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Advocates says province's affordable housing approach isn’t good enough

There are 40,000 NS households that spend 30 percent or more of their income on shelter.

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Advocates say the province is taking the wrong approach in its quest to cut homelessness and make housing more affordable. They suggest making sweeping changes to grow the non-profit housing sector.

Over the next 10 years, Nova Scotia will put close to $400 million of federal and provincial dollars into affordable housing, following the tenets of the Trudeau Liberals' National Housing Strategy.

 In September, the province announced its plan for the first three years of that federal-provincial partnership, which focuses largely on existing programs and the existing supply of public and affordable housing. Out of $88 million, $62 million will go toward repairs to existing housing stock. The supply of social housing will grow by about three percent.

Jim Graham, the director of the non-profit Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS), told MLAs and housing department bureaucrats the plan falls short, squandering an opportunity to add more units and update the housing model.

"Right now we have it wrong," Graham said at a Community Services committee meeting Tuesday. "It's wrong and we need to make it right. And we have an opportunity to make it right and we need to make the most of it."

Graham made a slew of recommendations including introducing a board of directors to Housing Nova Scotia—the government agency responsible for social housing—providing more government support to non-profit housing developers and transitioning from a low-income to a mixed-income public housing model.

Nancy MacLellan, the province's deputy minister of housing and municipal affairs, said she shared in some of Graham's concerns about the ongoing housing crunch, which according to her department, has 40,000 households spending 30 percent or more of their income on shelter.

"There is no question that the system that was evolved over decades isn't serving the current need," said MacLellan.

While Graham took issue with the "status quo" approach in last year's three-year housing strategy, MacLellan said it's a necessary first step, with sights set on growth for the second and third phases of the federal- provincial partnership. "It's a 10-year agreement...What we've recognized is that this first three years has to be focused on stabilizing our existing housing stock and growing the community housing sector to be able to support long-term growth. a

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