1. How to solve the housing crisis

Apartment buildings under construction on Clyde Street in Halifax in June 2021. The new construction dwarfs an older building, which is itself only a couple of decades old. In the foreground you can see a bright blue cherry picker crane, and a yello tube through which trash drops into a dumpster. In front of the nearest building is a chain link fence, covered with multi coloured banners extolling the virtues of the construction company, the investors, and the future luxury accomodations. The banners are already worn and filthy.
Apartment buildings under construction on Clyde Street in Halifax in June 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Jill Grant, whose career has been devoted to studying housing issues, has written a clear, easy to understand, and insightful explanation for how we got into the current housing crisis, and how we can get out of it. If you care at all about this issue — and how can you not? — please read this article: “10 reasons affordable housing is hard to deliver.”

There’s lots in there, but there’s one particular aspect I want to highlight here — one of Grant’s 10 points. Writes Grant:

CMHC suggested in a 2022 report that building more market housing — at any price point — would ‘restore affordability’ as older units ‘filter down’ to other households. Filtering theory has been dismissed by housing scholars since the 1970s as evidence showed its ineffectiveness. 

This is exactly the argument we’re not having in Nova Scotia right now.

In so far as it has any ideology and isn’t just using its power to enrich big development housing corporations like Clayton Developments, the provincial government is working on the premise that “more housing means more affordable housing.” Both Premier Tim Houston and Housing Minister John Lohr have said this explicitly, many times: building even high-end homes increases the housing stock, so ultimately there will be more affordable housing at the lower end of the market.

And if you don’t consider how the real world actually works, this makes intuitive sense. We’ve been taught the rules of supply-and-demand since we were toddlers and, as Ursula Le Guin noted, the rules of the market have been engrained in us as deeply as the divine right of kings was engrained in the Medieval world — an immutable, unquestionable, unchallengeable truth.

In theory, “filtering” works like this: developers build where the most profit is, which is in high-end housing for people willing to pay a premium for luxury accommodations. Those wealthy people therefore move out of their still luxurious but not quite as luxurious houses to occupy the new housing, leaving the second-tier houses empty. With all those second-tier houses empty, the price of them goes down (supply and demand!), and so people living in third-tier housing buy them up, leaving their houses empty, and on down the line until buddy sleeping in a tent in Victoria Park can suddenly afford an apartment.

As appealing as that scenario is — and it is appealing; there’s a beauty to the mathematical simplicity of more houses = less expensive housing — that’s not how the real world works.

Grant links to a paper from 1979 by researchers Martin Boddy and Fred Gray, two British academics who summarized the literature around filtering and surveyed how it actually affected housing markets. You can read the entire paper here.

Boddy and Gray showed that the arguments in favour of “filtering” date back at least as far as the Depression, and as we know, it’s still being argued today.

The authors wrote that filtering comes from an ideological perspective, directly to combat public housing initiatives:

It is no accident, given the basis of filtering theory in laisser-faire economics, that it is in the USA that the concept of filtering has been most firmly and overtly incorporated into housing policy. The development of direct intervention through public housing in the USA was initially identified with mitigating the effects of the depression and was subsequently linked to the war effort and the associated need for workers’ housing. From the early 1950s, however, the development of public housing explicitly to meet the housing needs of lower-income households, was strongly opposed by those interests committed to the free market. To quote Fuerst:

Public housing has existed in the United States since 1937, but through the efforts of the real estate lobby, segments of the business community and the press, its growth has been successfully stunted since its inception.

It took about another 20 years for the attitude to take hold in Canada, and for this country to abandon public housing as an affordability strategy, largely by adopting the sort of development company-friendly strategies that Grant outlines in her piece — in short, as a nation, Canada embraced filtering theory.

But who cares about ideology if filtering provides homes for people? Thing is, noted Boddy and Gray, filtering doesn’t make hold up even in theory, for two reasons:

First, one may question the volume of housing available to filter down to lower-income households. Since the distribution of household incomes tends towards a pyramidal shape, building new houses for those high up the pyramid will simply not release enough houses for those further down where the pyramid is wider. There are too few high-price and high-quality houses to meet the needs of lower-income households…

Secondly, filtering may occur in an economic sense, as defined by Ratcliff, but without any increase in the quality of housing occupied by lower-income households. For falling prices as a result of increased supply higher up the scale may lead to a more rapid deterioration in house condition… [and this leads to the demolition of more housing at the low end of the market, see the homes razed by Steele Auto]

But still, what about the real world? The authors noted that:

A study by Murie et al in Northern Ireland found that new housing was disproportionately used by new households, particularly in the private sector; 26 per cent of new dwellings were occupied directly by new households without further moves being generated.

We can’t really discuss new high-end housing without considering increasing inequality. As Grant notes:

High rates of homogamy — marrying within one’s class or educational achievement level — contributes to social and economic polarization. Thus, a pair of professionals have substantially higher income — and ability to afford housing — than two service-sector workers might. Unemployed individuals and couples, or those dealing with mental health or addictions issues, are at greatest risk of being unhoused.

No matter how many new homes we build in, say, Voyageur Estates, people working at the local Tim’s or as janitors at the Sackville Stadium aren’t going to move into them, much less those now living in tents. That’s the whole point of such subdivisions, to rid homeowners of having to view the riff-raff, no?

Here’s how Boddy and Gray concluded in 1979:

Filtering theory derives from a clear political and ideological position which its translation into policy in turn supports. At the specific level of housing policy, it legitimates the persistence of gross inequalities in housing provision, and of substandard housing, and justifies allocation of resources and subsidies to those already well-off and well-housed directing support away from those in greatest need. Household turnover and mobility are important processes in the housing system. But to generalize from these processes observed on a limited scale, to a general model of filtering embracing the· entire housing stock is clearly illegitimate and any policy conclusions derived from this problem are inappropriate as a means of meeting housing need.

Or as Grant puts it today:

The greatest potential for addressing the housing crisis could lie in trying to learn from the past. The federal government should evaluate the programs it funded during the 1960s and 1970s to identify useful lessons it could implement with new policy directions. 

The primary aim of any programs should be to deliver more affordable housing more quickly so that more Canadians have access to decent shelter.

Or as I say: Build some damn housing already.

Again, read Grant’s article in full. My take-away is that far too much of our limited wealth is going towards building ever bigger and more luxurious houses for the wealthy few, while leaving the less-wealthy many without.

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2. Survivors

A line drawing of a group of varied people, of different skin tones and genders, facing forward, looking very sombre. Above them are the words, "I was sexually assaulted and the police failed me."
Credit: Iris the Illustrator; models from Unsplash

We’ve received so many submissions from readers about their post-sexual assault interactions with police that we’re publishing two a day for the foreseeable future.

You can read the entire series here.

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3. Oligarchs gonna oligarch: John Risley wants $2 billion of our money

A white man stands at a wooden podium. A blue curtain is behind him.
John Risley addresses the Ocean Frontier 2022 conference in Halifax. Credit: Ocean Frontier 2022

The federal government is moving to financially support one of Atlantic Canada’s oligarchs, reports Emma Graney for the Globe and Mail:

Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew Parsons announced Wednesday that EverWind NL Co., Exploits Valley Renewable Energy Corp., Toqlukuti’k Wind and Hydrogen Ltd., and World Energy GH2 Inc. will receive Wind Application Recommendation Letters, which will allow them to proceed through the province’s Crown land application and approval process.

World Energy has just finished a preliminary engineering study for the Stephenville project. It is about to launch another, more extensive study, and is lining up customers and finance, Nova Scotia-based billionaire businessman John Risley, a director at the company and co-founder of Clearwaters Seafoods, said in an interview.

With the first phase of the project worth about US$5-billion, and World Energy hoping to get to a final investment decision in late November or December, Mr. Risley said, “we’re running hard.”

While he’s pleased that the World Energy project can proceed to the next stage, he urged the federal government to hasten development of its promised clean hydrogen refundable tax credit, which will cover between 15 per cent and 40 per cent of eligible project costs.

Forty percent? What, does Risley think his company is a legacy newspaper?

For the record, 40% of $5 billion is $2 billion. Two billion dollars simply handed to an already filthy rich man’s company.

Two billion dollars for John Risley, but not a penny for public housing.

If Risley actually believed that using “world class winds” in Canada (as opposed to those shitty parochial winds in Europe) to generate renewable power to be used in a chemical plant to turn water into hydrogen and then supercooled as ammonia to be placed in giant refrigerated tankers and shipped across the ocean to Germany, where the process will be reversed and the ammonia goes off to fertilize fields and the hydrogen feeds into the local VW plant or whatever will save the world from climate collapse, let him pay for it him own damn self. He’s got two billion dollars. If it works, he’ll be a global hero; that’s certainly worth a couple of billion dollars, no? I’d give away half of my net worth if it meant saving the planet and becoming a global hero.

I’m beginning to suspect that this green hydrogen thing may not be what it’s sold as, and — this might be difficult for sensitive readers — it’s really all about our oligarch getting even richer by tapping the public treasury.

The article continues:

Mr. Parsons said the province has done its part to demonstrate that the sector can be viable, and project proponents have done an excellent job of conveying the importance of hydrogen incentives to the federal government. Now, he said, it’s incumbent on Ottawa to move ahead.

“The more federal government investment we have in companies that are doing business here and constructing here, that’s better for us,” Mr. Parsons said.

Well, that certainly sounds like a neutral regulator, eh?

I really can’t see any categorical difference between Atlantic Canada’s billionaires and Russian oligarchs. Both have captured government regulatory processes. Both work outside the usual dynamics of market capitalism. Both tend towards ornate and ostentatious displays of power. The only substantial difference is that our oligarchs have more political power — it’s unlikely Risley will be tossed out of seventh floor window or be poisoned by a passing umbrella-wielding spy.

“Give the oligarchs the public treasury” is no basis for a functioning economy.

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4. Charges in waterfront homicide

A press release from Halifax police:

Police have laid charges in the homicide of Davelle Rodney Vance Desmond that occurred earlier this month in Halifax.

On August 6 at approximately 9:40 p.m., police received a report of a disturbance that had occurred on the Halifax waterfront in the area of the 1500 block of Lower Water Street. Officers located an unresponsive man on the boardwalk. The victim was transported to hospital where he later died.

The Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service conducted an autopsy and ruled the manner of death to be a homicide. The victim was identified as 26-year-old Davelle Rodney Vance Desmond. 

Yesterday, the suspect turned himself in at police headquarters at 1975 Gottingen Street in Halifax. 

A 17-year-old-youth is scheduled to appear in Halifax Youth Court today to face one count of manslaughter.

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Sure, the song is about the 21st of September, not the 1st, but any excuse to celebrate blue talk and love works for me.

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No meetings

On campus

No events

In the harbour

06:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from anchorage to Fairview Cove
07:00: Viking Saturn, cruise ship with up to 928 passengers, arrives at Pier 20 from New York, on a 14-day cruise from New York to Reykjavik, Iceland
07:00: Seaborne Quest, cruise ship with up to 540 passengers, arrives at Pier 23 from Charlottetown, on a 36-day cruise from Dover, England to New York
09:00: Celebrity Summit, cruise ship with up to 2,100 passengers, arrives at Pier 22 from Boston, on an 11-day roundtrip cruise out of Boston
12:00: Contship Art, container ship, sails from anchorage for sea
12:00: Glenda Melissa, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
15:00: NYK Meteor, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Antwerp, Belgium
16:30: Viking Saturn sails for L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland
17:00: Celebrity Summit sails for Sydney
17:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, sails for Saint-Pierre
18:00: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, sails from Fairview Cove for St. John’s
04:30: CMA CGM Corte Real, container ship (150,269 tonnes), arrives at Pier 41 from Tanger Med, Morocco
05:00: NYK Meteor sails for Fort Lauderdale, Florida
05:30: Siem Confucius, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:00: Melina, cruise ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from Valencia, Spain
08:00: Layla, cargo ship, arrives at Pier 9 from IJmuiden, Netherlands
11:30: Seaborne Quest sails for Bar Harbor
Time uncertain: Viking Star, cruise ship with up to 930 passengers, arrives at Berth TBD from Sydney, on a 14-day cruise from Reykjavik to New York, then sails for New York

Cape Breton
06:00: Silver Shadow, cruise ship with up to 466 passengers, arrives at Liberty Pier (Sydney) from Saint-Pierre, on an 11-day roundtrip cruise from Quebec City
06:30: Viking Star, cruise ship with up to 930 passengers, arrives at Sydney Marine Terminal from L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, on a 14-day cruise from Reykjavik to New York
07:45: Blue Moon, Dead Dick Duchossois’s yacht, sails from St. Peter’s for sea
08:00: CSL Tarantau, bulker, arrives at Aulds Cove quarry from Tampa, Florida
14:30: Viking Star sails for Halifax
17:00: Silver Shadow sails for Gaspé, Quebec


I’m super excited about two projects we’ve got in the works. One will be published either this evening or tomorrow morning, and the second likely early next week. Both are important works of journalism, likely to make a splash on a large scale.

Monday is a holiday, so no Morning File. I’m hitting the road tomorrow morning, heading back to Halifax, and fully intend on enjoying the trip. See you next week.

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

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  1. Tim, a $2 billion federal refundable tax credit requires enough taxable income to generate a minimum $2 billion dollar federal tax bill.

    Over 10 or 20 years. Is this likely?

  2. “Green Hydrogen” and associated ammonia conversion is the faint hope by mega industry to replace the petroleum production sector so super rich can continue to be super rich. It is all based on extensive and expensive infrastructure which guarantees a return on investments over a longer period. It has absolutely nothing to do with carbon reduction. We are so far past the point of carbon reduction to help climate change that we really have to start talking about massive carbon sequestration if we have any hope at all of stopoing and reversing the climate crisis. Hydrogen does not do that.

  3. Are people not yet convinced that the neoliberal approaches to almost everything for the last 50 years, have failed us and continue to fail us?
    We need to re-socialize things that have been left up to the private sector or ‘the market’ and extract the wealth back from the billionaires into the system for the rest of society to have decent standards of living and affordability. The oligarchs aren’t going to suddenly have a change of heart and start building hospitals and social housing or paying living wages. They’re not going to suddenly start paying better prices to the producers of raw resources (woodlot owners, farmers). They’re not building co-ops or giving wealth back to the communities that produce wealth for them through their labour. Their not ‘trickling it down’ as it were.
    It hasn’t happened and it won’t happen.
    The people that lack the morals that allow them to exploit others to the point of being billionaires…surprise…also lack the morals to take care of others around them, create/support communities and allow others to thrive along side them. They are mentally built to be not only good, but in fact exceptional, at exploiting others and the systems around them to benefit only themselves. A healthy sustainable society should be built to suppress the instincts of people like this as much as possible.