The Cost of Housing in HRM's Urban Core

October 24, 2018
Strategic Planning

Remarks Made to Development East Conference
Urban Development Institute
Halifax, Nova Scotia
October 24, 2018

Question:

Are there specific things that you see that are negatively impacting housing prices, both for home sales and rentals? Also, are the older areas of the Urban Core becoming too expensive in terms of ownership?

Answer:

If we accept that 30% of household income is the measure of affordability, then a range of $1300 to $1600 per month meets that definition in HRM.

Three things that push housing prices in the urban core are (1) land costs, related to gentrification and the focus of urban planning (2) planning risk, for example, the length of time for planning approvals, and (3) property taxes which are a function of the cost of local government.

Planning seems to be focussed on large secondary plan areas, for example the Centre Plan, as opposed to a neighbourhood planning approach.

We’re also redefining the urban core. I’m not sure why North End Dartmouth and South End Halifax are under the same planning process. Dartmouth’s Main Street District has pre-determined building heights and simple form-based code. That’s a good template for densification and rents for new buildings in the District are proving to be up to 20% less than the affordability measure.

The Centre Plan responds to growth targets contained in the regional plan, and while they both focus on maximizing the use and efficiency of urban services, which is laudable, the issue of gentrification is left silent.

Planning approval times are inconsistent with other municipalities, even if we factor in the different size of communities. For example, in Dieppe and Moncton, re-zonings take 3 months and plan amendments take 6 months.

Concerning the cost of local government, in 2015 The Fraser Institute released a paper indicating that municipal amalgamations in Ontario have not led to lower costs and greater efficiency; in other words, the experience of municipal amalgamation is contrary to the theory behind it.

All of these issues directly and indirectly affect the cost of housing in HRM’s urban core.

David Harrison, MCIP


David Harrison

David Harrison is an urban planner and development consultant based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He is also associated with Montreal-based LGP Strategies for planning and economic development project work. 

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