N.S. to maintain rent cap, create 1,100 more affordable housing units

The Nova Scotia Government has unveiled what it is calling a comprehensive masterplan to address the ongoing housing crisis in the province, including maintaining the two per cent rent increase cap while it creates more affordable housing.

The Tim Houston-led PC government, says the rent cap, which is currently tied to the provincial state of emergency, will remain in place until Dec. 31, 2023, while more supply is being built.

The province will also spend nearly $35 million to support over 1,100 new affordable housing units throughout Nova Scotia and make 425 new rent supplements available immediately.

"We want people to have a place to live that is safe and affordable," Premier Tim Houston said in a release.

"We are moving forward with several initiatives that will see Nova Scotians have access to affordable housing. We know we need to do more, and we are."

Another part of the strategy involves reintroducing the planning task force to focus on faster planning and development approvals for large residential projects in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The chair will be appointed by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and membership will come from the province and the municipality.

It will focus on analyzing and approving large residential developments in the Halifax area.

PROPOSED RENT CAP

The proposed rent cap will protect tenants once the province's COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted and limit residential rent increases to two per cent per year until Dec. 31, 2023.

Former Liberal premier Stephen McNeil set a two per cent cap on rent increases in November 2020. The cap was retroactive to September of that year and was set to expire in February of next year or when the COVID-19 state of emergency in the province is lifted.

Despite what amounts to an extension of the cap, Houston, who opposes rent control, continued to maintain that it's not the long-term solution to the housing crisis.

"The only answer is more supply to meet the market demands," he said. "In the short term we must extend the rent cap. It simply must remain until the supply issue can start to be addressed."

Houston understands that the decision will not be popular with landlords, but says its the best decision for the province.

"I do feel for those that are negatively impacted, but for the benefit of the province, these are the steps that we feel are necessary today," Houston said.

Whether the two-year extension will see enough housing stock created is an open question, but Houston said he believes progress can be made.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill called the inclusion of the two-year rent cap "a victory" for tenants, community organizations and housing advocates who fought hard to keep the measure.

"The majority of Canadians live in jurisdictions where they would have protection and people have looked to their government and said we need that protection too," he said.

He called it an important start to addressing the many challenges involved in solving what is a complex problem.

1,100 AFFORDABLE UNITS

The strategy to create more affordable housing units will be a combination of new construction projects, as well a repurposing provincially owned properties.

Staff will work with community groups, municipalities and others to get projects underway on provincially owned lands as quickly as possible.

Specific details will be made available once agreements have been finalized with partners.

ADDRESSING HOMELESSNESS

The province is spending $10.1 million to help those experiencing homelessness over two years by providing wrap-around supports and more additional funding.

Spending includes:

  • $4.2 million to various organizations across the province to maintain emergency shelter investments created during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • $1.6 million for the Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre for Diamond Bailey House, an Indigenous supportive housing initiative in Halifax. An additional $76,000 will be provided in the first year for start-up costs
  • $1.3 million for emergency, short-term hotel stays and 24/7 wrap-around supports for individuals temporarily living in hotels
  • $931,000 to support people transitioning out of correctional facilities. This includes funding for the John Howard Society and the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia
  • $713,000 annually to Shelter Nova Scotia to stabilize operations
  • $630,000 to Adsum for Women and Children to launch a Diverting Families program in East Preston and to pilot the program for Nova Scotians living in Shelburne, Yarmouth and Digby. The Diverting Families program will work directly with families who are in crisis due to homelessness or impending homelessness.

MORE STUDENT HOUSING

Another strategy to relieve the housing shortage is to focus on increasing student housing.

As a result, the province plans to build new residences at three NSCC campuses and create a provincewide student housing strategy. 

MASTER TRANSPORTATION PLAN

Nova Scotia will also create a regional transportation group, which will include engineers and planners from the municipality and the province, to create a master transportation plan for HRM as the city continues to grow.

The group will review roads, ferries and public transit so that the transportation system is set up for rapid residential growth in the coming years.

RESIDENTIAL TENANCIES ACT

The province is introducing new rules to protect tenants against renovation evictions, based on recommendations proposed by the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission.

The measures include:

  • tenants will be given a minimum of three months notice before they can be evicted due to renovations
  • mutual agreements to terminate a lease between tenants and landlords must be in writing
  • if a tenant does not agree to terminate the tenancy, landlords must make an application under the province’s residential tenancies program for an eviction order
  • landlords must give the tenant between one and three months rent as compensation for the eviction
  • landlord violations of the new protections can lead to additional compensation for tenants such as covering moving expenses or paying the difference between the tenant’s new unit and the rent paid for their former unit, for up to one year.

Other tenant protections in the bill include:

  • rental increase notices can only contain one amount, regardless of whether the tenant decides to renew their tenancy as a month-to-month or yearly lease
  • landlords cannot charge different rental rates for different lease terms
  • a streamlined security deposit claim process so it is easier for tenants to get back their security deposits
  • landlords must provide a 24-hour written notice to enter tenants’ units unless the tenant gives permission or there is an emergency.

Changes providing clarity around processes for landlords include:

  • flexible effective dates for rental increase notices that are no longer tied to an anniversary date; such notices are still limited to once a year
  • when a tenant’s dispute of a rental eviction notice is dismissed, an eviction order can be issued.

Amendments on protections against renovation evictions will come into effect upon Royal Assent. Other amendments will take effect at a later date.

-With files from The Canadian Press.