The PC government’s proposed reorganization of provincial housing organizations flies in the face of the primary recommendation from the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission.

That commission, comprising government, nonprofit, and industry, made 17 recommendations in its Spring 2021 report, “Charting a new course for affordable housing in Nova Scotia.”

As the Halifax Examiner reported at the time, the commission “recommended the creation of a new arm’s length provincial housing entity:”

It’s the commission’s first recommendation and referenced in several others. Housing Nova Scotia (HNS), the provincial agency responsible for delivering public housing, rent supplements, and funding for new affordable housing, is not currently independent from government.

“There was broad consensus from stakeholders across sectors that a new governance structure with an inclusive independent board of directors is a necessary condition for the provincial housing organization to focus on action and delivery, and set it up for greater success to advance the other recommendations,” the commission wrote.

“Currently, HNS is not structured to enable the recommendations we put forward. An arm’s length, independent entity is critical to meeting the challenges outlined in this Call to Action — a strong, stable governance board represented by key stakeholder groups, higher risk tolerance with improved risk management capacity and able to strengthen key partnerships, is essential going forward.”

That recommendation was meant to be completed in fiscal 2021-2022. In its final progress report in August 2022, the commission listed the item as half “Committed/Complete” and half “Initiated/Underway.”

“Implementation plan and legislative framework are being developed for new governance model. An interim CEO has been appointed,” the commission wrote.

“A consulting firm has been engaged. Work is expected to be completed in stages over the coming years.”

In July, the government awarded a contract for “Housing Governance Transformation Priority Work for Housing Nova Scotia” to Davis Pier Consulting.

New legislation brings housing further in-house

Last Thursday, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr introduced the Housing Supply and Services Act.

In a news release, the government said the Act “will modernize the structure and oversight of provincial housing programs, increase accountability and create a new Crown corporation responsible for public housing in Nova Scotia.”

It amalgamates the five regional housing authorities — the Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority, Cape Breton Island Housing Authority, Cobequid Housing Authority, Eastern Mainland Housing Authority, and Western Regional Housing Authority — into one Crown corporation, the Nova Scotia Provincial Housing Agency.

Public housing in Nova Scotia was the subject of an auditor general’s report in June 2022 that found governance and oversight “severely lacking.”

“Frankly, we owe it to tenants, and all Nova Scotians, to manage our properties efficiently and effectively. Bringing public housing together under one roof will provide a dedicated focus, more consistency in policies and procedures, and improve client services across the province,” Lohr said in the release.

The new agency will, according to the Act: “maintain, manage and operate safe and suitable subsidized housing accommodations for low-income households in the Province;” “attain acceptable levels of tenant service;” “manage applications and tenancies for subsidized housing;” and “deliver in whole or in part, on behalf of the Minister, such programs undertaken by the Minister as the Minister may direct.”

Housing Nova Scotia will disappear altogether, and according to the release, “all non-public housing programs and functions will transfer from Housing Nova Scotia to the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing.”

The word “independent” does not appear in the new legislation.

The Examiner asked the Department of Municipal Affairs whether the new legislation is an interim step toward the creation of a new, independent housing agency, or whether the government is rejecting that recommendation.

“Government has considered the recommendations of both the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission and the Auditor General’s report and recommendations on public housing with this legislation,” spokesperson Heather Fairbairn wrote in response.

“It will modernize the structure and oversight of provincial housing programs and address accountability.”

Fairbairn said the consultant will “help support the implementation of the new governance structure for housing.”

“That process is not yet complete. They did not provide recommendations on the legislation,” Fairbairn wrote.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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