Housing supply

Opinion: Look to Nova Scotia if you want to boost housing supply

Time will tell if Nova Scotia’s bold approach to addressing housing shortages is truly effective or replicable

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Housing is expensive almost everywhere in Canada. Rather than causing the housing market to plummet, as some might have expected, COVID has compounded existing affordability issues. A sudden increase in demand for more square footage certainly didn’t help. But the fundamental problem was and remains that there is not enough housing in Canada. Successive reports, the most recent by CMHC, estimate that Canada is short of millions of homes and without them the country will not regain any semblance of affordability.

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A joint report by the governments of Canada and British Columbia in 2021 and another by Ontario’s Housing Affordability Task Force this year recommended large increases in housing construction to address the problem. . So far, however, the bolder recommendations of both reports have been largely ignored.

But while Ontario and British Columbia are dragging their feet, the Nova Scotia government has gone ahead and passed sweeping changes recommended this year by its own executive committee on housing in the regional municipality of Nova Scotia. ‘Halifax.

The conclusions of the three panels were similar. They all concluded that local land use and planning decisions have become a barrier to building enough housing and that housing approval processes are too slow. Each recommends that the provinces intervene to ensure that the municipalities do not prevent the construction of a sufficient number of housing units. But rather than wait for another staff report or commission, Nova Scotia is taking immediate action.

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Nova Scotia’s Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has the authority to review and approve housing development proposals in nine “special planning areas” within the Halifax Regional Municipality. To date, projects representing more than 22,000 homes must be “ready to start” between this summer and the spring of 2024. In contrast, since 2018, communities across the province have issued building permits for just over 12 000 homes, meaning the provincial government is well on its way to greenlighting many more homes in Halifax just in two years than communities across the province have in five years.

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Some may balk at the idea of ​​a provincially appointed executive committee recommending that a minister replace local councils to push through potentially unpopular housing developments. Fair enough. But it’s important to remember how we got to a situation where the country is running out of millions of homes, with countless young families and newcomers wondering how they will ever be able to climb the housing ladder or even find decent accommodation to rent.

At its core, Canada’s housing shortage reflects the very strong political and fiscal incentives that local governments face to block or delay the construction of new housing. Saying no to new homes or slowing permit approvals creates very clear winners (residents object to more homes and municipalities using development approvals to negotiate higher revenue from fees), but generally unidentifiable losers (anyone who would have moved into these units).

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For their part, however, the provinces face greater pressure to grow the economy while addressing macroeconomic trends such as the erosion of housing affordability in all their communities. Toronto City Council may have no electoral reason to care about the young North Bay graduate seeking a foothold in the GTA job market, but Queen’s Park does. The provincial government represents all Ontarians, not just those who can already afford to live in Toronto. In the recent Ontario election, all major parties pledged to roughly double housing production over the next decade. So there is a mandate to move forward even if the municipalities would prefer not to.

Time will tell if the cogs and bolts of Nova Scotia’s bold approach to addressing housing shortages are truly effective or replicable. The most important lesson from this case, however, is that the best way to ensure enough homes are built to house a growing population and economy is for the provinces to act within their clear authority to get homes approved. . If other governments across Canada want to address housing shortages, they should take a close look at what is happening in Nova Scotia.

Steve Lafleur is a public policy analyst and Josef Filipowicz is an urban policy specialist.

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