Wendy Elliott: Follow through with housing promises

Published on April 8, 2017

Wendy Elliott Column

You can feel the impending provincial election call in the ether these days.

You can feel the impending provincial election call in the ether these days.

Premier Stephen MacNeil all but acknowledged last week that all the funding announcements are piling up for a reason.
There was one last summer from both the federal and provincial governments that promised a partnership with the private sector to make “significant investments in affordable housing across Nova Scotia.”
The province is doubling funding levels under the Investment in Affordable Housing program to $21.4 million over two years.
“We see lots of challenging situations for Nova Scotians that, quite frankly, a safe place to live would eliminate a lot of the worry and burden on the adults in that family,” McNeil said.
Recently, I sat down with three women living in the Kentville area who are literally weighed down by their poor housing conditions (all names have been changed to protect their identities).
Kate’s housing authority home, she told me, is full of mould and she has an asthmatic child.
“All the windows are rotten, but they’ve painted over that. There’s mould in the corners,” Kate said.
At the Valley Journal-Advertiser, we have heard these ghastly tales of mould before about provincial housing where children have to live.
Still carrying student loan debt, Kate says, “We feel like we must be substandard human beings.”
Both she and her neighbour, Sarah, had nothing positive to say about the pressures the authority puts on single mothers like them. According to Kate, if you go into hospital and are a little late with rent, a threat of eviction will await.
Local social activist Belinda Manning believes that the government should stop building “ghetto subdivisions” like Sarah and Kate live in. There is, she says, an extreme need in this province for solid affordable housing.
Meanwhile, Joanne Bernard, the community services minister, who is also the minister responsible for Housing Nova Scotia, said last summer that a national affordable housing strategy is on the way. Minimum wage just edged up, but not enough to landlords want to rent to mothers and kids.
Judy, who lives on her own, says those who rent and live on disability don’t fare any better. Her North Kentville rental leaks severely and snow blew in this winter. She tries to joke about her cat making snowballs in the kitchen.
Part of the joint announcement in August included $18.2 million to be used to help address increasing demand for repairs as social housing units age and to improve energy and water efficiency. As Manning pointed out, improvements can’t come soon enough given the stress level these women live with.
Kate laughs. “It’s too easy. Out of sight, out of mind. Some days, I want to sit and cry from the stigma of it.”
Shouldn’t social housing be up to the national building code? Manning wonders if Nova Scotia Community College carpentry students couldn’t practice by effecting repairs the same way they helped build Habitat for Humanity houses.
She looks at all that isn’t working in the socially conscious Valley and laments the situation. “We can’t keep going as we have been.”
There was a networking day around affordable housing in Annapolis County last week. The purpose of the day was to identify community assets, look at gaps and how we can work together to support those in need of affordable, accessible, safe and appropriate housing. A noble ambition – and one we should demand in the upcoming election.