Mayor Mike Savage wants council to consider giving money to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, but one councillor doesn’t think that goal is attainable.
Savage brought a motion to council on Tuesday seeking a staff report “looking at options for providing municipal financial support to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) for their 2023 Conference taking place in Halifax November 8-10, 2023.”
“It’s a big conference. It was in Toronto last year,” Savage said. “They hadn’t asked prior for money, that I’m aware of. They’re now requesting money. They have a shortfall.”
Savage said the organization has requested $50,000, and the money would “help make the event as inclusive and accessible as possible for delegates that include front-line workers in the homeless serving-sector who often have limited budgets for professional development.
“Funding from HRM would also go directly towards providing bursaries and discounts for local indigenous and African Nova Scotian delegates and organizations,” Savage wrote in the reasoning for the motion.
Councillor says some people want to be homeless
Lower Sackville Coun. Paul Russell said he’d looked at the CAEH website, and he had concerns.
“Two of the big causes of homelessness are mental health and addictions. And I didn’t see in the conference site, how it would address those,” Russell said.
“And this conference, and many other strategies seem to assume that an individual does not want to be homeless. We know that a number of individuals do, and I’m wondering if the conference will have a path to recognize and work with those individuals who are okay with being homeless, who want to be homeless, as opposed to just saying here’s how to end homelessness.”
Russell doesn’t think that’s possible “because at the end of the day, ending homelessness is not going to happen.”
“We can do things to manage it. We can work with it, but it will not end,” Russell said.
Savage said he’s sure the conference will address mental health and addictions.
“But they also recognize what we’ve seen in Halifax, is we now have a lot of people who don’t have mental health and addiction issues who are homeless because they can’t afford a place to live,” Savage said.
Deputy Mayor Sam Austin took Russell to task for his comments.
“I think the idea that people want to be homeless is a very, very, very small number of people out there that are choosing, like that this is what they how they want to live their lives,” Austin said.
“The vast majority of people, and this comes from the lived experience piece that we’ve had, when they’re choosing to be outside — and right now it’s not a choice because there’s no space available anywhere — it’s because the options available are so terrible, that for their own autonomy, this is the better option, is to go live outside.”
Despite Russell’s stated concerns, Savage’s motion for a staff report passed unanimously.
Another look at Halifax Water fees for non-profits
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Austin moved for a staff report “on options to eliminate the Halifax Water permitting costs on non-profit affordable housing developments.” That report should look into offsetting the costs with a grant program, and legislative amendments to allow the utility to waive the fees.
Council agreed years ago to waive its building permit fees for non-profit housing. But Halifax Water fees, which are now more than $4,000 per unit in a multi-unit building, can’t be waived.
The Utility and Review Board considered the issue, and ruled that the utility must charge the fees.
HRM has had the option to offset the fees with its own grant programs for years.
Chief administrative officer Cathie O’Toole told councillors that option was doable. The legislative change isn’t going to happen, she said.
Austin’s motion for a staff report passed.
New tax proposed to discourage premature demolition
Coun. Waye Mason brought a motion to Tuesday’s meeting proposing a new tax on vacant lots.
Mason asked for a staff report “regarding disallowed demolition under normal circumstances until a building permit has been issued, and the establishment of an empty lot tax.”
There have been several cases in Mason’s Peninsula South district, particularly on Robie Street, where developers have levelled buildings and left the lots empty.
That takes housing off the market without replacing it. Mason proposed new rules where developers wouldn’t be issued demolition permits until they have building permit. In the meantime, he argued they should pay a steep tax on the vacant lot.
The new rules would apply only to areas of HRM with water service, and he said it shouldn’t apply to new subdivisions or greenfield sites. The motion passed.