While appreciative of funding, the former executive director of the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS) says the government still doesn’t seem to have a plan for affordable housing.
“I don’t see a plan. What I see is programs and then non-profits get to scramble to apply for a program…This is my opinion. I just don’t think it’s an efficient way to go…I don’t see anyone saying we need 500 units or 1,000 units or 800,000 or whatever the number is,” Jim Graham told reporters following a federal funding announcement Wednesday morning.
“I don’t see a plan that says ‘This is our target. This is what we want to achieve over this period of time.’ What I see is programs that people can apply for.”
Graham added that he grew up in housing during a time when there were large capital programs with five-year plans.
“We would do one year and we would add a new fifth year and we would do a year, we would add a year. And we always had targets, we had capital budgets that we worked with the province on,” Graham said.
“I don’t really see any of that kind of planning in what we’re doing now. It may be there, but if it’s there, it’d be nice to know what it is.”
Addressing energy poverty
The AHANS development on True North Crescent in Dartmouth is one of several Nova Scotia and New Brunswick projects benefiting from a federal initiative that supports energy efficient affordable housing.
During Wednesday’s announcement at the AHANS office, Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Darren Fisher said federal funds are being used to evaluate energy efficient measures for the construction of 44 new affordable housing units on True North Crescent.
Speaking on behalf of federal Minister of Natural Resources Jonathan Wilkinson, Fisher said several projects in New Brunswick are also benefiting from the funding.
“We have to make sure that the homes that we are getting for folks are resilient to the impacts of our changing climate,” Fisher said.
“The last thing we want to do is have affordable housing that leads to energy poverty for folks. So homes that are more affordable to heat and cool is absolutely needed.”
The federal funds come from the $300 million Sustainable Affordable Housing (SAH) initiative. That endowment was part of a $950 million expansion of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) Green Municipal Fund announced in Budget 2019.
According to a Natural Resources Canada media release, the SAH initiative is designed to help housing providers retrofit existing units for higher energy performance or build new affordable housing to net-zero standards.
In its two years of funding, the SAH initiative approved funding for 122 projects representing more than 24,500 units.
Affordable housing is ‘more than just rent’
Speaking about AHANS’ True North project, Graham said the SAH initiative funding made it possible for them to hire professionals to ensure the constructed units would meet net zero standards.
Graham said the first 12 of the 44 units on True North Crescent will be occupied before summer.
“Affordable housing in this day and age is more than just the rent. It’s just a component. The energy costs are not going anywhere but up, and that strain of those increased costs are felt on (people with) low incomes,” Graham said.
“And so if you are able to provide housing at net zero that’s producing as much energy as the occupants are consuming, that’s got to be the way to go.”
We need to build better
Geoff Stewart, deputy-mayor of Colchester and second vice-president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said aging housing stock, rising energy costs, and increasing demand for affordable housing have created “a considerable challenge” for Canadian communities.
In addition, he said communities must be built in ways that are more resilient to extreme weather and adaptive to climate change.
“We understand this all too well in the Maritimes, having seen the devastation of Hurricane Fiona only a few short months ago,” Stewart said.
“We don’t just need to make housing more affordable. We need to build better. We need to build back better.”
The Nova Scotia and New Brunswick projects benefitting from the SAH funds and announced on Wednesday will support the planning and construction or retrofit of at least 100 housing units in communities in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
List of projects:
Funding announced on Wednesday supports the following plans, studies and pilot projects:
Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia: $144,950 for evaluating energy-efficient measures for a new construction of 44 affordable housing units in Dartmouth.
Bath Non-Profit Housing Inc., Village of Bath, New Brunswick: $20,000 to assess the feasibility of converting an existing abandoned hospital into 20 to 25 sustainable affordable apartments with community space for a rural community.
Belleterre Community Partners Inc. and the City of Miramichi, New Brunswick: $22,400 to assess the energy efficiency of a 12-unit residential development focusing on newly arrived immigrants, seniors, homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless, young adults and women escaping domestic violence. The capital phase of the project has received support from CMHC’s Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI), and the outcomes from this planning grant will guide the organization in accessing additional FCM funding to support climate goals as well.
Project Village Housing Inc., Village of Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick: $25,000 for a planning grant to develop energy-efficient affordable housing units on rural land. The first phase of this housing development will consist of a mix of 12 market and 12 affordable rental units.
Fisher said announcements for other SAH initiative funded projects — including ones in Antigonish and Cape Breton — will be made by other MPs in the near future.