Finding housing solutions by working together

By Kevin Russell

When Nova Scotians talk about housing, the conversation can take on many different forms. With expectations that Nova Scotians will be voting in elections soon — both provincially and federally — the more information on housing that can be in the public domain, the better to help voters make an informed choice.

Last fall, the Government of Nova Scotia convened the Affordable Housing Commission and invited our organization to contribute our perspectives. With our members having more than 45,000 rental housing units under management in Nova Scotia, it was easy to say yes. We are always interested in working collaboratively with those who want to see our housing situation improve in Nova Scotia.

We bring a lot of knowledge and expertise to the discussion. Our members have first-hand knowledge of the housing realities faced by those who own rental properties and those who live in them. Indeed, more than 90 per cent of landlords in Nova Scotia are small operators owning a few rental units, with less than 10 per cent of landlords being larger companies with employees. The vast majority of rental property owners are therefore close to their tenants and, by and large, strive to have a good relationship to ensure long-term tenancy. It’s just good business and even more importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Regardless of the lived realities of either the landlord or the tenant, we felt an exercise like the Affordable Housing Commission could benefit from independent data, rather than debates based on anecdotes or ideology.
To bring facts and evidence to the table, we invested in a study — Rental Housing Affordability in Nova Scotia — prepared independently by economic analysis firm Gardner Pinfold Consulting.

The report was completed in the spring of 2021 and submitted to the Affordable Housing Commission. It was based on a wide range of data sources, including Statistics Canada and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). We invite all Nova Scotians interested in housing solutions to read the report at www.ipoans.ca.

The report included CMHC data showing that in 2020, rental revenues increased by 4.1 per cent. These increases, however, fell short of the 4.5 per cent increase in the costs of running and maintaining a rental property.

The report also found that “rising rent is not the factor that is stretching overall affordability the most” in Nova Scotia. Beyond the populist simplicity of rent control, there is no evidence to support the claims by some that it’s a permanent solution that works for Nova Scotia.

The Affordable Housing Commission and the Government of Nova Scotia have both recognized the need to invest in affordable housing solutions. The recent provincial government announcement of $25 million for affordable housing is a good first step, as is Premier Iain Rankin’s commitment to enhance provincial and municipal collaboration to ensure adequate housing strategy for housing of all types.

More must be done. We believe in strengthening the ability of the community and not-for-profit sectors to build up capacity and act for better housing choices in the province. Existing public housing stock needs ongoing support for maintenance and upkeep.

We can’t stress enough that to ensure all Nova Scotians have the opportunity to live in a good home, we need a team approach — one that involves the private, public and not-for-profit sectors working together. Government needs to continue to engage all partners for housing solutions. That’s how we solve big problems, by working together.
Kevin Russell is executive director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS), which has been the voice of residential rental property owners since 1978. IPOANS members collectively have more than 45,000 residential housing units under management across Nova Scotia.