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Officials pleased with ‘momentum’ on affordable housing

Those involved in discussions about how to try to address housing issues in the tri-county region include, from left, Jennifer Lamrock, health promoter, Public Health, Digby County; Karen Brodeur, program manager, co-operative services, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada; Denise Vacon, health promoter, Public Health, Yarmouth County; Earl J. Mielke, program manager, Housing Nova Scotia; and Lisanne Turner, executive director, Tri-County Women’s Centre.
Those involved in discussions about how to try to address housing issues in the tri-county region include, from left, Jennifer Lamrock, health promoter, Public Health, Digby County; Karen Brodeur, program manager, co-operative services, Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada; Denise Vacon, health promoter, Public Health, Yarmouth County; Earl J. Mielke, program manager, Housing Nova Scotia; and Lisanne Turner, executive director, Tri-County Women’s Centre. - Eric Bourque

Discussions are taking place about how to increase the availability of affordable housing in the tri-counties and those involved in the effort say they feel good about the direction they’re headed in.

This work is part of the follow-up to a study that examined housing in a major section of western Nova Scotia, including Yarmouth, Digby and Shelburne counties.

“The needs assessment showed very clearly that there was a need for affordable housing across our communities,” said Denise Vacon, health promoter with Public Health Services, who has been one of the main spokespersons for the housing survey.

Vacon and others involved in the initiative have met with representatives of municipal units to talk about ways of addressing housing challenges.

An initiative involving housing coalitions and other groups in conjunction with Public Health, the project – titled Housing: Now and Into the Future – was launched in the fall of 2017 with a public survey, followed by a couple of more specialized surveys. A good deal of information was gathered and analyzed.

Aside from municipal units, officials from Housing Nova Scotia and the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada are among those working with Vacon and her colleagues to see how the housing situation in this part of the province can be improved.

“It’s a good-news story from the coalitions’ perspective that all of these partners are coming to the table,” Vacon said, “working together across the tri-counties to be able to find a solution for increasing rental infrastructure, because it is a challenge to make that happen, and there is momentum and I think it’s really exciting.”

Having everyone engaged in this way – including the housing coalitions and other partners, along with municipal units – is a new approach to trying to improve the affordable housing picture, Vacon said.

“I agree, this is groundbreaking,” said Karen Brodeur, program manager, co-operative services, with the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada. “We are still in the exploring stage of determining what is and what is not possible, but it is exciting. The partnership is certainly strong.”

Earl J. Mielke, program manager with Housing Nova Scotia, acknowledges it’s a challenge, but, like Vacon and Brodeur, he’s encouraged by the various groups and agencies involved in the effort.

“We’re kind of bringing all the tools together, trying to accomplish what the affordable housing groups here have been trying to get off the ground for some time,” said Mielke, who is based in Middleton. “It’s taking a little bit of time, but the momentum seems to be going quite well right now.”

Vacon said it was good to document some of the housing-related issues, which, through the study, they were able to do.

Among other things, the survey results showed housing insecurity was more pervasive in the region than many people might have thought.

Housing insecurity can have a broad definition, Vacon said, with some people facing a more urgent situation than others.

Another message from respondents was that, where housing is concerned, people often have a lack of choice, given challenges around availability and affordability. It becomes more difficult the farther one is away from towns, the survey found.

“So, we’re hoping through this project that we can increase the availability of safe and affordable rentals across the community,” Vacon said. “We’re starting that process ... it has to start somewhere.”

She said those involved in the initiative were impressed with the survey participation rate. Three-quarters of the people who started the long survey, finished it, she said.

“What it speaks to is that housing is an issue for a lot of people in some form or another,” she said. “I often get asked ‘why is Public Health involved in a housing coalition? How is that a link?’ Well, it’s a link because the quality of our home really sets the tone for how healthy we are. If we live in a healthy home and a healthy community, then we can be healthy.”

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