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New rules coming for tenants paying fixed rent in Nova Scotia's public housing units

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HALIFAX -

Nova Scotia is changing the rules for those who pay a fixed amount of rent for public housing, a move the government says is aimed at achieving fairness and consistency.

Housing Minister John Lohr made the announcement Thursday, saying that over the next four years, 1,445 public housing tenants -- about 13 per cent of the total -- will start paying rent based on their household income, which means they could be paying more or less than they are now.

Lohr said the other 87 per cent of tenants already pay rent geared to their income, a model used by public housing agencies across the country. These tenants pay no more than 30 per cent of their household income on rent, which is considered affordable by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Pamela Menchenton, director of client services at the Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency, said fixed-rent leases are a holdover from previous programs that date back 30 years. The fixed rents range from $400 to $680 month.

"There's no good rhyme or reason to it," Menchenton told a news conference. "These are legacy rent models that have been put in place because we inherited some programs from the federal government .... As well, we used fixed rates to fill vacancies (in the 1990s)."

Nova Scotia's 17,500 public housing tenants -- about 70 per cent of which are seniors -- currently earn an average of $22,000 annually. But the authority is aware of tenants in 15 to 20 public housing units earning more than $100,000 a year.

"We're trying to level the playing field for everyone who is in our housing," said Menchenton, adding that there are about 7,300 people on the public housing waiting list.

"We have people in the same community, maybe the same building or the same floor, who are paying five per cent of their income, whereas most of our tenants would be paying 30 per cent. We want a fair approach."

About 75 per cent of fixed-rent tenants will see their monthly rent increase by an average of $96 after four years of phased-in increases, and the remaining tenants will see their rents decrease, she said.

Government officials confirmed the province is expected to collect an additional $400,000 in rent, but that amount will be offset by the additional $3 million spent on covering heating expenses for those who move to the rent-geared-to-income system -- a standard feature of that model.

The changes will be phased in starting Nov. 13.

"We know that this will be an adjustment for tenants," Lohr said in a statement. "We are taking significant steps to build more public housing and modernize the public housing program to respond to our changing economic landscape and the diverse needs of our growing population."

Tenants with higher incomes will see their rent increase by five per cent a year for the first three years. In the fourth year, their rent will increase to meet the rent cap, which is 30 per cent of gross income for single people and 25 per cent for families.

People receiving income assistance will not see a change in their rent model. They will continue to pay rental rates based on the number of dependants in their household.

As well, the Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency is introducing new lease rules that will require all tenants to report their household income every year to remain eligible for public housing.

The changes are based on recommendations made in a 2022 report by the province's auditor general, who found that lease policies were outdated and the eligibility review process was inconsistent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 20, 2024.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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