The housing crisis in Pictou County was a topic of discussion during Monday’s monthly property meeting.
Warden Robert Parker said he recently attended a meeting with other municipal leaders as well as provincial and federal representatives to discuss housing challenges and the need for both short- and long-term solutions.
“The urgent need is being tackled first,” he said. “Winter is coming, and people have to live, and a long-term plan won’t do them much good so we have to first look at what can we do now?”
He said agreements have been made with three hotels where the province will pay for rooms if necessary for someone who has no other place to stay.
The local homeless shelter, Viola’s Place, is also able to accommodate eight people per night with the hopes of soon expanding its shelter spaces.
“The need is there. They are turning away people every night and people have to find a place somewhere,” he said. “It could be in a vacant home or alley and that is not something we would want to see happen."
Warden Parker said it is good to see things happening in the short-term but long-term solutions are needed.
It is not all about homelessness, he said. It Is about not being able to afford a place to live in even if you have two minimum wage jobs. There has been a 30 per cent increase in the price of home in the Halifax region and in rural areas such as Pictou County, it is as high as 20 to 25 per cent.
“The cost going up that much affects a lot of people going down the ladder,” the warden said. “They might have been going from renting to buying a home but now they can’t even consider that. It is not affordable anymore for them. How do you supply affordable housing, not just for homeless people but people working every day?”
He said if you spend more than 30 per cent of your income on housing than it isn’t considered affordable. The provincial government put out their proposal for housing and it is good news that the Nova Scotia Community College in Stellarton is getting a residence.
“That will free up spaces in Stellarton that are occupied by students right now.”
In the long term, former schools are also being looked at and municipalities provided lists of land to the province that might be available for housing. Tiny homes could also be an option as would be companion housing which would pair someone living alone with someone needing a space to live.
“Companion housing can provide benefits for both,” he said. “It has to be done carefully, but it’s a possibility because we have these huge houses in the country and towns that have one person living in them. Is there a way to make that work for both parties?”
He said the housing crisis has become a priority now for the entire province, not just urban areas.
“I think people didn’t realize it was happening or thought it was happening in Halifax, but it is happening here.”
Coun. Larry Turner said the housing crisis is a supply and demand problem, adding there has been a lot of focus on the supply side.
“On the demand side, people are looking for housing solutions but don’t have the money to pay,” he said. “One problem is minimum wage in our province.”
He said recent research has shown that a livable minimum wage is $21.80 an hour and Nova Scotia is nowhere near that now.
“So, on the demand side, people don’t have enough money to go and afford a house,” he said. “Minimum wage is something that really needs to be looked at. Education is another issue. We have to educate kids so they can come out of school and be able to go to a job and afford a house.”
Coun. Andy Thompson said a comprehensive review of housing in Pictou County was recently done by the Pictou County Housing Coalition.
“There are people here in Pictou County tonight that are sleeping in cars, still in tents, and there is a homeless encampment in West Pictou. There is a homeless crisis in in Pictou County right now that was hidden for years. You just didn’t see it. There was a lot of couch surfing going on. There are students going to NSCC living out of their cars. It is unbelievable this day and age we have this issue, but it is an issue right around the province.”
Warden Parker said he continue to attend the housing meetings and report back to Council with updates.