Housing advocates say understanding the magnitude of Nova Scotia’s housing crisis is challenging without residential tenancy data, and they’re calling on the province to do its part.
“Transparency is essential for accountability. And if that data is not publicly reported and collected on residential tenancy issues, advocates aren’t able to hold the government to account on the promises that it makes to address these kinds of crises,” Kenya Thompson said in an interview.
“And of course, that’s the case across policy issues. But it is particularly pressing now with the housing crisis.”
Thompson is a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS). She’s one of three authors who wrote an article published by CCPA on Friday titled Filling Gaps in the Nova Scotia Housing Crisis.
It details how a lack of available data makes it difficult to know the true nature of the housing crisis and hides how many families are being renovicted.
“The housing crisis exists, and it’s well within the government’s capacity to recognize the scope of the crisis and address it,” Thompson said.
Shouldn’t fall on non-profits
The authors wrote that despite government echoing calls by housing advocates for data and information about the current crisis, it hasn’t done its part.
“Getting the full scope of the housing crisis across Nova Scotia should not fall on non-profit organizations and service providers. They are working on a problem that the province can address, and can only do so much and only go so far,” Thompson said.
“The social return on investment for addressing the housing crisis is huge and the government is able to meaningfully address it. It is a conscious choice not to.”
Among the non-profit organizations highlighted, the authors pointed to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS). That non-profit organization’s most recent data show that as of July 11, 2023, the number of people actively homeless in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) was 940, up from 625 this time last year.
‘Housing crisis is getting worse’
Dalhousie Legal Aid Service (DLAS) recently began collecting data to better understand the scope of the crisis in HRM. While the data will provide “valuable insights” into the challenges faced by Halifax tenants, Thompson said it can’t reflect the full scope of the housing crisis across the province.
In addition, its data is limited to those who use DLAS services and what its small team is able to provide using its limited non-profit budget. The CCPA-NS article noted rising rents, low vacancy rates, and the increasing cost of living pressures mean residential tenancies issues are becoming “increasingly prevalent.”
While DLAS regularly works on employment support and income assistance as well as residential tenancies issues, at least 91% of all appointments in the last 10 months were related to tenancies.
In addition, more than 70% of households that accessed its drop-in services had a monthly income of less than $2,100. Almost half of the tenants who approached DLAS for information were facing eviction.
“As housing advocates have been saying, the housing crisis is getting worse, with low-income households being pushed out of their homes,” the authors wrote. “More than 30 per cent of households seeking information about residential tenancies had fixed-term leases—which landlords are increasingly using to avoid the current rent cap.”
Calling on Service Nova Scotia to provide data
The authors wrote that Service Nova Scotia — the department responsible for residential tenancies — should be leading the data collection.
“It’s well within Service Nova Scotia’s capacity to report on the number of leases signed and the types of those leases, the number of residential tenancy hearings that take place, and the decisions that result from those hearings, as well as how many folks are evicted from their homes,” Thompson said. “That is all data that service Nova Scotia would collect.”
Thompson said the provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan publicize residential tenancies decisions and publicly report data, and there’s no reason why Nova Scotia couldn’t follow suit.
‘Critical first step’ to addressing the crisis
Although the anecdotal data is real, Thompson said having concrete numbers means the problem is “right in your face” and can’t be ignored in the same way as anecdotal evidence.
“It would provide the opportunity to get a full picture of what the housing crisis looks like. Who needs housing, who’s unhoused, and what are the circumstances leading up to evictions and homelessness, and what can be done to prevent it,” Thompson said.
“It’s a critical first step to recognizing the scope of the crisis and actually meaningfully addressing it.”