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Nova Scotia’s Answer to Affordable Housing

7 May 2013

The NDP party in Nova Scotia has rolled out plans to spend $500 million on affordable housing over the next decade through a variety of measures that will open up housing to residents in the province. The opposing Liberals though say that with few targets mapped out to measure the amount of success the program will see, it’s difficult to gauge just how practical the affordable housing program will be.

It was yesterday that Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse made the announcement regarding affordable housing in Nova Scotia. She said that the new affordable housing measures will include things such as giving graduates a break on their mortgages, reserving some public housing for rent-to-own home programs, and blending affordable homes in with other homes in the different communities around the province. Smaller homes, with smaller price tags attached, will also be built to help relieve some of the pressure and will also put more affordable housing on the marketplace.

In addition, the province also promises to help create a down-payment assistance program, so that new buyers wouldn’t be forced to come up with the 20 per cent all their own. Instead they could borrow some now, and pay it back later – something that may also boost revenues for the province when they start collecting that interest.

“This is an opportunity to work with community and work with their individual needs and build around that,” stated Peterson-Rafuse when she was making the announcement.

The program currently has a six-month goal to establish new home ownership programs, but that’s about the only deadline or measuring tactic that has been put into place so far – and it’s what the Liberals are taking the biggest issue with.

“We have a lot of people who are waiting for housing now,” said Liberal Critic for Community Services and Housing. “There’s not a lot of details today. They make a lot of promises but there’s not a lot of brick and mortars here.”

But Peterson-Rafuse says that the lack of details is because there are so many different regions of the province, and each will require its own framework that’s been adjusted to suit them best.

“What may work here in Halifax is not going to work in Yarmouth or Cape Breton,” she said. “They need to identify their needs and the partnerships they can present from their community, and we will build on that together.”

But that’s not the only problem. The opposition also says that there are no real targets put into place with the plan, so no one will know what they’re striving for, or when they’ve gotten there.

“It would be nice to see how many units would be built every year, how many units of public housing would be rehabilitated and how we will reduce the use of shelter beds on an annual basis,” said Claudia Jahn, the program facilitator for the Affordable Housing of Nova Scotia.

Her concern is that in 2011 alone, 1,900 people in Halifax stayed in a shelter.

But it’s too soon for Peterson-Rafuse to have those.

“You can’t put an exact date on it,” she said during her announcement. “It’s like any development, or if you bought your own home and you’re renovating it, you think we’ll be in the house in six weeks and it’s nine weeks down the road.”

Premier Darrell Dexter also pointed towards the fact that with such a large project, knowing the exact date of finalization or even execution was going to be tough.

“It takes time to develop individual proposals, to get the details and programs out to people and to develop partnerships,” he said when Peterson-Rafuse made the announcement. “That is why we developed a 10 year strategy, to make sure it develops long term.”

And as for those target numbers? Peterson-Rafuse says that you can’t know those until you’ve actually sat down with a community.

“You can’t have a target if you aren’t at that point in the strategy to be able to come together with that community,” she says.

Unfortunately, she wants to wait for communities to approach the government, instead of the government finding out where the areas are that need affordable housing most.

And some say that this waiting on those communities is just going to take too long.

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