Upwards from here

Renters won’t see a difference for a while, but more apartments and homes are coming

With Premier Tim Houston’s aim to more than double Nova Scotia’s population to two million by 2060, Halifax homebuilders and residential real-estate developers better get on the hop.

Most of the influx will want to settle in the city and its suburbs, an area that’s already short an estimated 25,000 houses, apartments, and condos.

Cranes on the skyline and holes in the ground might have created the illusion of a building boom over the past decade. But the actual number of housing units constructed each year hasn’t changed much in the last two decades, until 2021.

It could mark the start of a period of sustained production that’s consistently higher than previous peaks, “finally catching up with the population growth numbers, which have been in unprecedented territory for about five years now,” says local housing expert Neil Lovitt. “With continued low vacancy rates and plenty of buyers for every listing, the trend will hopefully continue.”

Labour shortages, rising interest rates, which increase the cost of borrowing for builders, supply chain snags as the world emerges from COVID-19, rising costs, or even stagflation (a combination of slow growth and rising prices) are potential headwinds.

“These are tumultuous times and it is very hard to say how things will play out,” says Lovitt, vice-president of planning and economic development with real-estate consultancy Turner Drake & Partners Ltd. “We expect some variability from year to year, but the longer-term trajectory should continue to be upwards from here.”

It needs to be.

Some quick, back-of-a-napkin calculations by Lovitt figure a million more people in Nova Scotia would create the need for another 500,000 dwellings.

In the last few years, 90 per cent of people moving to the province ended up in Halifax. Lovitt expects areas like East Hants, Bridgewater, and Windsor to woo more newcomers in the next waves.

Trying to absorb even half of the province’s ambitious population growth goal means Halifax would have to more than double the roughly 200,000 dwellings it has now for its nearly 415,000 inhabitants, he says.

That would translate into a development rate of about 6,250 units a year, a significant ramp up from the average of about 2,600 new dwelling completions each year for the past five years.

Houston, leader of Nova Scotia’s PC party, is aware of the need. He’s installed former Liberal cabinet minister Geoff MacLellan to chair a new housing taskforce for possible end-runs around Mayor Mike Savage and HRM Council on proposed residential developments. (The worry, of course, is that environmental concerns would fall by the wayside and gentrification would come at the expense of diversity and affordable housing, not to mention the potential for government duplication of efforts, such as the municipality’s regional plan for future growth).

Besides ensuring Halifax has enough homes to woo newcomers, Houston wants to cool off the hot housing market that’s making the city unaffordable for an increasing number of Haligonians.

The upshot? Lovitt says Halifax will probably see more development areas open up “in the next little while.”

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