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Halifax can do better: I’m a Believer

Waye Mason’s Tent City Plan is not Enough

Halifax has an affordability crisis. Inflation, food, and utilities are all up. The worst symptom of this crisis I see is the housing crisis. 

City councillors have noticed the problem and are coming up with some grand ideas for stemming the flow, but tent city growth persists. Despite having acknowledged, and having made a platform out of his opposition to it, Councilor Waye Mason has thus far appeared entirely incapable of pursuing a solution. 

Mason’s waffling looks to continue for the foreseeable future. And winter is coming. 

The city needs a short term solution. Councillor Mason has been working to dampen the trend of rising homelessness but it’s just not fast enough. 

I know, the councillor is a busy dude, so I devised a three-point plan. 

Joe’s three-point plan for housing crisis recovery

1. Expand relief options immediately. The city already has “designated tent areas”. Bite the bullet and understand that for right now it’s better to work with, rather than against, the flow. 

Utilize what resources there are to aid those designated sites. Build a foundation of support. Fund homeless shelters in a manner that will provide an immediate boost, protect the networks currently operating and survey future support programs and the locations for them. 

2. Build semi-permanent housing. Victoria, B.C. is also struggling to provide adequate housing, yet they’ve been able to relieve it with low-cost shipping container shelters. Known as the “Hey Neighbour” project, this initiative has found success and expanded. I have no doubt that with the necessary political will, Halifax could drastically reduce tent city sizes by the winter of 2023. 

3. Sustain the effort. Nova Scotia has programs to help people back on their feet, keep those going. The beauty of stemming the flow is that it gives those programs breathing room. The ever-growing pressure is clearly hampering the effort to get people housed. 

It’s well and good to vote to expand those programs; but it takes time, money and politicians working together to build large-scale affordable housing. It takes time to expand housing, but that doesn’t mean the need can wait. 

The Canadian economy is not as strong as we all might like to believe. It is expensive to live in Canada. More people have been experiencing the squeeze of the rising cost of living expenses. Our governments need to support our people, and this is a first step. 

When I was spitballing my writing with a muse of mine, she kept asking where the money was. It’s a good question, one I don’t have the answer for yet. But there is money to be had. 

Where’s the money?

Maybe the money is in Ottawa’s coffers. Ottawa assists the Maritimes with equalization payments. Maybe we need to do our best Oliver Twist and ask for some more. 

The money is certainly in the private industry, although that’s a bit of a dangerous game. The risk with the private industry is they will price out Haligonians from ever owning their own homes and we’ll all retire into a corpo-hellstate (Think Bladerunner, or Jeff Bezo’s wet dream). Perhaps some skillful legislation (@WayeMason) by Mason could mitigate this potential problem. 

It could be within Haligonians themselves, I’ve always been impressed by the sense of community within the Maritimes. I still see those “Nova Scotia Strong” patches and signs everywhere. I could never imagine seeing a sign of solidarity in a community sustaining itself for that long at home in Toronto. 

Victoria was able to utilize grassroots fundraising to help alleviate their housing crisis. That is a strong first step. 

I am not so naive as to think that one avenue will be enough to solve a problem of this scale. Instead I would suggest multiple approaches be used to alleviate this problem. Too much private investment and we end up like Toronto, where the Prime Minister had to pass national legislation to stop Chinese crime syndicates from buying land from Canadians. 

No, private industry won’t work alone. Subsidized housing can work. Have private industry build housing and have Ottawa or Nova Scotia pay a portion of the rent. It gives private industry an incentive to construct while ensuring the Mr. Monopolies of the world don’t turn Halifax into a slum. 

“Mr. Mason, get those tent cities under control”

The biggest challenge to this problem is taking those first steps. I’m not exactly Adam Smith here, the housing market is well understood. I’m just a bullshitting student writer. Some lovely British economists figured out this whole money thing a while ago. The problem, as I see it, is in making sure demand matches supply and people have money to pay rent. 

In terms of getting immediate housing up and running, the path forward is clear. The less clear path is making sure everyone has money for rent, and unfortunately the Irving’s can’t hire everyone. Mr. Mason, get those tent cities under control.

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