Herald News: N.S. rental market rated fourth unhealthiest in Canada

Posted

Josh Healey, Herald News, June 24 (with quotes from BCNPHA Policy Manager Brian Clifford)

Although various groups have debated the extent of Halifax’s rental crisis, data from the 2018 Canadian Rental Housing Index shows rental prices in Nova Scotia are pushing families to the brink.

The numbers highlight an issue that plagues the province but more specifically Halifax, which sees roughly one in five renter households spending more than half their income on housing and utilities.

The index, which was led by the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association but included national partners, found that Nova Scotia’s rental market is the fourth unhealthiest in Canada. The province also ranks as the most unhealthy rental market in Atlantic Canada.

Brian Clifford, a policy manager at the B.C. Non-Profit Housing Association, said that the severity of Halifax’s rental problem should not be overlooked.

“This puts families in a tough spot where they may have to choose between basic necessities like housing themselves, food or clothing,” Clifford said in an email.

The situation has been a long time coming but the path forward is convoluted as Housing Nova Scotia and the City of Halifax look for answers.

“(The) current housing issues didn’t occur overnight,” said Kevin Russel, the executive director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia. “Therefore, a resolution will not happen overnight.”

THE NUMBERS

The Canadian Rental Housing Index is a database that takes into account a combination of three affordability factors as well as two supply indicators to measure the health of rental housing in Canada.

According to these numbers, the rental situation in Nova Scotia is rated as “severe.”

In Halifax, 68,735 households out of 172,790 are classified as renters, making up nearly 40 per cent of the city’s abodes.

The number of renters in Halifax is far above other Canadians cities, Clifford said.

“Forty per cent is a high proportion. For instance, in Calgary only 28 per cent of households are renters,” he said.

The average cost of rent and utilities in Halifax is $1,034, only slightly higher than the provincial average of $909.

Nova Scotia sits above the national average for both households spending over 30 percent and households spending over half of their income on rent and utilities.

According to Clifford, the numbers indicate Nova Scotians are living beyond their means. He noted that the percentages indicate gross incomes so families may be spending an even larger percentage on housing.

“It can be insinuated that at least one in five renter households in Halifax are struggling financially,” said Clifford, noting that the average and median incomes in the province are far below the national averages.

FACTORS

Russell said that no place in Canada has witnessed more per capita growth in purpose-built rental buildings than Halifax, making it an anomaly in the rental market.

Between 2014 and 2017, 5,000 units came to the market and these new, expensive developments absorbed many renters from older buildings, he said. This created a vacancy in the low-mid tier of rental stock but spiked rental costs.

During the same period, rents rose by 19 per cent, he said, outpacing the rise in incomes.

“Housing affordability is a top of mind issue for professional landlords, however costs, specifically utilities and taxes, and problems with the Nova Scotia Residential Tenancy Act are negatively impacting rents,” said Russell.

Waye Mason, Halifax’s deputy mayor, also stressed the importance of affordable housing.

Mason said that the city needs to quickly increase the availability of below market housing because some families cannot afford market rent.

“On top of that there are concerns that the renewal of downtown and the regional centre will drive folks out as prices rises, so there has to be an eye on how we can incentivize and support working wage level rentals and even ownership, actually help people into ownership,” he wrote in an email.

Halifax’s large student population also has an impact on the rental statistics given their lower than average income.

Clifford said that seniors aged 65 and over, which constitute 15 per cent of the city’s population according to 2016 Census are another group likely to spend over the affordability benchmark.

“More effort is needed to develop supply that is affordable for local incomes,” he said.

THE WAY FORWARD

Halifax’s combination of a high percentage of renters, higher rent costs, and low household incomes poses an issue for the provincial government which is still searching for the way forward.

Housing Nova Scotia recently announced the reopening of 22-24 Evans Avenue – which provided 27 units of affordable housing — on Feb. 8 to help people in Halifax “access safe and affordable housing that meets their needs.”

Organizations such as the Housing and Homelessness Partnership have emerged to end homelessness and housing poverty in Halifax while working with all three levels of government, private, and non-profit sectors.

Furthermore, the NDP introduced its Rental Fairness and Affordability Act to help address the province’s rental problem. The bill, introduced on Oct. 17, 2017, has yet to undergo a second reading.

But Russell said that the answer lays in changes to government and utility policies.

“Apartment rentals are the only residential classification that doesn’t fall under the province’s Residential Tax Assessment Cap. As a result, apartment building’s property tax assessments are raised disproportionally compared to other residential classifications,” he said.

Russell maintained that until the government includes apartment buildings under the tax assessment cap or abolish the cap, the affordability gap will continue to widen.

Mason said that due to having the highest provincial taxes in Canada, Nova Scotian families had less to allocate to rent and utilities.

“It puts tremendous pressure on people,” he said.

Another example of policies affecting rental costs is residential waste pick-up. Buildings with greater than six units are required to contract out the work as they are not accommodated by the municipality, resulting in higher rental prices.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Despite the fact that Nova Scotia ranked poorly when compared to its Atlantic peers, Clifford highlighted an emerging national issue.

“This is a pattern we saw across large urban centres in Canada, as well as much of Ontario and is problematic given it shows how there is a lack of affordable rental housing in many jurisdictions across the country,” said Clifford.

When asked what he would say to families struggling to pay rent, Mason said: “We are listening and we know this is a huge issue and that Halifax is continuing to work with the province and their agency, Housing Nova Scotia, to create options and help reduce those pressures.”

Russell also stressed the immediacy of the province’s rental problem.

“Every day that there is a delay in issuing buildings permits negatively impacts housing affordability,” he said. “Time is the enemy.”

http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/1579884-n.s.-rental-market-rated-fourth-unhealthiest-in-canada

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