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Rent supplement program helping meet Nova Scotia's affordable housing needs

More affordable housing opportunities will be available this year for low-income individuals, families, and seniors through Housing Nova Scotia’s rent supplement program.

“Rent supplement has been a game changer in meeting the needs of affordable housing in Nova Scotia,” said Stephan Richard, director of community relations and public affairs for Housing Nova Scotia.

“The major advantage of this program is we can expand the availability of affordable housing very, very quickly.”

The rent supplement program “bridges the gap between what a household is able to afford and the market rent,” said Richard.

“For example, if market rent is $800 and based on someone’s income, they can only afford $500, then a rent supplement of $300 a month would be provided to make up the difference.”

Last year, $18 million in funding was announced to create up to 1,500 new rent supplements over three years, which is projected to reduce the wait list for public housing by 30 per cent over three years.

“Last year, we implemented 500; we’re targeting another 500 this year and the last 500 will be allocated in the next fiscal year,” said Richard.

About 100 new rent supplements will be allocated to the tri-county region this year, said Richard. Managed through the Western Region Housing Authority, the staff is looking for landlords they can partner with to increase the stock of available affordable housing, said Richard.

The success of the program “depends on the availability of rental units in communities. We encourage landlords to give us a call and inquire and be part of the program,” he said.

Developing more housing

Housing Nova Scotia has also been working with developers of affordable housing units through another program that provides financial assistance to businesses and not-for-profit organizations for the construction or renovation, and operation of affordable rental housing. Developers can receive a forgivable loan based on the cost of eligible work and the number of self-contained units within a project. The maximum capital contribution is $50,000 per unit.

Richard said last year, Housing Nova Scotia supported the development of a six-unit affordable rental project in Shelburne, and are have a really good partner in Yarmouth who has built many family units over the past number of years.

“Our work with community partners is essential in addressing the affordable housing issue throughout the province,” he said.

Housing Nova Scotia also assists low-income homeowners with needed repairs and accessibility issues through another program, enabling them to stay in their homes. “Last year, we provided funding for 300 homeowners in the area,” said Richard. “The program is very popular with low-income homeowners. We invest every year significant amounts in order to help homeowners stay in their homes. Promoting aging in place is a critical part of the programs we offer across the housing spectrum.”

Generally speaking, Richard said there are people in Nova Scotia “that continue to struggle to afford their housing. The vast majority of households in core housing need spend more than 30 per cent of their gross household income on core housing costs,” including rent, mortgage, and utilities.

Still waiting

Wait lists for public housing continue to be lengthy. In Shelburne County, there are 105 households, just over 250 in Yarmouth County, and about 60 in Digby County on the Western Region Housing Authority waitlist, said Richard.

However, “wait lists are not really an accurate measure of housing needs,” said Richard. “Some seniors, for example, know a senior’s manor in a particular area is in high demand and sometimes it’s a five-year waitlist, so in advance they will apply for affordable housing knowing they are eligible from an income perspective although in the current circumstance they are in they can afford their housing.”

Province-wide, there were about 1,700 rent supplements in use in 2018 and 11,560 public housing units. Richard noted that 300 of the 1,500 new rent supplements announced last year are targeted at addressing homelessness in communities.

Richard said the combination of the rent supplement program, existing public housing, and new rental construction are “all essential to addressing the affordable housing challenges that some communities experience.”

For further information on Housing Nova Scotia, visit https://housing.novascotia.ca/

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