Housing market silver linings

Halifax’s housing crisis could be a lot worse

In other parts of Canada, developers are mowing down houses and apartments to make way for higher-end developments. That happens here too — Pauline Dakin’s latest column noting the disappearance of Robie Street Victorians is a glaring example. But more often, the trend is to spruce up existing stock. 

“Halifax does not yet seem to be following the pattern observed in other Canadian cities where this important older rental stock is being lost permanently to redevelopment and condominium conversion,” says local housing expert Neil Lovitt. “Ours is getting more expensive, and is being renovated in many cases, but it is not disappearing entirely.” 

This “silver lining” risks getting erased if Halifax isn’t aggressive about adding more housing, a problem the provincial government is starting to face with a strategy to tackle a housing crisis that’s been decades in the making. (Read more about the plan at here). 

“If we can get back to a balanced market, (the older, more affordable market-rate rentals) may be preserved for longer,” says Lovitt, vice-president of planning and economic intelligence with real-estate consultancy Turner Drake & Partners Ltd. “But if the shortage persists, we will lose more and more of this inventory over time.” 

These rentals, with their modest and relatively stable prices, are the main source of lower-cost housing and an important stopgap. 

Lovitt estimates Halifax is short as many as 25,000 housing units. On the affordable housing front, provincial governments of all stripes have failed to add to the supply of public housing over the past four decades. Cranes dot the skyline, meanwhile, as developers build higher-end apartments and condos amid surging population growth. 

The homeless situation has gotten so dire that HRM is bringing in two dozen emergency modular bunkhouses, enough to house 73 people. Even with the two-per-cent cap on rent increases that Premier Tim Houston plans to continue for two years, there’s been a spate of so-called renovictions (landlords turfing tenants out of rentals by claiming the need for major renovations so they can jack up rents). 

“Older market-rate apartments served us well for many years in the absence of more ambitious public-sector investment,” says Lovitt. “We are lucky … we can see how this has played out elsewhere and understand the importance of taking action early and decisively.” 

*Data Sources: Turner Drake, Statistics Canada, Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia. 

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