Many Nova Scotia municipalities are starting to address the need for affordable housing by turning to urban planning as one of their obvious first steps.
That’s in response to some stark realities — for example, the dislocation of older adults due to a lack of seniors housing in many communities. Or affordability problems —for example, along the South Shore, where one survey showed almost 44 percent of households are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
Canada’s National Housing Strategy (NHS) is about to shed some light on certain urban planning terms such as “inclusive community,” “sustainable community,” “healthy community” and “complete community.”
Prior to the release of the NHS last November, Canada had the dubious distinction of being the only G8 country that did not have a national housing strategy.
But that has changed and with new CMHC funding programs being rolled out, it’s time for communities, municipal councils and urban planners to consider the limitations and the opportunities.
Well, there aren’t really any, unless we choose to create them.
Someday, somewhere in Nova Scotia, the federal government’s declaration that “every Canadian deserves a safe and affordable home” will run headlong into planning decisions being made about special-needs housing.
That’s what the National Housing Strategy prioritizes: housing for the most vulnerable Canadians including women and children fleeing family violence, Indigenous people, seniors, people with disabilities, those dealing with mental health and addiction issues, veterans and young adults.
With the exception of on-reserve housing, our national housing priorities will often require a rezoning, development agreement or plan amendment at the municipal level.
And while most people would generally support, say, mental health housing, that’s not necessarily the case if the mental health housing project is being proposed in your neighborhood.
Over the past decade, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, CMHC and others have flagged “Not in My Backyard” —or NIMBY —as a significant impediment to resolving our most pressing housing needs.
In a 2014 document entitled “In the Zone – Housing, Human Rights and Municipal Planning,” the Ontario Human Rights Commission instructed that planning rules and municipal decisions must consider human rights.
Our National Housing Strategy adopts a rights-based approach to housing, and in doing so, implies we should be doing the same.
During public hearings, where terms like “neighborhood character” or “compatibility” are often hotly debated, it will fall to local governments to hold a lens on human rights, while assessing the opportunities being presented by the National Housing Strategy.
Most certainly there are opportunities, because of the health and economic benefits associated with resolving some of our most urgent housing needs.
At the next public information meeting or public hearing, where housing for our most vulnerable community members is being considered, let’s think carefully about what a complete, inclusive, sustainable and healthy community actually means.
The NHS is well thought out and can help solve some of Nova Scotia’s most pervasive housing problems.
Let’s get ready to implement our National Housing Strategy.
David Harrison, MCIP
Note: This article appeared in The Halifax Chronicle Herald on May 25, 2018, view it here.