Province improves access to housing

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HALIFAX – More Nova Scotians will find affordable housing that meets their needs as part of the province's first long-term housing strategy.

Premier Darrell Dexter and Community Services Minister Denise Peterson-Rafuse unveiled the strategy Monday, during a visit to the North Woodside Community Centre in Dartmouth.

"Our homes, and the communities they are part of, shape nearly every aspect of our lives -- health, education, success in the workplace, even the security of our retirement and dignity in old age," said Mr. Dexter. "Yet many working families cannot afford rent, let alone a mortgage, and many seniors and people with disabilities lack good housing options.

"Our strategy will build vibrant communities, revitalize existing neighbourhoods, and offer affordable new housing choices to Nova Scotia families."

The strategy represents a fundamental shift in the province's approach to affordable housing. Diverse mixed-market development is an important component to healthy, vibrant communities. Over the next 10 years, the development of affordable housing and affordable home ownership will substantially increase and will focus on diverse communities with different housing and tenure types, income levels and family composition.

"Few things are as important as having a good, affordable home that meets a person's unique needs," said Ms. Peterson-Rafuse. "Through collaboration, we have developed a strategy that sets out a new direction for housing -- one that stresses affordability, partnership and community-building. The right housing choices can mean safer, more sustainable, and more vibrant communities."

Highlights of the 10-year strategy include:

-- $500 million over 10 years to support new and enhanced affordable housing projects and programs

-- Establishing innovative, affordable home ownership programs to help young people and families of modest income

-- Enhancing initiatives to support seniors and persons with disabilities to stay at home, in their communities

-- Initiating new housing developments that support a mix of income levels and supports for independent living

-- Helping chronically homeless individuals move off the street and providing them with the supports they need to transition toward independence

"Shelter Nova Scotia is pleased to see a collaborative strategy that espouses a housing first model," said Don Spicer, executive director of Shelter Nova Scotia. "We have seen first-hand the benefits this model has had on the men and women we serve."

The strategy was built on themes that emerged from province-wide public consultations held in 2012 with more than 500 Nova Scotians, including non-profit and community organizations engaged in housing issues, housing developers, governments, and interested Nova Scotians. A key theme was more modest and energy efficient home options.

"It is a challenge but we must build more housing that people can afford," said Paul Pettipas, president of the Nova Scotia Home Builders' Association. "We must not continue to equate big with better when we discuss housing options. This strategy is a bold and innovative road map in that direction."

The strategy will also restructure the Nova Scotia Housing Development Corporation and all housing staff in Community Services as Housing Nova Scotia. The new entity will continue to finance and manage government's social and supported housing programs, but under a new mandate focused on innovative housing and investment models, and collaborative partnerships.  

Among the programs that Housing Nova Scotia is considering are downpayment assistance, lease-to-own opportunities, a graduate home ownership program, and retrofit programs to help seniors and families caring for loved ones with disabilities stay in their home longer.

"I am so grateful to own a home that my children grew up in. I believe this is something we all wish for," said Karen Cole, a single mother who purchased her home through Habitat for Humanity. "It is because of the work that community and private organizations do that I was able to own my own home while my children were young enough to live there. Programs that give more Nova Scotians a chance at affordable home ownership or rent is good news."

Organizations: Housing Nova Scotia, Shelter Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Home Builders Nova Scotia Housing Development Community Services Habitat for Humanity

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Woodside, Dartmouth

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