September 1st, 2013
According to a report in the Chronical Herald affordable housing is still a serious problem in Lunenburg County, despite the formation three years ago of a coalition to raise awareness of the issue.
Helen Lanthier of the South Shore Housing Action Coalition says more than 50 per cent of Lunenburg County residents make less than $25,000 a year, and with 91.4 per cent of housing owned, very few apartments are available.
Lanthier went before District of Lunenburg council Tuesday morning, saying, “We’re not here to ask for money,” but to ask for support to promote an affordable housing plan for the region.
Council did pass a motion in 2010 to create a committee to develop an affordable housing plan, but then opted instead to appoint a councillor to the newly formed action coalition. It was formed that year to work for quality, safe and affordable housing in Lunenburg and Queens counties.
The coalition pointed at the time to a shortage of rental units in the region, citing also a lack of different types of housing, such as condominiums and co-operative housing. Lanthier said 34 per cent of renters in Lunenburg County spent more than 30 per cent of their income on housing.
She told councillors Tuesday that when the coalition formed, it believed that “without concrete steps, this situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, mainly because of an aging population.”
And she said that’s exactly what has happened. “Nothing’s changed. The issues of 2010 remain the issues of 2013.”
Lanthier said many renters don’t complain about problems, such as mould, poor maintenance and heating for fear of retribution from the landlord or owner. This is very different than in Ontario where tenants are encouraged to complain by the Landlord and Tenant Board.
Nancy Green, a former home visitor with South Shore Health’s public health services, told of one family of four that lived in a one-bedroom unit with black mould, a leaky roof and poor insulation. They had to use the food bank in part because the father missed work because he was sick from their living conditions.
Their rent was $700 a month when they moved in, and went up by $50 a month.
“The story of (that family) is one that is being played out along the South Shore,” Green said. “Something must be done to improve housing. A house is not just a shelter, it’s a home. It’s where we grow, celebrate, relax and seek comfort. A house is not a home when it’s inadequate.”
A lack of affordable housing also impacts the sustainability and economic viability of a community, Lanthier said, making it a challenge for businesses to keep workers and leading to increased health-care costs.
She said the coalition is asking all municipal councils on the South Shore to commit to development of a local housing action plan. Whether that’s done jointly or individually, “it’s the foundation for changing the nature of affordable housing on the South Shore,” she said.
“The need is real, there’s no question,” said Mayor Don Downe, with affordable housing as great an issue in Lunenburg County as it is in Vancouver.
He said the province’s recently released housing strategy is “a good starting point, but there needs to be some federal and provincial money put into the program to provide the services that people really require to be able to stay in our communities.”
Down said he will take the issue to a regional meeting in September of municipal councils from Lunenburg, Queens and Halifax counties. He hopes the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities will then vote to push the province to work on an affordable housing strategy for urban and rural communities across the province.