Affordable Housing Part II: Just Like BC?

In a December 2021 article about the difficulties facing non-profit groups trying to develop affordable housing, the CBC’s Elizabeth McMillan spoke to Pauline MacIntosh of the St FX Extension Department who had spent nine months “gathering feedback through the Build Together project, a partnership with a national non-profit based in Montreal, the Community Housing Transformation Centre.”

MacIntosh produced a “roadmap” for “supporting the mobilization, empowerment, and sustainability of Nova Scotia’s community housing sector” which called for the creation of a body to be called the Nova Scotia Community Housing Association or NSCHA that MacIntosh told MacMillan would be like a similar association in British Columbia, where “people facing similar hurdles compare experiences, share resources and learn from one another.”

The proposed NSCHA’s responsibilities were to include “promoting” Build Together “values and beliefs,” “advocating” for desired changes, convening meetings and “reaching out to community housing organizations,” which seems to be basically the role played by the almost 30-year-old British Columbia Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA).

This May, though, rather than establishing the NSCHA, the Nova Scotia government announced it would invest $2.5 million (over two years) into something called the “Community Housing Growth Fund” to be overseen by the same Montreal-based Community Housing Transformation Centre that helped MacIntosh draft her roadmap.

That $2.5 million has to do some heavy affordable-housing lifting. It will be doled out to successful applicants for:

  • capacity building
  • planning and pre-development
  • research and innovation

But some of it will also be used for the:

  • creation of a new Provincial Non-Profit Housing Association.

And in addition to funding the creation of this new association with a mandate to “stabilize, transform and grow the sector,” that initial $2.5 million must also “support” the new association’s operations and program delivery “for at least two years.”

Let’s talk for a moment about how unlike British Columbia this is.


BC Housing

First, as noted above, BC’s non-profit housing association has existed since 1994 and that’s probably because, as the Housing for All Working Group of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives noted in its 2021 report, BC was one of the few Canadian provinces to have picked up the ball on affordable housing after the federal government left the field during the “neoliberal retrenchment” of the early ’90s:

British Columbia has continued to invest in new rent-geared-to-income housing units, introduced legislation allowing for inclusionary zoning, invested in single-room occupancies and expanding eligibility for rent-geared to income units.

BC Housing is the crown corporation responsible for affordable housing in the province and if you want to copy BC, why not start by stealing BC Housing’s definition of “affordable”? I looked up the corporation’s most recent Request for Proposals (which closed in January 2021) and here is what it said about the mix of rents required of a housing project it agrees to fund:

Unit Mix, rents, BC Housing RFP 2021

Unit mix, rent, BC Housing RFP, 2021

Note that 70% of units are geared to income rather than average market rents. Elsewhere, the RFP says successful proponents must enter into a 60-year operating agreement with BC Housing “for the management of all residential units within the development.” Nowhere does it say the requirement to maintain rents at affordable levels expires.

Contrast that with the application form on the Nova Scotia Housing site which, under “Depth of Affordability” invites the applicant to discuss:

…the percentage of Average Market Rent the developer intends to charge on affordable units.

And offers the following helpful tip:

The minimum depth of affordability is 80 percent of average market rent for this program, but applicants are strongly encouraged to offer deeper discounts where possible. Deeper discounts mean your units can help a wider range of Nova Scotians in need of affordable housing.

Under “number and mix of units” the applicant must offer a:

Detailed breakdown of market units and affordable units, including different depths of affordability if applicable.

The tip is:

To achieve both economic and social outcomes, proponents should strongly consider a mix of market and affordability. If possible, consider offering at least 10% of the units at deeply affordable rents for households most in need.

And finally, the applicant is invited to share the “term of affordability” they’re proposing:

Discussion on proposed length of time the units will remain affordable at the depth of affordability identified above, including an indication of how those units will be migrated back to market rent units.

The tips is:

The minimum term of affordability is 15 years but projects that exceed the minimum will receive a scoring premium and potentially additional funding where available.

There’s something about seeing it spelled out that really drives home how inadequate the Nova Scotia government’s approach is—10% of units at 80% of market value rents for 15 years? Why do we set our sights so low?


Not like the other

It’s not really fair to compare BC Housing with Nova Scotia Housing, they’re different beasts entirely—BC Housing is a crown corporation whereas Nova Scotia Housing is a government agency—but I can’t resist because I’m me and the difference between the “About” sections on their websites is too striking to ignore.

Founded in 1967, BC Housing:

…develops, manages and administers a wide range of subsidized housing options across the province. We also license residential builders, administer owner builder authorizations and carry out research and education that benefits the residential construction industry, consumers and the affordable housing sector.

Housing Nova Scotia, on the other hand, focuses largely on its role administering the province’s stock of public housing (all built before the feds, literally, left the building in the ’90s) while also working to “ensure a range of programs, services and homes are available to Nova Scotians.”

Then it throws to a video of people on the Halifax waterfront looking into the camera and explaining what “home” means to them:

Which must be nice viewing for someone who is visiting the website because THEY DON’T HAVE A HOME.

I am aware that British Columbia has its own affordable housing shortage and maybe I’ve just been dazzled by the website and the budget (BC’s Community Housing Fund, established in 2018, will provide almost $1.9 billion over 10 years to develop “14,350 units of mixed income, affordable rental housing for independent families and seniors.”)

But I return to the Housing for All Working Group report that singles BC out for special mention, and I have to think a province that has stayed in the affordable housing game has a better chance of dealing with a housing crisis than does Nova Scotia, which failed to show “similar provincial leadership and investment in affordable housing” after the feds withdrew.

And as the report notes, even with “the federal government’s renewed commitment to affordable housing through the National Housing Strategy and the initiatives like the Co-investment Fund and the Rapid Housing Initiative,” the Nova Scotia Action Plan “is modest and doesn’t compensate for years of disinvestment.”


Gender parity

I’m adding this last bit here because I don’t know what else to do with it, but I feel it’s worth mentioning.

Another interesting aspect of BC Housing is that its board is made up almost entirely of women: of its eight members, seven (including the chair) are women. Its management team is a different story, but it’s not totally out of whack in terms of gender parity either—it includes three women and four men.

I mention this because in researching this week’s articles, I went through two years’ worth of Communications Nova Scotia emails about affordable housing and I couldn’t help but notice that while the government representative making the announcements was usually either Chuck Porter or John Lohr (that would be the Ministers of Municipal Affairs and Housing under the Liberals and the Tories, respectively) the people representing the various housing projects were overwhelmingly women.

This is unscientific and far from exhaustive, but here are the non-profit sector men quoted in the emails:

  1. Russ Sanche, Executive Director, Portal Youth Outreach Association
  2. Timothy Crooks, Executive Director, Phoenix Youth Programs; Board President, Canadian Housing and Renewal Association
  3. Nick Russell, Executive Director, Dartmouth Non-Profit Housing Society
  4. Stephan Corriveau, Executive Director, Community Housing Transformation Centre

And here are the women:

  1. Erika Shea, CEO, New Dawn Enterprises Ltd.
  2. Karen Brodeur, Regional Manager Atlantic for the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada
  3. Dianne Kelderman, President and CEO, Nova Scotia Cooperative Council
  4. Danita Rooyakkers, Co-owner, Breton Apartments
  5. Miia Suokonautio, Executive Director, YWCA Halifax
  6. Krista Beeler, Administrator, Dykeland Lodge
  7. Marie-France LeBlanc, Executive Director, North End Community Health Centre
  8. Pam Glode-Desrochers, Executive Director, Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre
  9. Donna Williamson, Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia
  10. Lisa Deyoung, Manager, Viola’s Place
  11. Lisa Ryan, Executive Director, South Shore Open Doors Association
  12. Angie Degaust, Executive Director, Pictou County Roots for Youth

The CCPA Housing for All Working Group acknowledged the input of many organizations and individuals but when I counted them, I discovered that 21 of those individuals (including lead author Catherine Leviten-Reid) were women compared to 12 men.

And yet, the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission, according to its website, consists of 12 men and seven women (a situation, I might add, that could easily be redressed by dropping the four representatives of developers and “investment property owners,” all of whom are men.)

  • Ren Thomas (co-chair), Assistant Professor, Dalhousie School of Planning
  • Karen Brodeur, Cooperative Housing Federation of Canada
  • Kelly Denty, Halifax Regional Municipality
  • Michelle MacFarlane, Service Nova Scotia and Internal Services
  • Joy Knight, Department of Community Services
  • Veronica Marsman, Property Manager, Akoma Holdings
  • Marie Walsh, CBRM CAO
  • Paul LaFleche (co-chair), NS Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
  • Chief Sidney Peters, Tawaak Housing Association
  • Fred Deveaux, Cape Breton Community Housing Association
  • Jim Graham, Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia
  • Mike Dolter, Association of Municipal Administrators Nova Scotia
  • Jeremy Jackson, Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia
  • Alex Halef, BANC Group
  • Wadih Fares, WM Fares Group
  • Gordon Laing, Southwest Properties
  • Eiryn Devereaux, Deputy Minister, NS Dept of Infrastructure and Housing
  • Chris Collett, NS Correctional Services
  • Frazer Egerton, Special Advisor, NS Dept of Health and Wellness

The Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, as noted, is a man, as is the deputy minister, Paul LaFleche.

Premier Tim Houston’s five-person task force charged with fast-tracking residential development in the Halifax region is headed by a man, former Liberal minister Geoff MacLellan, and includes three other men—Paul Lafleche, Stephen MacIsaac and Peter Duncan—and one woman, Kelly Denty.

This is not a subject I’ve explored sufficiently to date and although I have thoughts, they are pretty half-baked at the moment and not ready to be committed to print. So I’m just going to leave it here for now.