One day after Halifax Regional Municipality’s deadline for the removal of crisis shelters from parks, mayor Mike Savage announced a plan to add at least 43 new affordable homes to the city in the next year—thanks to $13 million from a federal program. He used Wednesday’s affordable housing event to address the shelter situation, too.
“We said July 13 was the timeline at which we’d like to have people moving out, but we’re not going to do what some places have done which is forcibly remove people right away,” Savage said following this morning’s announcement at City Hall.
Halifax Mutual Aid, the organization that helped construct the shelters, expressed major concern about potential police involvement in shelter removal, considering the mass eviction at Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park. On June 22, police and bylaw officers forced about 25 people to leave temporary homes and shelters in the downtown park and arrested at least three people.
“It’s in nobody’s interest to take an approach to this that would make the situation worse,” Savage said.
HRM issued a statement June 6 that it will remove shelters, and personal items within them, from city parks on or shortly after June 13. At the time the municipality said it’s optimistic those living there will leave willingly.
“There has to be better options for the people who are precariously housed.”
—Halifax mayor Mike Savage
Ahead of Wednesday's deadline, HRM removed three shelters it deemed vacant. Halifax Mutual Aid, the organization behind the temporary shelters, said at least two of them were occupied. The city issued a statement Friday evening that said its July 13 deadline was not a commitment to refrain from removing shelters until Wednesday, instead “it was a notification that the shelters must be vacated by occupants and removed by those who installed them no later than July 13.”
When asked this morning if the city will leave the remaining occupied shelters, Savage said, “our intent is to work with people and find solutions.”
“Parks and public spaces belong to everybody, so I don’t see this as a long-term solution. There has to be better options for the people who are precariously housed.”
The mayor said the need for crisis shelters in Halifax highlights the importance of today’s announcement, which will see the federal government footing the $13 million bill through a second round of its $500 million Rapid Housing Initiative.
During the first round of this federal program, Halifax was given $8.7 million to build 28 affordable housing units. The city ended up creating 52 affordable units with the funds. The mayor said he hopes the city will once again stretch its dollars to create more housing than expected.
“Our hope is we can build significantly more than 43 or 44, and if that’s the case it’ll be really helpful,” Savage said.
Through this program, the city will have 60 days to submit projects for approval, and then one year to complete the build. HRM defines affordability in its Rapid Housing Initiative as: “affordable to targeted people and populations who are vulnerable and who are also, or otherwise would be, in severe housing need or people at high risk of homelessness.”
Savage was joined at City Hall on Wednesday morning by Halifax MP Andy Fillmore and Ahmed Hussen, federal minister of families, children and social development and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, to announce the affordable housing plan. Fillmore is not just Halifax’s MP, he’s also one of the city’s landlords. Fillmore didn’t make himself available for questions at the event, and when asked in an email about monthly rental income from his Kane Street property, the MP did not respond.