The People’s School on Housing Needs: From Research to Action, which took place on May 11 in Port Hawkebsury attracted 54 people, and explained ways to build the research capacity of community groups to provide evidence about local needs and support their housing goals.

STRAIT AREA: The Strait Richmond Housing Matters Coalition wants to get a handle on the extent of the housing crisis in the region.

“Right now, what we have is anecdotal, and really it’s not enough for us to be able to take strong advocacy positions,” coalition co-chair Amanda Mombourquette told The Reporter. “You’re trying to make your case, and without the research in place, it really does ham-string our efforts to be able to build that case, so we need that data.”

To meet this immediate need, the coalition said it is partnering with Cape Breton University with a grant available through CLARI (Change Lab Action Research Initiative) to carry out a housing count this fall. The Service Based Count takes a community development approach to look at homelessness and unstable housing by working in partnership with community based organizations that provide services to people experiencing housing instability, the coalition noted.

CLARI is a cross-province, multi-post-secondary education partnership designed to support Nova Scotia communities with academic and research expertise, they said, noting that the research results are anticipated to be released in early 2022 and will enable the coalition to advocate for housing solutions that meet the needs of people in the area.

In the Strait-Richmond area, the coalition said there is a lack of affordable housing, but there is also a lack of supportive housing that address emergency situations for youth and persons experiencing homelessness, housing for persons with mental health and addictions needing support services, as well as transitional second stage housing for families leaving Leeside Transition House.

Mombourquette said during consultations overseen by the Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Commission, the coalition submitted a response looking at all types of housing, and identifying all stakeholders.

“Our response, it talked about private and public affordable housing; those one to two unit family dwellings, as well as housing complexes, multi-unit complexes, transitional housing, you name it,” she noted. “What we tried to demonstrate to the commission that there’s a role for everybody to play in solving this problem, right from community, to non-profit, to the private sector, to municipalities, then to the provincial and federal government. It’s a complex issue and it’s going to require all hands on deck.”

The Strait Richmond Housing Matters Coalition began in December 2018 after a group came together following the October 2018 “Community Think Tank – Housing Matters.” The coalition said it is comprised of individuals and members of organizations including community health, social service organizations and municipal representatives. The coalition said it is committed to advancing its vision of ensuring that inclusive, healthy, affordable, sustainable, and accessible housing is available.

At a virtual meeting in June, the group said coalition members spent “considerable time” discussing two reports recently released, “Charting a New Course for Affordable Housing” from the affordable housing commission, and its 17 recommendations.

“We had some concerns. There were only three of the 17 recommendations that were identified as short-term action and that was definitely a concern for us because this is a problem that needs timely action,” Mombourquette noted. “We weren’t convinced that there was enough recognition for the efforts of non-profits in addressing the crisis.”

Mombourquette said the “Build Together” project being undertaken by the StFX Extension Department has identified more than 196 housing groups in the province.

“There’s no overall coordination of what’s being done,” she noted. “The work is fragmented, and probably duplicated. There’s so much we could be doing if we were collaborating together.”

Another concern for Mombourquette, who is also Richmond Warden, is the potential for downloading housing responsibilities to municipalities.

“We need the province to remain focused on a provincial strategy that will allow municipalities to take some leadership on a number of fronts, but not necessarily to download the overall responsibility and housing costs because we just don’t have the resources to deal with it,” she stated.

The group said the other report was “Keys to a Housing Secure Future for all Nova Scotians” released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which outlines 95 recommendations and calls on the government to commit to an investment of $531 million each year for the next 10 years.