Homeless and formerly homeless people, housing and homeless advocates, housing experts and others gathered for a day-long workshop in downtown Halifax on Thursday to help prepare a Community Blueprint on Housing.
I was delighted to be invited to lead the session, especially since I have been working with a community reference group on the release of the Wellesley Institute’s own Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto (the launch will be Thursday, October 26, at 1 p.m. in the Member’s Lounge at Toronto City Hall Council Chambers).
The numbers are different in Halifax than Toronto, but the overall situation is pretty grim. A total of 7,200 Halifax households are paying 50% or more of their annual income on rent – which puts them on the brink of homelessness. These households have an average income of $11,613, which means that they can only afford a monthly rent of $290. However (and no surprises here), the average market rent in Halifax is $762 for a typical, two-bedroom apartment.
Halifax is facing a growing income divide. From 1990 to 2000, the family income of richest 10% of households rose by 8%, while the poorest households saw their annual income fall by 7%.
There were just three new rental apartments built in Halifax last year.
The government of Nova Scotia isn’t helping much, either. Net provincial spending on housing is falling. The province spent almost $33 million on housing services in 2004, $29 million in 2005, and $25 million is estimated for this year.
Participants at the workshop were engaged and active. They identified many housing gaps – everything from a lack of supportive housing for those with special needs to inadequate conditions in existing buildings to a lack of new affordable homes (especially for families). The group developed a list of housing solutions. I’ll continue to work with the staff at Community Action on Homelessness, the Halifax housing and homeless advocacy group, to cost out the solutions and prepare the detailed blueprint.
All in all, a very inspiring day.
While it is always troubling to see, up close, the impact of Canada’s nation-wide housing crisis and homelessness disaster, it is very inspiring to see the expertise and energy in Halifax as the community rolls up its sleeves and works to develop practical solutions.
There is some good news on the horizon. A few weeks ago, the federal government finally allocated $1.4 of the $1.6 billion in new housing funding authorized by Parliament in June of 2005. About $23 million of that is targeted to Nova Scotia for affordable housing, and $7.8 million in alloted to this province for off-reserve Aboriginal housing.
The Halifax workshop has helped develop a solid strategy for ensuring that those housing dollars will be well-spent.