Written by Jennifer Hille
Since its launch in 2019, the Community Housing Transformation Centre has worked closely with local organizations and experts across Canada to best answer the diverse needs of the community housing sector in order to move towards greater growth and sustainability. As part of that effort, the Centre continues to engage in dialogue around affordable housing in Nova Scotia. At a recent virtual encounter with housing and homelessness sector organizations as well as Nova Scotia Housing, and other government departments such as the Nova Scotia Health Authority, the Centre outlined Community housing benefits and the importance of creating permanent affordable housing.
“How much should society contribute to end homeless?” asks Stéphan Corriveau, Executive Director of the Centre. “In fact, numbers suggest that affordable options are very feasible, as preventing homelessness usually costs less than long-term investment in resources for homeless populations. Providing permanent, affordable housing to homeless and ill-housed people would rapidly turn into a cost-saving step for many public services such as health, child protection services and the police.”
“Many Canadians don’t realize how many people are on the verge of homelessness, being stuck in overpriced, run-down or too small apartments. In Nova Scotia for example, every 4th renter household spends more than 30% of their monthly income on rent. These circumstances are likely to increase their need for social service assistance, an experience that is always painful for the concerned individual and costly for the collectivity. Safe, affordable community housing is a very efficient way to help people transition towards better life conditions and create self-reliance,” says Mr. Corriveau.
Low Vacancy Rates Increase Homelessness Risk for Vulnerable Populations
In January 2020, three staff members of the Centre visited Halifax, Cape Breton, and other rural areas of Nova Scotia. Their trip started in Halifax where the housing market has been rapidly changing due to several factors, including gentrification, growing international student populations, homeowners leaving rural communities, and the transfer of affordable rental units into short-term rentals.
During the visit, consultations took place with about a dozen community housing providers in Halifax. Meeting sector organizations remained a priority in Cape Breton. “Having direct interactions really helps service providers to address specific challenges,” says Aude Morel, Program Manager at the Centre. “As an organization, we need to make sure we also support rural areas who often face invisible homelessness challenges, reminding us of the importance to invest into long-lasting community housing structures.”
Mel Sturk, Director of Organizational Development at Phoenix Youth Programs, an organization that recently received funding from the Centre, also highlights the importance of collaborative housing solutions. “We need to get creative as a province,” says Mel Sturk. “With Halifax’s vacancy rate having dropped to 1% in 2019, we have to look into transformative housing solutions. Now is the time to come together, seek first voice and housing experts’ guidance, and develop innovative models and structures.”
Collaborative Efforts to Ensure Affordable Housing for Everyone
“In order to end homelessness and meet every individual’s right to housing, a unified voice for the community housing sector in Nova Scotia is key”, concludes Stéphan Corriveau. “The Centre’s founding members are among the largest sector organizations around the country and we can see how much communities benefit when organizations find ways to collaborate on social and community housing issues.”
Collaborative structures work best when created for and by the community housing sector. In Nova Scotia and other parts of Canada, community housing organizations have the expertise to establish sustainable housing solutions and ensure that housing stock is made available to serve vulnerable populations.