth, Liberal MLA Derek Mombourquette is among those who feels the CBRM is often overlooked by levels of government when it comes to housing help.

"We have the second-largest population by far, and the argument that I've always made is that with our community it has to be treated as such,” Mombourquette said.

CBRM councillor Eldon MacDonald says while there are some larger-scale proposals with potential, a lot of them are at least three-to-five years away from being move-in ready.

He noted with students, homeless people, and seniors needing housing now, there is also a need for some quicker builds.

"Looking at the projects that are being proposed for here, we have about, I'm going to say, 1,500 units that are looking to be built,” MacDonald said. "You can build a duplex or a quad-plex fairly quickly, while it may take three years to get an eight-storey building up before it's occupied."

Cape Breton University has promised to create more housing following criticism of foreign student recruitment.

Sahilpreet Singh Chatha, president of the students' union, said students still need better options.

"In Sydney right now, it (finding housing) is a bit easier than the same time last year," he said. "(Students need) housing that is accessible to bus stops and services nearby. Students do want affordable housing."

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced more than $13 million for the CBRM and Membertou under the Housing Accelerator Fund.

CMHC says while that may help remove barriers for developers, it may still be a while before it results in new housing for those who need it.

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