1. Bria’s story

A Book About Bria cover

“Three years ago, when he was just seven years old, Braxton Dort started making voice recordings with the help of his mother Kara,” writes Joan Baxter:

He wanted to tell people about his little sister, Bria, who has a rare genetic disorder called TANGO2.

A year later, Braxton decided to turn his sister’s story into “A Book About Bria” to raise funds for research into TANGO2.

He took the book to craft fairs and local markets around New Glasgow, where the Dort family lives, and would sometimes sit at those for seven hours, selling and signing a few books, for which he charged $20 apiece.

So far, Braxton has raised about $2,000 for the TANGO2 Research Foundation.

But raising money for research into TANGO2 wasn’t the only reason Braxton wrote the book.

Baxter goes on to relate how a Nova Scotia family discovered and now is dealing with an extremely rare genetic disease. It’s a moving story.

Click here to read “Bria’s story.”

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2. Black community reacts to white minister

“In the days following the Nova Scotia provincial election last month, where the Progressive Conservatives (PCs) won a majority government but failed to elect any Black MLAs, the Halifax Examiner was the first to pose the question: Who will be the next minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs?” reports Matthew Byard:

On Tuesday, that question was answered when Pat Dunn, PC MLA for Pictou Centre, who is white, was announced as the new minister for both African Nova Scotian Affairs and the brand-new Office of Equity and Anti-Racism Initiatives. Dunn replaces Liberal MLA for Cole Harbour, Tony Ince, who is Black.

Negative online reaction among many Black/African Nova Scotians was swift, as well as among many white and non-Black Nova Scotians.

Percy Paris, former minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs. Photo: Percy Paris / Facebook.

Byard surveys the reactions, and interviews Percy Paris, the province’s first minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs:

“I had thought that we had gone beyond the paternalistic attitude of whites when it came to the African Nova Scotian community … that whites are best suited to look after the needs of the African Nova Scotian community more so than we ourselves,” said Paris.

“When we see steps like this, it harkens back to the days of slavery when the white community didn’t do things with the African Nova Scotian Community, but for,” continued Paris. “How can a white individual adequately understand the predicament and situations and all that goes with being Black in the province of Nova Scotia when, indeed, white males have long been a large part of the problem?

“One of the problems with the appointment is that this is 2021. And with all that we’ve gone through in recent years, and certainly in my lifetime, and with the awareness that has been created through television and internet and social media … and by the Black Lives Matter movement, we’ve watched people being murdered — Black individuals being murdered on TV — I would have thought by now, in 2021, with that awareness, that there would be some understanding. But obviously, when I see things like this being done, that second step which is the understanding part, hasn’t reached its full potential yet.

Click here to read “Black community reacts to the appointment of a white Minister of African Nova Scotian Affairs.”

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3. Portable housing subsidies

Pier Labs research associate Lynn Liao is the lead investigator of the Project HALO (Housing Assistance and Life Outcomes) research study. Photo: Contributed

“Researchers looking at how housing assistance impacts people’s housing experiences and quality of life are seeking participants for a study they hope will help inform future policy,” reports Yvette d’Entremont:

The research associate with Pier Labs is the lead investigator of the Project HALO (Housing Assistance and Life Outcomes) research study. Besides learning more about how housing assistance impacts people’s housing experiences and quality of life, they also want to gain insight into how those impacts differ depending on the kind of housing assistance received.

“We’re looking at quality of life in a really broad sense, measuring things like financial well-being, social well-being, your health, your mental health, so a more well-rounded idea of quality of life and how receiving this housing assistance really impacts that,” Liao said in an interview.

“There’s a lot of literature out there looking at if you’re living in a neighbourhood that you would prefer to be in, maybe you’re close to friends, family, and that could have a lot of impact on your well-being versus you having to maybe live in a unit that’s far away from everybody you know, and you feel really isolated.”

Researchers are looking at public housing, which they categorize under ‘place-based’ housing assistance (non-portable). This is where people have little to no choice about where they’re living and take what’s offered and available.

The second type of assistance they’re examining is what they refer to as a portable, tenant-based subsidy. In this instance, the money goes directly to the head of a household rather than a landlord. The relatively new Canada Housing Benefit (CNSTHB in this province, but each province has its own acronym) is supported by provincial and federal governments.

“In theory, you should be able to take this money and use it to help pay rent, you can take it from place to place so you can move if you want, you can apply it to rent anywhere theoretically in Nova Scotia, as long as you find something that suits your needs in the neighbourhood you want and within the the amount that makes sense for you,” Liao explained.

Click here to read “Study to look at ‘portable’ housing subsidies.”

On the surface, giving more opportunity for people to move around and find the best choices for their living situation is a positive thing.

But also, portable subsidies provide an end-run around the bureaucracies and agencies providing public and subsidized housing. And my guess is that’s what’s driving this: it’s yet another way to put a private profit component into housing, in effect privatizing government housing assistance programs. It’s just another way to enrich landlords.

And this comes at another expense. As public housing assistance is increasingly privatized, there is a decreasing amount of truly public, non-market housing (coops, social housing, etc.). And it’s that non-market housing that provides a check on ever-growing rental costs in market housing.

What’s needed is lots more non-market housing, not less. But the continued decimation of the existing non-market housing stock will be wrapped in nice phrases about “choice” and “mobility,” making it sound like a touchy-feely initiative. Indeed, it probably will improve the lives of some small number of people, but only at the cost of making many more lives that much more difficult.

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4. Housing

John Lohr. Photo: YouTube

I’m always curious as to how politicians understand the world.

Last year, I asked then-premier Stephen McNeil what he thought explained the steep rise in housing costs, and he said that it’s because the economy is booming and more people are moving to Nova Scotia.

I found that an odd response: if the economy keeps booming, we’ll all be too poor to live anywhere. Obviously, the state of the economy means nothing if we don’t talk about the distribution of wealth and rates of inequality. That McNeil did not even have a conceptual notion of inequality spoke volumes.

There was a similar moment of unclarity at the press conference after yesterday’s cabinet meeting, when Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr was asked about housing costs (I’m sorry I don’t know who each reporter is, although I do identify myself):

Reporter: Minister, renters are getting notices that as soon as the temporary rent control measures expire, that their rent is going to increase. And in some cases, you know, I’ve seen that rent is going to increase by 100%. Given that, you know, your party is not interested in keeping rent control, I’m just wondering what can be done for these individuals. I know that the plan is to build more houses, but that’s not going to happen by February to help these people out.

Lohr: So, yes, as minister, I’m very concerned about what is happening. We’re watching it very, very closely. And I do appreciate the full page ad that the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia put in the paper the Herald this morning. And we’re very interested in watching what’s happening very closely.

Reporter: What can be done?

Lohr: We are at this moment, I am looking into what can be done, but I can’t comment further.

Reporter: Minister, are you yourself a landlord?

Lohr: So I have a three-unit house and another house in Annapolis Valley that both are owned in conjunction with family members. So I’ve been a landlord most of my of my adult life. And at the moment, I have requested a meeting with [privacy conflicts commissioner] Judge Joseph Kennedy. And we’ll follow whatever instructions I’m given in terms of if there are conflict of interests there. I think it helps me understand both sides of it. I think I’ve always tried to be — I think a landlord has a responsibility to tenants. I’ve always operated that way to provide good service.

Reporter: Do you think it’s a conflict of interest?

Lohr: I guess I’m not sure. That’s why I’ve asked to meet with Judge Kennedy.

Reporter: What do you think of other landlords raising rents by as much as 100%?

Lohr: I’m a little bit disappointed about that. Yes, I’m not happy with that. That does bother me personally. And I’m disappointed with that.

Bousquet: Given the ad this morning and the premier’s comments in the past, do you think that people who invest in property should be guaranteed some sort of return on their investment, that people who open restaurants or invest in the stock market aren’t guaranteed?

Lohr: So what we’ve said about that now, I think any business has risks even being a landlord. I mean, we’re in a kind of an unusual time right now. I mean, clearly, there’s much, much work to do, there’s a lot in hand to do. But I think even being a landlord has some risks involved. Not every landlord, not every situation works out. I don’t think anybody is guaranteed a living. So, could you rephrase the question?

Bousquet: Well, the premier said that he’s been contacted by people who have lost their investment, and he sees that as a problem. I’m asking you, should any investment be guaranteed by the government?

Lohr: I’m not aware of who the premier’s been contacted by. I haven’t heard that.

Bousquet: To follow up, the Halifax city council has written a letter asking for immediate help and outlined some things they want from the province. Have you received that letter or are you responding to it?

Lohr: I’ve had a good conversation with Mayor Savage this morning about the situation in the HRM. I’m very concerned about it. But no, I haven’t received that directly. A letter.

Reporter: Councillors seem to feel it’s the province’s fault. What do you what do you think?

Lohr: I mean, what I can say is eight years ago, there wasn’t a tent city in Halifax. So it’s easy for me at this moment to say that the past provincial government had housing in three different departments in six years. And I will say, though, that in my life, when I’ve dealt with difficult issues, I’ve always come to the conclusion that the question is not what did I do wrong, but what do I do now? I think that’s a more constructive question than blaming. So I think that’s the question that I want to answer. What do I do now? And I think I want to answer that in partnership with HRM.

Reporter: You made a point in this platform about wanting to attract more people to Nova Scotia, and that’s very important to our economy. And a corollary to that is all those people have to live somewhere. So, I mean, what sort of priority do you think your department should get going forward? Given that that’s part of the plan?

Lohr: Well, our our main platform focus was health care. That’s clearly our number one priority. The premier has said to me that the number two priority right now is this file. We realize that there’s a huge need for more people in our economy. There’s a lot of we hear about restaurants that are open five days a week because they can’t fill the employment situation seven days a week. So we know that we’re going to need more people. So solving the housing crisis right now is sort of part of that.

Reporter: Given that your response to, you know, once rent control expires, you said you don’t know what you can do yet to help those individuals. This is going to happen in February, if not sooner. And I’m just wondering if you don’t have a solution yet, why are you and the premier ruling out extending rent control?

Lohr: Well, the Affordable Housing Commission report indicated that rent control is not a solution, and we know that from other jurisdictions in the long run basis. Well, it is in place right now.

Reporter: The temporary ban expires in February, and both you and the premier have said it won’t be extended. But if you don’t have another solution in the short term, why not? Why rule out extending it?

Lohr: Well, we’re keeping our options open. We’re looking at what possible solutions are. I am looking at that. We’re considering. I’m very concerned about what I think are egregious increases in rent. And we’re looking at all our options.

Reporter: Can you speak as to whether your rents increased over the years in the buildings [you own]?

Lohr: Oh, that’s a good question. I was never actively involved in that part of it, so I really can’t say. But no, not much.

Reporter: So I just wanted to clarify. So come February, could run control be extended on a temporary basis?

Lohr: The premier has said that we are not going to extend rent control.

Reporter: So then you’re not open to all options?

Lohr: We’re not open to that option.

I asked about the investment angle because I’m annoyed by landlords who complain about every damn thing. They hate their customers, they say they don’t make any money, and yet they stay in the business for some reason.

You know, a lot of people dump their life savings into restaurants, and a lot of those restaurants fail, leaving the owner in bankruptcy. But compared to landlords, restaurant owners are an uncomplaining lot; they seem to understand that opening a business entails some risk.

People end up on the tail end of investments all the time. But for some reason, landlords think they should have a guaranteed profit. Who do they think they are — Nova Scotia Power?

Also, eight years ago there may not have been a tent city on the lawn of the library, but I can assure you, there were people living in tents. They were in the greenway under the Macdonald Bridge, in Point Pleasant Park, in the rail cut… basically, all over. Just because you didn’t see them doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

Although to be sure, the situation has gotten much worse, reflecting the huge and increasing financialization of the housing market. I’ll devote reporting to this, but Houston’s (and by default, Lohr’s) line that this is simply a market issue is absurd.

No one is stopping anyone from building in Halifax. Most projects are built “as a right,” meaning city council doesn’t vote on them, and in any event, nearly all the projects that have come before council in recent years (because they exceed the as-a-right limits) have been approved — I can’t think of even five projects rejected in the past five years.

Yes, developers complain about red tape. Developers have been complaining about red tape for as long as I’ve been a reporter, but over those 30-plus years, I’ve never encountered a bureaucracy that was more development-friendly than the one currently installed in City Hall.

I find it a strange notion that “the market” will solve this problem, as if the market didn’t bring us here in the first place. I guess like any benevolent god, the market can never fail, it can only be failed.

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5. Sunshine list

“Halifax Regional Municipality has released its 2021 sunshine list, showing 1,065 employees made more than $100,000 in the last fiscal year, and more than 40% of them work for the police force,” reports Zane Woodford:

The list shows employees’ salaries and “other benefits,” along with their total compensation. Those other benefits include payments like overtime, severance, lump-sum vacation payouts, and vehicle allowances. They do not include the value of pensions or health benefits.

The business unit with the highest number of employees on the list is Halifax Regional Police, with 454, or about 43%. With 804.4 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in the police budget, that means 56% of police employees are paid more than $100,000.

Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency employees make up the next highest number of employees making more than $100,000, with 370 employees on the list. Sixty-nine percent of HRFE employees made $100,000 or more in 2020-2021, based on their approved FTE count of 536.5.

Click here to read “Halifax releases 2021 sunshine list: Of more than 1,000 employees making more than $100,000, 454 are police.”

Former councillor Jackie Barkhouse is responsible for getting the city’s Sunshine list published. Provincial crown corporations do the same.

The province, however, publishes the salary of every full-time government employee, and even of part-timers making at least $25,000. (You can find those here.) This is as it should be — we have every right to know where our money is going.

As an aside, we should get past the “privacy” hang-up. Norway simply posts everyone’s tax return on the internet, so anyone can know how much anyone else is making every year, and the sky doesn’t fall. And what’s good for the goose is good for the gander — I publish the Halifax Examiner’s tax return and tell you how much I’m paid because you should know where your subscription money is going.

I don’t begrudge people getting paid well, but one benefit of publishing salaries is that we can gain insight into what’s valued and what’s not in our society. And boy howdy, do we value cops. Beyond that, as @NennBR points out on Twitter, the city’s sunshine list is overwhelmingly, nearly exclusively, male, demonstrating that what we value is significantly gendered.

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6. COVID-19

Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash

Five new cases of COVID-19 were announced in Nova Scotia yesterday. There is still no one in hospital with the disease.

Yesterday, Premier Tim Houston said he will remain firm with the goal of 75% of the entire population receiving two doses of vaccine before Phase 5 of the reopening plan can begin. That suggests that should the pace of vaccinations trail off, Phase 5 might be delayed past the previously anticipated Sept. 15 dates.

Houston didn’t state the day, but said he believed there is a COVID briefing scheduled with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang next week. The school year starts Tuesday.

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1. The far Eastern Shore

Photo: Stephen Archibald

Stephen Archibald went a-travelling.

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No meetings

On campus

No events

In the harbour

05:30: NYK Romulus, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Hamburg, Germany
06:45: ZIM Shekou, container ship, arrives at Pier 42 from Valencia, Spain
07:30: FS Aquitaine, French Navy frigate, arrives at Dockyard from sea
15:00: NYK Romulus sails for sea
15:00: Atlantic Sea, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Norfolk
16:30: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails from Fairview Cove for Saint-Pierre
17:30: ZIM Shekou sails for New York

Cape Breton
03:30: Corona, bulker, moves from Aulds Cove quarry to Pirates Cove anchorage
03:30: Niagara Spirit, barge, and Tim McKeil, tug, moves from Mulgrave to Aulds Cove quarry
11:00: Rt Hon Paul E Martin, bulker, arrives at Point Tupper from Puerto Bolivar, Colombia
14:00: CSL Tacoma, bulker, sails from Coal Pier (Sydney) for sea
18:00: Siem Pilot, offshore supply vessel, arrives at Berth TBD from Halifax, en route to Botwood, Newfoundland


Long weekend ahead. I’m going to sleep.

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Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. If we spent as much $ on non market housing as we do on road twinning, I’d imagine this would be a non-issue.

  2. The people of Nova Scotia, in their infinite wisdom, have elected a “Progressive” Conservation government.

    God help us all…..especially the unhoused.

  3. Thank you, Tim, for the article about Housing and the questions asked of Mr Lohr. Please keep up this work and continue to ask about interim solutions until you (and we) get an actual answer. Is it possible to link this article to the Priced Out homepage? I think it belongs there because those of us who rent – and may soon be priced out – should get to know the politicians who hold our fate in their hands. Your article provides needed context that is missing from other mainstream articles.

    1. Re: “reflecting the huge and increasing financialization of the housing market. I’ll devote reporting to this, but Houston’s (and by default, Lohr’s) line that this is simply a market issue is absurd.”

      So looking forward to your reporting on the increasing financialization of the housing market. Hope there are some good data sources about this and about its effect on Halifax. Meanwhile, is there data on the number of units currently being held empty because rents are too high for the “market”, because of the “gaming of the market” (thank you Jagmeet Singh!), or because they are in buildings that developers are waiting to tear down given “planning” changes which allow bigger buildings?

  4. if you look at housing starts in Halifax, the number is pretty close to the same every year – around 3500 units, going back to 2015. I think that’s Industry Capacity, since there is a pipeline of approved projects that haven’t started construction yet.

    its great to say the market will figure it out, but by my read, the market is already building as much as it can.

    1. Housing start numbers game is confusing. The housing commission (or whatever it’s called) cited a report from Turner Drake showing housing construction in HRM dropped sharply after 2013 – from about 3,400 units in 2013 to less than 2000 in 2014, 2015 and never exceeding the 2700 recorded in 2020. At the same time, number of households grew by 500 in 2013 to 2,500 in 2016 and over 4,000 in 2019 and 2020. The commission also noted “The main shortcoming…is the fact that Nova Scotia’s non-market housing supply has been stagnant for decades.” So market failure combined with stagnation in the mechanism established to deal with market failure, combined with a much-celebrated but unanticipated population surge. Perfect storm.

      1. A great summary Richard. From our report, 2013 was an outlier year because a few major projects came to market at once, notable the Maple in downtown with 300+ units there alone. There was a bit of a lull after that, in part because at that time new construction was actually outpacing population so we had an increasing vacancy rate and longer lease-ups. Then a confluence of factors all basically hitting us in 2016 spiked population growth and the rest is history.

        Another challenge is the type of housing we’ve been constructing is more multi-unit, concrete buildings which have longer construction times compared to wood frame houses. So there is a longer lag in between units starts and completions these days and things have been slow to respond to increasing demand. Suburban development has picked back up in the last few years, and that has helped the overall level of housing construction get back up to the higher end of our historical range.

        I agree that currently industry capacity is a big bottleneck, but I wouldn’t take Tim’s approach and conclude that the regulatory side is totally functioning well. The conclusion that virtually no projects are denied approval and therefore there are no obstacles, has some blind-spots. Projects that aren’t likely to be approved will generally be abandoned long before any public process is engaged, so there is some survivorship bias there. Additionally, it’s hard to judge what the recent regulatory changes are doing on the ground; most of the stuff under construction these days are still legacy approvals from before the Centre Plan. As those run out, we might be coming into a bit of a hiccup. As I understand it, some procedural issues HRM did not foresee mean that many project applications that have been in the works for months/years under Package A of the Centre Plan will have to be completely reset and start over again upon adoption of Package B. This could create some upstream gaps in the project pipeline that we won’t see on the ground for some time. That is, unless industry capacity continues to limit production which would back it all up anyway.

        The suburban areas are also something of a concern in the medium term. The projects underway now are largely spoken for, but new growth areas like Port Wallace (and the HWY 102 lands which are even further behind in project development) still have long lead times before any new housing will come from them. I’m not sure what is left in Brunello Estates, but Bedford West is basically all sold out (lots and houses sold, but not all built out yet).

        Housing development is a long process and requires years of work that is largely invisible before we ever see shovels in the ground. It’s hard to fully gauge the state of thing just by counting cranes or permit approvals.

        Having said all that, even if the market was working absolutely perfectly, there is still an enormous need for non-market housing across a variety of cost structures, and the sooner the Province gets to work on that the better. We’ve been seeing the need for that for like 5 years now, and it is ridiculous that our public sector with all its power and capacity, still relies on under staffed and barely funded non-profit groups to be leading the charge on that. It’s outrageous how impotent we are in this regard.

  5. Re: Halifax’s sunshine list’s overall Maleness, do we know from any reported stats from the city what their employment ratio in genders is? Kinda wondering if it reflects that a large proportion of the people under the cutoff are the female employees of the city.

  6. I’ve heard it said that one reason that communism failed is that if the government is in charge of everything from where you live, to where you work, to how many blue jeans get manufactured, everyone knows who to blame. Now the government is effectively in charge of housing prices for a lot of people.

    I have a decent job, but I’m still priced out of home ownership – which is not something I even personally want, but the stability of a relatively locked-in mortgage (interest rates aside) that will likely be inflated away anyway, is appealing these days. I can’t imagine how people who are facing homelessness feel.