Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
COMMUNITY SERVICES COMMITTEE
Ms. Marilyn More (Chairman)
Hon. Ronald Chisholm
Hon. Leonard Goucher
Mr. Patrick Dunn
Mr. Gordon Gosse
Mr. Trevor Zinck
Mr. Keith Colwell
Mr. Leo Glavine
Mr. Stephen McNeil
[Mr. Stephen McNeil was replaced by Mr. Harold Theriault.]
Ms. Mora Stevens
Legislative Committee Clerk
Department of Community Services
Ms. Marion Tyson
Mr. Harold Dillon
Executive Director - ESIA and Housing
Mr. Dan Troke
Director of Housing
HALIFAX, THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 30, 2006
STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY SERVICES
Ms. Marilyn More
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Good morning. I'd like to bring the meeting of the Standing Committee on Community Services to order and welcome everyone here today. I recognize a number of observers in the room from various coalitions around poverty, homelessness and affordable housing, and we're really pleased to have you with us today. Thank you for coming. Sorry for the delay in getting started.
I'd like to suggest to the committee members that we save five or 10 minutes towards the end of the meeting. We have to discuss our continuing agenda, and there have been some problems with trying to get certain witnesses here for certain months. So I think we're going to need to discuss it as a committee before we leave today. Perhaps we could plan to finish the topic on our agenda around 10:50 a.m., and then spend a few minutes getting organized in terms of our next meetings.
We're very pleased to welcome back senior officials from the Department of Community Services. Perhaps what we'll do is go around the committee table and introduce ourselves, and then perhaps the deputy minister could reintroduce herself and her staff, as well.
[The committee members and witnesses introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Would you like to do an opening presentation?
MS. MARION TYSON: Yes, I have a presentation, Madam Chair.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Perhaps I could just mention that the deputy minister and her staff will make this available to us after the meeting, and Mora will send it out to us by e-mail.
MS. TYSON: We thought that the presentation would be useful to provide some background and some information, and to demonstrate or show how housing is an important element in our social framework in the province. We will also use the presentation to provide a bit of an overview with respect to the initiatives in Affordable Housing and the Housing Trust, and highlight the Affordable Housing deliverables over the next three years.
I think it's probably no surprise that we feel very strongly in the department that one of the key elements of health is a safe and secure physical environment, and that a safe and secure physical environment, good housing, is fundamental to achieving healthy child development, stable family relationships, education/literacy and family wealth/social status. It is, in fact, the base upon which to deliver social support services, and fundamental to personal well-being. So housing is a key element in our social network and social safety net.
This slide gives a bit of an overview of our public and social housing services, who we serve. There are nearly 8,000 seniors and over 4,000 families that live in our public housing units. In addition, there are about 9,000 households that live in co-operative or non-profit housing, and rural and Native housing. So we have a very large group.
The repair and adaptation programs are listed here. The SCAP is the Senior Citizens Assistance Program. The next one, PHERP, so-called, is the Provincial Housing Emergency Repair Program. That one is for families. RRAP is the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance suite of programs, so there is more than one program there. The RRAP suite includes home adaptations for seniors' independence program.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Excuse me for interrupting - is there any chance you could speak a little louder, because the air conditioner isn't working and the fans are on, it's making it difficult for some people to hear and they're very interested in your presentation. I apologize for interrupting.
MS. TYSON: Not at all, Madam Chair. I'll go through this slide again, then, for the purpose of people who haven't heard.
We have almost 8,000 people in social housing, seniors in social housing, and over 4,000 families in our social housing living in our public housing units. There are an additional 9,000 people in co-ops and non-profit, and rural and Native housing. So we have a large complement of people living in housing in the programs that we administer.
We have a number of repair programs, as well, throughout Nova Scotia. The first one on the slides, SCAP, is directed to seniors; the second one, PHERP, is directed to families; and the third is a suite of programs, the RRAP programs, which include home adaptations for seniors independence. So we have a number of programs, we actually have 13 repair programs in the province.
Mortgages - we have mortgages available as well. This includes a family modest housing program which provides mortgages of up to $70,000 for Nova Scotians to buy or build a modest home.
The next slide indicates who are the clients of housing. We have low-income seniors and, as I indicated on the previous slide, there are 7,700 households that live in public housing and another 1,000 senior households receive home repair programs per year. So seniors are our clients and low-income families are also our clients. We have approximately 4,400 family households, or 9,000 tenants in total, living in housing which is public housing, and about 1,500 families per year receive home repair assistance. In addition, we have non-elderly singles who also live in public housing, about 700 of them, not a high number.
This slide is an interesting slide, I thought, prepared by the Housing Division for another purpose, but it does show the kinds of issues that we deal with in the department. The slide shows that we have old housing stock from one end of the province to the other and we actually have older housing stock than most other provinces. We have low incomes in Nova Scotia. We don't have as high incomes, on average, as some of the other provinces and that presents certain challenges in this province.
We have quite a number of people with disabilities; we have the highest rate of disabilities in Canada. Our population, like others, is aging, but I think ours is aging a little more so than some other provinces because we see some younger people moving out of province and some older people returning home. We have population shifts, people experiencing that across the country, and shrinking household sizes, so we see more single parents now than we used to. Affordability is an issue in this province. So that's a smattering or an overview of the kinds of issues that we encounter when we're dealing with housing.
Accessing public housing is the next slide. We have 1,200 to 1,500 applications every year for public housing. We have a turnover rate of 13 per cent to 15 per cent, on average. We do have a wait list management system, and that system is designed to ensure fair access to public housing. We do, however, give priority if there is a health or safety issue. We have demand for public housing in all areas of the province, but our highest demand, at this time, is in the Annapolis Valley and in metro - central area. We
have a portfolio which is limited as a result of the federal withdrawal from housing in 1994. We haven't been building new housing units since 1994 as a result.
This next slide talks about our repair programs, and, again, how we access repair programs. In 2006-07 - the current fiscal year - our budget is approximately $15.5 million for repair programs. We take applications and we process them in chronological order, but we do give, again, priority to emergency situations. We anticipate assisting 2,600 to 2,700 households, this current fiscal year. We normally get about 2,500, 2,600 applications, on average, per year for our programs.
With that background, and turning now to the Affordable Housing Agreement, the province signed an agreement in 2002 with the federal government to increase the supply of affordable housing in the province. That was the purpose of the agreement. The funding was a 50/50 deal with the federal government; 50 per cent federal funding and 50 per cent province and partners. The available funding for Phase I was $37.3 million, that was Nova Scotia's share of the Affordable Housing, Phase I. We did meet our commitment to fully commit that money by March 31, 2006. So that money is fully committed. For Phase II - our share of the Phase II money is $18.9 million, and that amount of money is required to be fully committed by March 31, 2009.
Just to be clear on what affordable housing is considered by the department, it is rental housing or ownership housing priced in an attempt to be accessible to people who cannot afford housing at market rents or above. It's also defined as housing - and a number of people have heard us say this - where shelter costs are 30 per cent or less of a household's gross annual income. Beyond that point, staff throughout our department and in other governments, find that it becomes difficult for people to manage the housing cost.
This is a breakdown of the types of programs that were approved in Phase I of the Affordable Housing. You can see a total of 928 units were approved, and the breakdown between new rental, which is the highest category - 570 units, and home preservation, the next highest category. We find in Nova Scotia that home preservation and repair is a big part of what people require.
The next slide shows a breakdown of Phase I by region. That may be a little bit hard to see, but that's just a more detailed breakdown of the previous slide and the amount of money spent on each one. As you can see, the program mix for each region varies, and it is reflective of the market variances and the interest in the program, as well, on the part of components who have put in RFPs between 2002 and 2005.
This is just a slide - I know it's hard to see - but it gives you an indication of the actual locations of the home repairs in the province. You can see that's pretty well spread
throughout the province. Over 175 homes were preserved under this particular program, Phase I.
The next phase gives you a bit of a view of the distribution of new rental in the province. We have, for example, the completion of an eight-unit seniors' project in St. Andrews, which was a community-based, non-profit development that involved community labour and support - very positive. In Truro, we had 24 units on Prince Street that has been completed. In the South Shore, a six-unit project completed in Liverpool and we have an additional 24-unit project in the design phase and HRM - for example, a 66-unit seniors' project on Almon Street. We do have more details if anyone requires it. We don't have it with us, but we'd be able to provide more details. We do have details on what we did and where and how much money we spent.
Just a few slides that the Housing folks thought might be of interest - this is a photo of the Young Street project in Truro which is under construction and the building is now occupied. The next one is 24 units which were developed in New Minas. The next one, St. Andrews, eight senior units - gives you an idea of what they look like. Not all are large, this one is a smaller project.
Some home preservation photos, the before and after. It makes quite a difference in the end. This program is geared to preserving homes that otherwise might be lost. The next one is in Sydney - 104 rental units. You see the before and after there, again quite a difference in the appearance of those units.
Moving on then to Phase II. The next phase of the Affordable Housing Agreement and requirements - Phase II - will continue with the same themes as Phase I. The areas identified in Phase I are still the areas of need and this phase, as I indicated, involves $18.9 million, so not as much money. The other difference between Phase I and Phase II is that in Phase II, we can spend more money per unit - as the Housing folks say, go deeper - so we can do more serious, I guess, repairs.
A request for proposals has been issued for Phase II; in fact, I think it was issued earlier this week. The closing date is February 15, 2007, so we are on track with our plans in respect to Phase II. We will be accepting proposals evaluating them in much the same manner as in Phase I.
Regional operations will continue to deliver the repair funding under the home preservation fund. That won't be delivered out of Halifax, but each region will deliver their own. So that's Phase II.
We also have a housing trust. Nova Scotia's share of the housing trust is $23 million, and we are required to spend that over a three-year period. This is a one-time federal investment. It cannot be used just for ordinary operating costs and we have
planned, again, the Nova Scotia portion of this investment to mirror some elements of the Affordable Housing Program. We also plan to spend some of this money on major repairs or renovations of our social housing stock, which are in need of renovation.
Finally, there is an off-reserve Aboriginal housing trust. That amount is $7.8 million. It's an additional amount over and above the $23 million for the general housing trust and, again, the same time frame, three years to spend that money. Currently, staff in the department are working with the Aboriginal Affairs Department and the leaders in those communities to develop a collaborative approach to their priorities and how we spend that money.
So overall, just to sum up, over the next three years - that is 2007 to 2010 - we have approximately $19 million for Phase II affordable housing, we have $23 million for the trust fund and another $7.8 million for the off-reserve Aboriginal trust. Those are the three Affordable Housing investment funds. In addition, we will be spending - between province and federal funding - $46 million on repair programs, for a total of $95.8 million. That is over a three-year period. That's the forward-looking plan of expenditure.
That would end my overview, Madam Chairman, and we would be pleased - staff who have the detail with respect to some of these programs would be pleased to answer any questions of the committee.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: On the list for the first round of questions, I have Keith and Gordie so far. Keith, do you want to start?
MR. KEITH COLWELL: Thank you very much for coming in this morning. It's always a pleasure to have Housing in here. It makes a big difference for many people in our communities, and I've seen the positive impact in my own community. Just briefly, could you tell me a little bit more about this home preservation fund? How do you access that?
MR. DAN TROKE: Basically, when a client would enter into one of our regional operations, we would look at the requested repairs and see which program we have that would fit their needs. Our programs start with the provincial repair programs that start at about $5,000, then you have RRAP that goes up to about $16,000, and then once you get past RRAP and you get into more substantive repair - i.e., there's a chance here that this unit could be lost if you don't make a significant investment in it - then regionally we would look at moving them into what would be a preservation category.
Essentially, you would apply regionally, there would be an assessment done of your home, and if the repairs would exceed that which would be available through the RRAP program, we would look at doing a home preservation for that client.
MR. COLWELL: How do you qualify? Is it income based?
MR. TROKE: It's income based, yes. Basically all of our repair programs are income based, and we look at the nature and scope of the repair that's required, and effectively we begin the process from there.
MR. COLWELL: I'm glad to see that you're getting more and more money into the program, because I don't think you could possibly ever put enough money in the programs. I have a lot of seniors, and I know other communities have a lot of seniors, who are living well below the poverty line, and have had a home for years and years - a family home that they live in, and maybe their spouse has died and they're trying to live on their own, and don't want to lose (Interruptions)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, would you mind speaking up just a little bit more, please.
MR. COLWELL: They're trying to live on their own in the home, and sometimes the homes get in such bad repair that they shouldn't be living in the homes. I know you have programs, and it always seems like some of the programs fall a little bit short, even though they're really good programs. I must say that your staff is incredible to work with, they do everything they possibly can to help people. It's nice to see . . .
MS. TYSON: Thank you, that's good to hear.
MR. COLWELL: . . . that's the way they feel and that's the way they work. I can't say enough good about that. It's just the fact that sometimes we get seniors - that's why I'm interested in this home preservation fund, because I can think of several homes in my area, and I know this would be the same all over the province, where we have seniors who could definitely use even more funds to make sure that the home is up to a safe standard and easy to maintain and easy to heat, too, because that's a big issue now. Have you looked at any programs in addition to what you have to satisfy that real need?
MS. TYSON: Yes, we have. It is a need which has been identified as growing, as with our aging population. Many seniors do want to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. Going back to my original comments with respect to how important housing is to people, to their health and in the social scheme, we have been working with the Department of Health. This year, for the balance of this year, we have $1 million - they have acquired, in their budget, a $1 million amount specifically targeted to keeping seniors in their own home, doing adaptations like ramps, bathroom renovations, and whatever will help seniors remain in their own homes.
So it has been identified by both departments, and both departments are working together in a partnership on that particular fund. It is recognized as an area of growing need in the department.
MR. COLWELL: I would totally concur with that, because I see it more and more every day as people get older. Usually, the problem comes when one spouse passes away, and then it's one member of a family that used to be a family unit with two small incomes, now with one very small income. It makes it very difficult for them to continue. What sort of things are you going to look at under that program?
MR. TROKE: What we're looking at for this year is delivering it through the Senior Citizens' Assistance Program so essentially at this point we're looking at the emergency repairs, first of all, that seniors would need. Then, over and above that, we also have our RRAP program and adaptation program that exists there so that is a federal-provincial cost share program. We also have Access-a-Home which allows us to build ramps for individuals, so if you have an individual in a wheelchair, an ability for them to then access their home.
So between those three, we're looking at offering everything from adaptation right to major repairs for seniors and that's the way we're looking at utilizing the funds this year. Essentially seniors normally come to us, as you mentioned, when the roof is leaking or the front steps are in need of repair, so we normally would look at those as being the critical things that are needed for that person to stay in their home.
MR. COLWELL: There is one other issue, too, that I come across quite often.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: This will be your last question for round one. Thank you.
MR. COLWELL: The other thing is, sometimes we have seniors come to us who, for example, they need a new fan for their furnace, it is $400 and you don't have a program to cover it and that's all they need. Is there any possibility that you could look at things like that and make a program for some small amounts? It takes away a huge problem, for the senior it is a huge problem, but in dollars it is not a large amount of money.
MR. DILLON: Historically we've had a kind of informal threshold of $1,000 or under. We assume there is not a strict financial hardship. It is a function of the challenges around administering a program with very small amounts. So informally, we've had that sort of floor although we have, in some instances, assisted people with amounts under that, but it is certainly something that we could look at. It is sometimes a function of the administrative costs, compared to trying to measure the financial burden a relatively small expense represents for somebody, considering all the demands for resources from
people who have much more serious repairs. So it has always been an area that there has been some judgment exercised as to whether to assist or not.
MS. TYSON: We are looking at the number of programs we have over the next year or so and whether we should be combining some of them or adjusting some of them, so we will be doing that. We will look at your comment as well during that review.
MR. COLWELL: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Gordon Gosse.
MR. GORDON GOSSE: Thank you. Well I guess I have a different view of housing in the Province of Nova Scotia. Rent supplements, without creating more units of affordable housing, is not effective. Rent supplements are best used for people who are homeless.
I can't speak up, I have a cold, so I apologize if I am not hollering, I am not feeling well.
I just have a feeling that they waste valuable resources that could be used towards co-operative housing, non-profit housing and government-owned housing that will remain affordable for decades to come.
Now in your slide, you mentioned that there was North Sydney and Sydney Mines on that slide. In Public Accounts on April 12, 2006, the total number of those new rental programs was 553, but the number has changed on this slide. I have a couple of things I'll just run in very quick - you had mentioned some addresses on Prince Street in Truro. I am just wondering, what are the addresses for the ones in Cape Breton?
MR. DILLON: I don't have with me the addresses for the ones in Cape Breton.
MR. GOSSE: Could it be possible that they are not built?
MR. DILLON: We have committed - I believe the date is somewhere in here - 202 units under the affordable housing program for Cape Breton across all of the programs, like rental preservation, new construction, home preservation . . .
MR. GOSSE: No, I'm saying new rental programs - units that were actually built. The total on that slide there - the presentation on April 12th, as I am saying, there were 553 and then this slide here, I didn't know what the number was but I am just wondering, what are the physical addresses, so I can leave here and on the way home take a picture of those new units that are built in Cape Breton?
MS. TYSON: Do you have other information, Dan, on that?
MR. TROKE: Yes, basically with regards to the units that are under construction, there is a conversion that's underway in North Sydney, I believe it is on Queen Street. The project in Sydney Mines is getting close to breaking ground on that one. There are a number of things that are going on.
I think it is important to remember that when we're talking about the building of a new unit, different contractors, different developers go at different speeds. By us partnering with the private sector one of the things that happens is there are a number of sequences that have to happen. So what traditionally would happen is, we would enter into an agreement with a private sector contractor or developer to build units. Then with those units, there are a number of things that have to take place, right from financing to land acquisition to actually acquiring permits and design.
So the time from which we enter into that commitment with them to the time that they construct is really beyond our control, other than we have an agreement with them that it has to happen by the end of a set period of time. So anywhere within that window, they can do their construction.
MR. GOSSE: Well, I was at the announcement a year and a half ago in Sydney Mines when the Minister of Community Services, David Morse, Mark Eyking, MP and Cecil Clarke were there for the announcement for New Deal Development in Sydney Mines. What I'm saying here is that those units aren't constructed, as we speak here today in this committee meeting, right?
MR. DILLON: As far as we know, they're not constructed, yes.
MR. GOSSE: That's right and that was my point all along with the Minister of Community Services; there are zero new rental units built in Cape Breton Island, as we speak today, correct?
MR. DILLON: I don't know the status. There are five or six projects in the new rental or conversion category and I don't know which ones of them may be finished or in the process of being finished and so on. We can certainly give you that information.
MR. GOSSE: Well I'd like to know before I go home today. I brought my camera so I would like to take a picture because you had nice pictures up on the slide. I personally would like to take a picture for my records of the new units built in Cape Breton, as I leave here today and go home, okay?
MR. DILLON: Yes.
MR. GOSSE: Thank you. Another question I have is, I noticed in the new announcement there are non-profit organizations included in Phase II. How many non-profit organizations were included in Phase I, with the $37.3 million?
MS. TYSON: Do we have a number?
MR. DILLON: I don't think we - I split the non-profit out, several non-profit organizations were involved in Phase I. We could certainly provide you with a split between private sector and non-profit. Then there were some partnerships where private sector and non-profit were both involved, so we can provide you with that information.
MR. GOSSE: I was looking for that information while you were here before the committee today. I was hoping I would receive that information.
MR. DILLON: I do know that one of the first projects of any scale approved was the 66-unit for seniors on Almon Street in Halifax, which is a project developed by Northwood Care, in co-operation with a private developer to actually build it on their behalf. So that is one large, non-profit project but there are probably others that just don't come to my mind.
MS. TYSON: Habitat for Humanity is one.
MR. DILLON: Yes, we assist Habitat for Humanity. Of course we put some funding on two projects for Creighton Gerrish Development Association in downtown Halifax, which are non-profit. So there are a number of them. I don't have the list.
MR. GOSSE: One last question, Madam Chairman. How much money of the Phase I program went towards co-operative housing in the Province of Nova Scotia? Were anyone of those programs earmarked for co-operative housing in the Province of Nova Scotia in Phase I? Did any money go towards co-operative housing?
MR. DILLON: I understand the project in Antigonish, for example, the St. Andrews seniors' project, is a community kind of, not necessarily traditional notion of co-operative but is a community-based co-operative type project. I don't know the actual operating mechanism they use to operate the project but there may be other projects that have a co-operative element but may not be registered as co-ops under the Co-op Act.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Junior and then Trevor.
MR. HAROLD THERIAULT: Thank you, Madam Chairman, thank you panel for your presentation. There is great interest around this province, as you can see in this room this morning. Maybe it is possible that we could get a grant to build on to this committee room to house a few more.
Anyway, you spoke about western Nova Scotia and the Valley, where I'm from. I've said that all along, I believe that was the greatest area of demand because I hear it every day.
MS. TYSON: Yes, that area and this area right here is tight.
MR. THERIAULT: I get phone calls from people down there who have been waiting on a list for over three years to fix their homes. So I called housing in Middleton and talked to the director there. The last time I spoke to him, there was no problem, money didn't seem to be the problem. There was financing in that office available, the problem seemed to be the lack of staff to get through the applications because they are overwhelmed there with the pile of applications that are coming in to that office. He said, if we had more staff, we could move this along faster.
MS. TYSON: You were talking to Gordon, the director of housing for that area?
MR. THERIAULT: Patrick Smale.
MS. TYSON: I hadn't heard that. I'm not aware of that. It's usually money that's the problem, and . . .
MR. THERIAULT: I brought it up in the Legislature. I didn't get much of an answer about it.
MR. DILLON: Perhaps I could clarify. The delivery capacity at any given time of the year can always be a challenge. The efforts of the regions are to deliver the funds before the winter hits, but they also deliver through the winter. Our experience has been that every region in this province delivers 100 per cent of the funding they're allocated every year. They may, at any point in time, be struggling to deal with perhaps a little blip or a little rise in applications, but by the end of the year they fully deliver all of their funds to all the clients they can fit within the funding envelope. At any point in time, you may get somebody a little bit overwhelmed around the time of year or the phone calls they're getting, but at the end of the year, each year, I don't know any region of this province where the funding is not fully committed and fully approved by the end of the fiscal year.
MR. THERIAULT: What is the average wait period for a grant?
MR. DILLON: The average wait period is typically less than a year. In fact, I went on the system a short while ago to see whether there were any stale or old applications on there that hadn't been served. We have a waiting list management strategy that aims at serving everybody within 12 months. So we can go on the system at any time and see whether there are any applicants on there who have been on there,
let's say, since 2004 or 2005. The last time I went on, across the entire province, there were no more than a handful of applications that were more than 18 months old. In fact, I don't know if there were any that were more than two years old.
The region is pretty good at ensuring, by looking at their waiting lists, that people who have been on there first are served first. So, I would be surprised if the system reports that somebody has been on there for three years. That would be highly unusual. But if you have the name and the detail, and would let us know, we can check to see whether somebody has gotten lost in the system. The waiting list is pretty fresh just about any time you go in and look.
MR. THERIAULT: The office at Middleton seems to know this, they know what's going on there. They're telling me the same thing. There's another problem, too, that I'd like to address here. The $19,000 income. I don't know how long that's been in effect, but if you make $1 over $19,000, you're out in the cold, so to speak. We have a lot of seniors down that way who come in and ask if I could help to get them a grant. They'll go over that by $150, $200, $300, and this $19,000 has been in effect - I don't know how many years. The median income now in Nova Scotia is $22,000. But to try to keep a home up and to keep yourself going with $19,000 and do repairs, it's just not realistic in today's economy.
Is Community Services looking at upping that amount to the median income of, let's say, $22,000? It would help a lot of people. We have people now who are going to move out of their homes, they're making $19,100, and they're looking for assisted living - and this is another question, assisted living homes for this province would be a great thing. First, is Community Services looking at upping that amount of maximum income before a grant can be received?
MS. TYSON: I'm just going to - you've raised three different subjects here - go back to the repair for a moment, and say that there is a huge need in Nova Scotia for repairs. Over the previous two fiscal years, government has been able to put millions extra into housing repairs. In fact, I think it was last year, it might have been the year before, that there was a recommendation and an approval from government to put - I don't know, I forget now - $4 million or $5 million more, or $7 million more into housing. We thought that would eliminate the wait list completely, but we found, after the money went in and after the repairs were done, we had, very quickly, the same number of people applying. We think that what that means is that there were people who didn't apply and who then found that they would be able to get the repairs if they did apply. So we recognize that there is a huge need, and for the past two years it has been our recommendation, and government has approved extra money to try to address that
need. I'm going to let Harold talk about the housing limits, because it's my understanding - my information that it varies, depending upon the type of household.
MR. DILLON: Okay, a couple of quick clarifications. The Senior Citizens Assistance Program, which deals with seniors, has a lower income threshold of $22,000, and that was approved by government, I believe in the last year, when the revisions to the seniors program was made. It has a lower threshold of $22,000 and not $19,000.
The household income limits which are historically established by the federal government to govern housing programs in general that have federal involvement, we use also for our provincial programs to ensure consistency and fairness, and so clients will understand there's not two sets of incomes. Those are renewed, typically every four to five years. We are anticipating looking at a set of new income thresholds from CMHC any time in the next short period. Based on the market increases that have been going across the province, I fully expect those household income recommendation limits coming from CMHC will be higher. We haven't settled on what those might be. If we receive those recommendations from CMHC, they will be part of a submission to government to accept them or embrace them or use those as the new set. As yet, we don't know what they are going to be in the final.
MR. THERIAULT: On the assisted living homes, where does Community Services stand on that right at the moment? Is Community Services going to be providing more assisted living homes for this province?
MR. DILLON: I'm not sure if people in the room generally know what assisted living refers to. In the private marketplace at the moment, seniors in particular - and I presume it's predominantly seniors - can move into assisted living facilities where, in addition to having your private rental unit, your private apartment, you can have a wide array of services available to you, meals, housekeeping, those sorts of things, perhaps a shuttle bus, a variety of services of that nature. For the most part, and as far as I know in Nova Scotia, they are all on a private pay, fully pay system. Individuals who access those services typically have moderate to higher incomes.
If your question is whether or not that kind of a housing option might be made available to lower income families, that's an item for discussion with government. We have discussed, recently, with Health, through the Continuing Care Strategy, which some of you may be aware of, that whole evolution of a continuum of housing options for seniors. There has been some discussion that this new form of housing exists out there in the private sector, but those discussions haven't advanced beyond that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Trevor, and then Pat.
MR. TREVOR ZINCK: Thank you for coming today and talking about an issue that, province-wide, you guys are aware is a major issue. The first question is easy, hopefully, the units that were built in Dartmouth, can you tell me where they were?
MR. TROKE: The units that were built in Dartmouth?
MR. ZINCK: Dartmouth, yes.
MR. TROKE: Under the Affordable Housing Program?
MR. ZINCK: Yes.
MR. TROKE: I don't have the specific addresses here, but we could get them to you before the day is out.
MR. ZINCK: Under Phase 1, the $37 million, 570 units were new units. My colleague, the member for Cape Breton Nova, mentioned co-op housing. Was there any incentive on ownership with those 570 new units?
MR. TROKE: Do you mean an extra incentive for someone in co-operatives?
MR. ZINCK: Not so much like a co-op situation, but like a rental incentive.
MR. TROKE: Basically the way that Phase 1 operated was that there would be a capital contribution put towards each unit in order to keep the rents below an average market rent. We then had the availability of putting a rent supplement model in place, as well, depending upon how deep you want to drive the rents down in any particular situation. So those would be the two main vehicles that would be used, and we would expect to continue to be using, as we move through in Phase II.
I guess the only difference, really, and it was alluded to earlier is that Phase II is going to give us the ability to go even deeper than we did in Phase I, with the capital contribution and the rent supplement. In Phase II, we are specifically looking at private sector proposals and not-for-profit proposals, because the not-for-profit proposals typically are bringing less equity, if you will, to the table. They have less ability to finance and so on. So we do have an ability to go much deeper in Phase II than we did in Phase I. I suspect that would be where the majority of your not-for-profits would have an opportunity to participate in the program.
MR. DILLON: If I could address the issue of ownership, I think your focus . . .
MR. ZINCK: A rent to own type of situation.
MR. DILLON: Straight ownership. Phase I and Phase II are encumbered by the same rule. The federal government made a clear rule that no more than 25 per cent of any of this expenditure could be on ownership. In fact, their opening position was that none of it really should be ownership, it is aimed at creating affordable housing stock for people at large rather than individuals.
The province, and several other provinces, convinced CMHC to at least allow 25 per cent to go into home ownership solutions. When we look at this province - and I think the slides earlier indicated - the pressing need in the home ownership side across this province, because of the age and high ownership rates among the current stock, is for home preservation. So, we've made the decision to direct the majority of the ownership elements of affordable housing towards retaining and ensuring the preservation of the existing stock, which is largely in rural areas.
Coupled with that, of course, is the challenge around creating new home ownership units. That is two challenges at the moment. First of all, the high cost of new home ownership units today would mean the kind of investment you would have to be making on an individual basis in the Affordable Housing Program would be extremely high. Secondly, we have a very low prevailing interest rate. Just about anybody who can qualify or undertake to do home ownership today can qualify in the normal market with private lenders because of the prevailing interest rate. A combination of those two or three variables has led most of the home ownership money to be directed into the home preservation side.
MR. ZINCK: I want to touch a little bit on the seniors programs to keep seniors in homes. One of the frustrations that I see is the number of hoops individuals have to jump through. I'll give you one example. I've had a senior who as recently as two months ago had applied for a grant, she needed her chimney fixed. It was a health and safety issue. She had applied for the grant, was told to go out and get two quotes. She got two quotes, sent them back to the department, and the department came back and said, it's too high. One of the quotes was actually over the amount of the grant that was available to her, which was a maximum of $5,000, and one was under. She was then told to go out and get two more quotes. Two more quotes came in under the cap, again, of $5,000. Again she was told that that amount was too high in their opinion.
The situation she has now is that it's going into December, it's colder weather, and it's very difficult to do this type of brickwork and masonry work in the colder weather. It was a health and safety issue. She came in several times under that cap but was told that she can't have it done until she gets the price. I don't know whether the department is trying to save money or squeeze, because the situation I have is a 78-year-old very persistent senior saying, I don't know what more I have to do.
MS. TYSON: If you can give me the name of that senior and the location after this meeting, we will look into that. We're not trying to save money, we're trying to spend all the available money that we have, as Harold said. We'll look into that.
MR. ZINCK: But you have to understand, that's what she's feeling, Trevor, they've told me I can have $5,000, here it is on paper. And what has taken place, basically, is she has had to jump through the hoops, and now it's coming into December and she doesn't have her chimney fixed. That's how it seems to her.
MS. TYSON: I'm certainly prepared to take a look at that, see what happened, and get back to you about that particular situation. It does sound strange.
MR. DILLON: Perhaps I could clarify. When we identify a repair for somebody's house, our inspectors, because they're experienced in knowing what our current cost regime is for repairs, pencil down in their files, approximately, the estimated cost for repairs. So if it's a chimney and they feel it's likely to cost, based on their experience, $2,500, they would be expecting an estimate somewhere in the ballpark of that. So if an estimate comes back that is perhaps double what they believe is fair and reasonable, it would be inappropriate for them to simply approve it because it is under the $5,000. So this may be caught up in that catch.
Sometimes, homeowners have a difficult time finding anybody so a contractor will just say, look I'll do you a favour and do it but that's my price and if it's not good enough, tough. So staff are very vigilant to try to ensure fairness not only to the constituent you are concerned about and to the contractor, but also to the taxpayer, to see that there is value for the money being requested.
MR. ZINCK: My last question for this session. We talk about the amount of units being built or, in many cases, the necessity for more units being built. Some of the monies over the years have gone to private developers, to the tune of - if I want to build a building I can come in, apply for the loan through Affordable Housing and I can receive a maximum of $25,000 per unit.
Recently in my area, I've had one company who had applied for a loan to build a building. There were going to be several units made available for seniors or people who had disabilities, which was welcomed. However, the rents for those units were going to start at $700 a month for a one bedroom and over $800 for a two bedroom.
I've been a home care worker for 17 years and the gentleman that I worked with makes less than $15,000 a year. So the first question would be, how can a company come in with a proposal like this and then put the rents out there? We've been told, as a community, that these are rents based on the market price but individuals who want to apply for this, it doesn't fit, the rents just don't jibe.
MR. TROKE: What we do is we enter into an agreement with whoever the party is who would be constructing the building for 15 years of affordability. Phase I looked at getting the rent, just the pure, straight rent, as being below average market. So we would go to CMHC and say, what's the average rent for that given area? We could get the contractor or developer to come in at a rent underneath that.
Now, point taken, if you have an individual who can't afford that rent, what do we do next? That's where the rent supplement model comes in. We would look at applying a rent supplement against that unit for that individual so that essentially - let's use an example, if it was $800 and they could afford $500, we would apply a rent supplement of $300 per month to that unit, which would drive the rent down. The landlord would still receive the rent needed in order for them to essentially pay the financing on the unit and have a rate of return, but it would also mean that that client then would have a rental unit for, as you mentioned, whatever the affordable amount, and we would negotiate that as being a component for that individual living in that unit. So that's the way we were able to use rent supplement in Phase I and we expect to do the exact same thing in Phase II.
MR. ZINCK: Okay, I just want to finish up. The only problem that I have with this, now you mentioned 15 years, was it 10 originally?
MR. TROKE: In Phase I, it was looking at 10. In Phase II, we're looking at 15.
MR. DILLON: In Phase I, we placed a 15 year limit on most of the projects that were committed. The federal rule was a minimum of 10 in our proposal call and in our subsequent agreements, we have extended the commitment to 15 for most projects.
MR. ZINCK: I have a big problem with that because basically you could walk in with a 20 per cent down payment and end up owning a building. To my knowledge, there's no mechanism after those 10 years or what will be 15 years, for that owner to maintain that affordable living situation that a community has become accustomed to, that the province has financed and now no longer has. So I think we should really look at putting some sort of mechanism in there that will enable us to keep it affordable because down the road we are going to have just another problem as well and an owner gets a free ticket, basically - an investor - who could be from out-of-province. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Pat.
MR. PATRICK DUNN: Thank you for coming in today. In your opening comments, you mentioned over the next three years, 2007 to 2010, there would be an investment - I think you mentioned maybe $95.8 million and of that would be $46
million in house repairs. Are you experiencing a problem now or do you foresee a problem occurring in the next three years with available skilled labour, to be able to handle this type of work in our province?
MS. TYSON: We, like some other provinces, are experiencing a problem now. We are anticipating that the problem may increase. We have people from Atlantic Canada going to Alberta in large numbers. So that is a problem that not only Nova Scotia is experiencing but also many other jurisdictions. We are working with the community college in some of our employment support programs to try to address that but you're quite right, we do anticipate that it is and it will become more of a problem.
MR. DILLON: As the deputy indicated, it is already a problem. It is certainly more pronounced in some areas, particularly rural areas - getting two bids is a challenge. Many of the contractors in those areas are already very busy or they don't exist at all. We also have a challenge around ensuring that we have a contractor who meets a standard that will ensure good work for the client. That's an even more challenging issue for us in some areas, more so than in others.
We work very hard to try to ensure that the client, who is the end receiver of our support, is getting good value for money and getting a good project and having it well done. That's becoming more and more of a problem pretty well across the province, particularly in rural areas.
MR. DUNN: Another question, in dealing with the federal funds that come to the province, federal-provincial funds, is Nova Scotia funded the very same as the other Atlantic Provinces? If they are not, then . . .
MS. TYSON: It's on a per capita.
MR. DUNN: It's on a per capita, is it? Okay.
MS. TYSON: Our share is just slightly under 3 per cent, I think it is 2.9-something.
MR. DUNN: With the funds that are coming to this province, is there much flexibility with the way we use it? I mean, there are all kinds of programs that you mentioned in the slides and so on but with all that funding coming in from the feds, do we have much flexibility? They may have some funds directed to a particular area where we know we have needs much greater in another area in the province, so do we have any flexibility with regard to how we use the funds?
MR. DILLON: The only program where CMHC, our federal partner, really sets kind of a planning distribution would be the RRAP suite of programs. When they give
us our RRAP allocation each year, they have a kind of pre-determined pattern of the five planning areas of the province where they expect a share to go, based on core need and income data around housing conditions. So they set kind of a plan of expenditures that is the opening plan.
We do have the ability, though, as demand shows up and as delivery capacity changes, to move that around somewhat but they would expect us to try to keep in mind that overall distribution. So the RRAP suite of programs does have kind of an initial plan by the five planning areas of the province, which are the typical planning areas you'd be aware of - Cape Breton, western, central and so on.
The other program is Affordable Housing Program - the Affordable Housing Trust. It is simply money that the province can use to meet the province's needs and priorities at the time, with other conditions. While we would certainly, as part of our evaluation of projects, try to ensure some regional distribution and some fairness to all areas, it is not governed by federal strict planning.
The other funding we get from the feds, of course, is the social housing money, the large subsidies applied to public housing. That has to be invested in that portfolio only and can't be saved or changed or moved into some other area.
MR. DUNN: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Ron.
HON. RONALD CHISHOLM: Thank you very much, Madam Chairman, and thank you to you people for coming in today to discuss a very important topic that we have, not only in Annapolis County and around the Halifax area but right across the province. I feel there is always a need for better housing. I guess when I look back a few years one of the pictures, one of the slides you had up there today, the pictures of the rehabilitated houses did come from my riding. I know that situation very well. It was one of the ones I was involved with when I first got elected back in 1999 and I am not sure when I first saw that house that I would have even considered it for rehabilitation but I saw it after it was completed, which was just amazing, the work that was done on it and what it did for that family.
I want to compliment the staff you have in the New Glasgow area - Colin Kennedy, Ron LeLievre, and others as well. They do a tremendous job for the large territory that they do service. They've been a tremendous help to me, I can assure you, as well as the staff you have who service the Eastern Shore part of my riding. Please compliment your staff on my behalf, if you would.
MS. TYSON: I'll pass that along, thank you. There are so many problems out there, we often hear about all the problems, but it's very nice for staff to hear some of the positive things.
MR. CHISHOLM: There were a number of these rehabilitation programs that were done in my riding - there were three or four, at least - that were just amazing, just hard to believe that these things could happen. That rehabilitation program . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I'm sorry, I've having trouble hearing you. Do you mind just speaking a little louder? It's partly because of the noise from outside. Thank you.
MR. CHISHOLM: This rehabilitation program, is that going to be an ongoing program? Is there still funding in that program left to use? How will that work in the future?
MR. DILLON: There is still funding in virtually all of the suite of programs at the moment. I checked as recently as about a month ago to see how we were doing regionally, whether there was funding still available this year to do approvals and so on. There was still funding, pretty well across the entire suite of programs, the small programs and the large RRAP suite. Of course, as every month progresses toward the end of the calendar year, that fund will get shorter and shorter.
The RRAP suite of programs, which is the major repair program that has been ongoing for years, is due to expire March 31, 2007. We have not heard yet from the federal government whether it will continue in its current form, continue in a revised form, or not continue, or any number of other variables. We are anxiously waiting. I believe the ministers across the country have approached the federal minister around the importance of continuing that program, and we'll be hearing soon, no doubt.
MR. CHISHOLM: I'll certainly relay my thoughts on that to my minister, as well. Those discussions are ongoing for that program?
MS. TYSON: At the tables that I attend - deputy ministers meet twice a year and talk about issues that are common across the country, as well as ministers meet twice a year - I can tell you that it is a subject that comes up very vigorously. Every jurisdiction in Canada is very much in favour of the RRAP programs continuing, and has made that known to the federal government. It seems to us that we may not know until as late as February, which is somewhat problematic, but we think that it's not until February that we're going to know whether that funding will continue. The same situation applies to the SCPI funding - the homelessness funding. It's due to expire, and we don't know the status of that one either.
MR. CHISHOLM: That, again, is another important one, as well. My colleague, the member for Pictou Centre, had mentioned the issue of trying to get contractors, estimates and that sort of thing. In my riding of Guysborough-Sheet Harbour, we certainly have that problem. People have waited for months for approval to do a project to their home, and could not get anyone to give them an estimate or even do the work, just because of, probably, the lack of contractors in that area, and then going to other jurisdictions to try to find a contractor who was qualified to do that work.
You said you're having some discussions, you're in discussions with community college, as to trades and that sort of thing. Can you expand on that a bit?
MS. TYSON: With Harold's other hat on, he has Employment Support and Income Assistance responsibility. We are trying to combine the need for housing and the need for contractors with people who are on income assistance and require some supports to become employable. So there are discussions ongoing with respect to how we can accomplish that and have a win-win all around. I can tell you it's not easy; we're not getting huge numbers of people who are interested in that particular area.
MR. CHISHOLM: Thank you, Madam Chairman.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Keith.
MR. KEITH BAIN: Good morning, everyone. Just a couple - the first question is a follow-up to the question Mr. Gosse asked about the Northside and you did mention Queen Street. I'm trying to picture it in my mind. Is that in proximity to the Northside Community Guest Home?
MR. TROKE: I believe it's directly on Queen Street. It backs onto the water and I believe it's the old lodge right on Queen Street that's being converted to six units.
MR. BAIN: Okay, I think I have an idea. They probably have the old police barracks. The other one is in Sydney Mines, I believe it's with New Deal Developments, and that's a work in progress?
MR. TROKE: That's correct.
MR. BAIN: I'd like to know the length of time when a unit becomes vacant, what's the length of time before it is made ready for the next occupants to go in?
MS. TYSON: It varies, depending upon the condition of the unit and also depending upon applications for occupancy. There are a number of variables. I can say that we are concerned about a high vacancy right now, particularly in Cape Breton. Part of that is due to the asbestos issues that occurred in some of our units and the stop-work
order of the Department of Labour. So we are moving to address that particular vacancy issue as quickly as possible by hiring additional casual staff to try to get as many units ready as possible. That's ongoing right now.
In addition, I have asked Dan, and he has already started to work with a working group to develop provincial targets and plans for quick turnover, as quick a turnover as we can manage. When that plan is in place, I will be getting monthly reports on the turnover so that we can keep track of it.
With our wait list and the number of people requiring housing, it's very important to do that as quickly as possible. We have identified that as a priority in the department.
MR. BAIN: Okay, and it was just a general question, the general length of time for a turnover. So it's just basically the general . . .
MS. TYSON: There's no particular timeline.
MR. BAIN: . . . cleaning and painting and everything, and then it's ready to be occupied again.
MS. TYSON: Yes.
MR. BAIN: I'm going to go back to Cape Breton again and ask the question - I know the answer is going to be no - but are there enough housing facilities existing in Cape Breton at this point? I know a lot of them are not occupied and there is some new construction going up, but what's the overall picture for Cape Breton?
MS. TYSON: I sometimes ask staff exactly that question because anecdotally, you hear that there is housing in Cape Breton. It may not be in the right condition, but you hear a lot about the need for repairing and renovating housing in Cape Breton. I hear more of that, as opposed to building new units. We are building some new units and I have asked staff, is this a good thing to do? Do we have enough units in Cape Breton that we should be working with existing units? I'm told that there are some areas where we do require new units. Do you have any other comments on that?
MR. TROKE: I believe that I think it's important to remember, and there was a picture up there of a rental preservation that's going on right now in Cape Breton and that's 104 units. The ability under Phase II of the Affordable Housing Program, as well as our RRAP program, is there for existing landlords to have renovations done to the units. So if it's a repair issue, there's an ability for them to seek assistance from us to help repair any units.
I believe the vacancy rate right now in Cape Breton is above 5 per cent, which is from the private sector perspective, and that's fairly high. With respect to public housing units, I believe Cape Breton has about 16 per cent, roughly, of the population, but has close to 30 per cent of the overall public housing stock.
So again, as the deputy mentioned, obviously in the turnover situation we want to be able to move them as quickly as we can in order to be able to get people into them. We do also have mechanisms available for the private sector as well, if it's a repair issue that would mean someone not being able to get into a unit, then certainly we have avenues out there to help assist that.
MR. BAIN: The annual audit and performance report on housing funding, could you tell me how it works? How is the audit done? There's an annual audit done on housing, am I right in saying that?
MR. DILLON: Yes. Historically each housing authority would hire an auditor to audit their financial records and performance in that regard, and an annual audited financial statement would be completed and presented to the department.
Recently we arranged to have those audits consolidated into the audited financial statements of the Housing Corporation at large. So now there's one province-wide, comprehensive audit of the entire Public Housing portfolio. Those are done annually, and copies are available.
MR. BAIN: So it is a financial audit, it's not a housing audit, as such.
MR. DILLON: You're perhaps talking about an evaluation of the program, or a look at the program itself.
MR. BAIN: Yes, maybe an evaluation, that's a better word than audit.
MR. DILLON: We have undertaken, and it's currently underway, an evaluation of the social housing at large across the province under the terms of the Social Housing Agreement. That's a requirement for us under the terms of our federal-provincial agreement. That social housing evaluation will be looking at all of the key elements of social housing, in particular public housing, non-profit and so on, and rural and Native. We'll be talking to stakeholders, communities, tenants and so on to gain valuable insight into how the portfolio is working against what it was intended to serve. That is underway. Private consultants have been retained to conduct that evaluation, and the results of the evaluation will probably be available mid-2007, somewhere in that time frame.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Our vice-chairman isn't here today, so just to save time I'm going to take up to 10 minutes from the Chair. People can remind me when the 10 minutes is up.
I have to say I'm a little disappointed in some of the answers I'm hearing today, because I realize they are the nuts and bolts and the facts of the situation, but I guess I'm more concerned, and I think my caucus is concerned, about some of the big-picture issues that are not being answered here today. I want to build on some concerns expressed by some of my colleagues about the lack of investment in the permanent affordable housing stock for this province.
You know better than we do that our population is one that has the highest rate of disability in the country. We have the highest - people are growing older in larger numbers in our province than in any other province in Atlantic Canada, and I think we're second or third across Canada. We know that the situation requiring affordable and safe housing is going to get much worse, not better. So we have to be investing in the short and long term. I'm really concerned about the amount of money that's being given as loans to these private for-profit developers that is going to create affordable housing for the short term, and then it's going to revert over to market prices.
There are other models that other provinces are using. Saskatchewan and Manitoba have invested heavily in the non-profit sector. There's a problem. Non-profits are set up to serve a particular need in the community that's arising out of challenges and concerns that have been identified in that community. They usually don't have the technical expertise to get into the housing market. It concerns me when they approach me and say, well, we've submitted an application to the department, but it's sitting on somebody's desk or they say we need more detail in this area but they don't have the expertise or the time to be able to help us.
I think the non-profits - because they're the ones that are going to allow that housing stock to remain there forever and ever and be directed by community priorities, they either have to be given extra money to help them contract out the expertise they need to create an application that meets your criteria, or you need to have technical experts on staff who can work with the non-profit sector to allow them to do that. They can grow the actual housing stock into supportive programs and services for people in need living in their apartments or townhouses or whatever they decide to build.
I'm just wondering if you can respond to why we're overloading the private for-profit developers and under-supporting the private non-profit development.
MS. TYSON: I'm going to ask Dan to comment, and I may add some comments as well.
MR. TROKE: I think that first and foremost any submissions we receive from the non-profit sector - even if unsuccessful, we do quite a bit of consultation with them. You're absolutely right; there is, sometimes, a technical expertise that maybe is not there, or a difficulty in financing. So when we receive those proposals, we do spend quite a bit of time - in fact much more time - with that sector in going through the things they need to think about in order to try to put a project together.
Many times, what we would get would simply be a concept. So someone would come forward with a concept and say, we would like to do this, whatever that may be. Then we would work with them over a period of time in order to see if that can develop. One of the things that we're doing in order to look even further at that issue is that, in the second phase of the Affordable Housing Program, we are offering the ability of not-for-profits to have 50 per cent of the development cost to be covered as part of the Affordable Housing Program. So there's an ability to go much deeper in our ability to work with them - just as alluded to - if there's a greater need to get into either technical expertise or whether there's a greater need for design, or whatever may be the case. We certainly are exploring that, and that's part of the request for proposal. We put in there a component that allows them to go up to 50 per cent.
The other piece is that our department, as well as other departments that have technical expertise, does offer the ability to work with them to give comment, whether it's architectural, whether it's advice as to structure and planning process. At the end of the day, what we really need to look at is, are those groups that are going to come forward with a proposal that has a real market need for whatever area they're proposing for, just as any project, and at the end of the day are they going to have the ability to carry it forward?
I think the thing we have to look at is the ability of that group to take this for 10, 15, 20 years, however long they see as their target for what they're trying to accomplish. I guess we have really spent a lot of time working with those groups, and we certainly are putting an emphasis in the next round in working with them to go deeper in what we can provide them. Certainly in every case, when they've come forward with proposals, we take the time to sit down and work through the details of that proposal. If there's something missing, we certainly would work with them to say, here are mechanisms to look at achieving your ends. That's part of where we plan on going with our second phase.
MR. DILLON: I think, if I could clarify, as well. You may recall Phase I, the investment that was available federally-provincially was relatively small to address what you might call core need - $25,000 a unit, just aimed at getting below market and so on. That's what triggered the province to decide on a rent supplement model, so that we could take the province's funding and go deeper, so that in fact some of the clients served
under the Affordable Housing Program Phase I would in fact be people with much lower incomes, with rents according to their income, RGI.
Phase II is a fully RGI program. The feds have changed the rules so that all of the clients who get supported through the consequences of Phase II have to be rent geared to income-based. They have to be applicants who historically could apply and be on public housing waiting lists, for example. So that's one change.
In Phase I, in spite of the relatively small amount of assistance that was available - I've just quickly pencilled down - we've done five or six non-profit projects under Phase I. Two with Creighton Gerrish Development; I mentioned earlier, Northwood; we did one with Affirmative Industries in Dartmouth; St. Andrews in Antigonish; and I believe the New Deal organization is non-profit as well. I'm not sure if they're strictly non-profit, but they certainly have a community-based approach.
So there have been some non-profit projects succeed through the Phase I process in spite of the fact that the money available in Phase I was restricted by the feds to being a fairly small investment.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well, I thank you for that. I just wanted to get back to you, Dan, did you say that 50 per cent of the development cost of the application process might be covered?
MR. TROKE: What we've proposed is that we would receive a submission and up to 50 per cent of the development costs - all costs. So basically you would look at a unit cost, how much per unit to develop. Now there are some maximums that are on that with the federal government, but it's certainly much deeper than what we had in Phase I, which had a maximum of $25,000 per unit. In this phase, we've actually, specifically, taken not-for-profits and put them as a separate stream within the request call, so that the ability for us to go deeper for those is there.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well, I don't want to get into all the challenges of the voluntary sector in Nova Scotia, but when you add a responsibility like that to a group that usually is struggling just to maintain its own core programs and services, I think it's asking an awful lot, unless you're providing a lot more support in that application development stage. Yet those are the very groups that are going to guarantee that we have a permanent legacy out of these federal funds. The rent supplements and giving them to the private, for-profit developers help in the short term but again, they are band-aid solutions and they're not going to allow that stock to be there and make the situation better down the road.
I just want to finish by asking if any of you are familiar with the initiative that has been so successful in New York, where they've recognized that safe, affordable and
adequate housing is the key to turning people's lives around, getting them off the streets, allowing them to take upgrading and retraining, getting jobs. It is an open door to a whole new life and they've actually decreased the number of homeless on the streets by two-thirds, I believe, because they have a very progressive, compassionate, proactive strategy. My time is up.
I just want to finish by saying that several years ago staff from the - when did the Department of Housing move into your department?
MR. DILLON: It was in 2001.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well, it was actually right around 2001 we had a huge, Healthy Communities conference in Truro in this province and 30 members of the staff of the Department of Housing came and we were astounded by this fabulous, progressive vision for housing in this province. I don't know what has happened to that vision and that strategy but I don't see the evidence of it in what we're hearing today and what we've seen in the binder.
It is one thing to spend money in small pockets and help two or three or five or six people here but we need a much broader framework, I think, in order to invest this funding opportunity from the feds. So thank you very much.
MR. GOSSE: Thank you, Madam Chair. When this Canada-Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Program was announced in October 2003, the government first predicted 1,500 units and now they have said down to 850. On your slide today I saw 570 units, so I mean it is far beyond what they predicted, where Saskatchewan has built 2,000, Manitoba has built 3,000. I just feel that the government has inflated the numbers and not lived up to the requirements for an open and transparent management of this program.
The federal rules are too weak, the public and advocates have the right to know how the money has been spent. We sit here today and I asked questions earlier about the 570 on the slide, but I know that that development in North Sydney is not built, the ground is not broken. Yet it is in the presentation stating as if it was completed or done. It is not - there is not one unit. That's why I asked if I could knock on the door going home.
I'll continue on now. My colleague, the member for Victoria-The Lakes mentioned an issue - asbestos - and I am glad that he brought it up today. I was the guy
who broke the story about asbestos in the Province of Nova Scotia in the public housing units. I know what that is causing in Cape Breton. In my constituency alone, 700 people - low-income families and seniors - are waiting for housing and can't get in because there's a stop work order. You can't put a picture on the wall, you can't get a telephone, you can't get cable.
The desperate need of affordable public housing for people with disabilities and seniors in Cape Breton is just unreal. I have been saying this for two years now. When we had the public meetings in Cape Breton, the director in Community Services said, you know if somebody wants to transfer, we'll look at it. So when the family does down and says look, my doctor wants me out because I lived there under construction. The Pinchin LeBlanc report that everybody is saying, like you mentioned earlier, Mr. Deputy Minister, we are waiting for that report to come back and then we'll deal with that report and what we're going to do in the long-term strategy of public housing in Cape Breton.
Again, those people were exposed under the construction phase. Now in that report it said relatively easy, the way that they monitored the system saying we didn't have any asbestos fibres, whatever else, but during the construction phase the workers and the people living there were exposed. So when a resident comes to my office and tells me that her physician states that her daughter has been exposed, so she goes through the proper channels and goes down to the housing department and says, I want a transfer. The housing department says okay, that's got to go to the board. They deny her transfer.
Now, we have a Housing Department that's denying a medical request from a doctor, stating that family has to be moved. I don't understand how the Housing Department can sit here, or anybody can sit here, and realize that here's a single mother of four children, who works, is not on income assistance, and wants to get out of there for the health and safety of her children, and has medical evidence, and is still being denied a transfer.
I have the letter from the Cape Breton Island Housing Authority here today, which I'll give you at the end of this meeting, denying her transfer. I have her appeal letter here, begging the department, for the health and safety of her children, to move out. I'll give you that paper.
One other thing, before I finish up today, I also met with a group of co-operative housing, two weeks ago here in Halifax, and Mr. David Emery. I have a list of questions that I'm going to give you today before you leave on the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation-Nova Scotia Housing Development Corporation agreement with the Department of Community Services. I think that was 1997 when it was signed. There's a list of questions that I'll leave with you today, and I'll leave my card here. Hopefully you'll get back to me in response to these questions.
Again, when do you think that the final Phase II report from Pinchin LeBlanc will be available to the members in the Legislature, or to the Minister of Community Services?
MS. TYSON: We expect to receive that report by the end of the year. So we're waiting for it now, and it could be expected any time.
MR. GOSSE: Will the department release that report to the Members of the Legislative Assembly, or release that report along with the internal report? When I asked for the internal report, they said that their lawyers were involved and they couldn't do that, the internal report done by Cyril LeBlanc and David Ryan. Will that report also be released with the other report?
MS. TYSON: The Pinchin LeBlanc report would be released under the normal access.
MR. GOSSE: Freedom of information?
MS. TYSON: Yes. Well, you wouldn't have to apply for it, it would be released upon request. So with respect to that, we expect it soon. It will be available to you.
Can I comment - we do know there's a high vacancy right now in our public units in Cape Breton. We are trying to address that. The Cape Breton Island Housing Authority does have a plan. They're giving that priority. We do still have some stop-work orders and some issues with respect to the 100 units that we may not be able to deal with immediately, but we're working on that. We are putting a plan in place - there is a plan in place now for that particular area. There will be a province-wide plan, which we will be able to track the vacancies. It's very important because of the need to turn these units around as quickly as possible. I think it was yourself, Mr. Gosse, who raised this issue, brought this issue to our attention, and was the impetus for the plan that's being put in place province-wide, headed by Dan Troke. It is a concern to us.
I just want to correct an earlier statement. Earlier on, very early in Phase I of the Affordable Housing Agreement, there was an estimate of 800 to 1,500 units. The number of units depends upon how much money you spend per unit. The decision was made by the previous Minister of Community Services that we should deal with the units most in need, which would require more money per unit, and that is the reason the number of units was decreased. My calculation indicates 928 units.
MR. GOSSE: New units?
MS. TYSON: That would be the combination of everything.
MR. GOSSE: I'm saying new units built, actually.
MR. DILLON: The agreement, when it was signed in 2002, allowed for four different programs - new, preservation and so on - and the 800 to 1,500 was all different types of units, not simply new rental. New rental is actually 570, I believe.
MR. GOSSE: When I got elected I became versed in the housing policies in the Province of Nova Scotia, because it's a daily routine in your office. I don't think I got elected to be called every day, continuously being an advocate for people, which I don't mind being, but that's what has consumed my time as a Member of the Legislative Assembly, being an advocate for people with disabilities, seniors and trying to get affordable housing for those people. I just think that the government has to step up to the plate and build - put money into non-profit organizations, co-operatives, to build these units for these people who are less fortunate than we are, sitting at this table today.
I think it has to come up with a long-term strategy, nationally, provincially to build those units as soon as possible, because we're in a crisis in the Province of Nova Scotia for housing, for people with disabilities and seniors and low-income families. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Junior.
MR. THERIAULT: We were speaking earlier, and you mentioned you weren't sure about the future funding, I believe you said federally.
MS. TYSON: Yes, that's correct.
MR. THERIAULT: That kind of stuck in my mind. Can you tell this panel right now how far we are behind in appropriate housing, suitable housing for all of our people in this province? Do you see that growing worse as our population ages, the baby boomers coming on? How far are we behind right now in appropriate housing, and do you see that growing worse?
MS. TYSON: I'm going to ask Dan to comment.
MR. TROKE: Well, I think what we see here in the province is that consistently we receive applications somewhere, per year, for repair, of about 2,000 across the province. I think it's 2,000 to 2,500. That number has been fairly consistent over a period of time. The federal program that the deputy mentioned with regard to RRAP is a program that the federal government allocates based on what they call core housing needs. So they look across and statistically determine how much goes to each province. That particular program, we actually do get a larger share than per capita because of the age of our stock in this province. We have something like 25 per cent of our stock that
was built pre-World War II. So the older the stock, obviously, typically, the more repairs that would be associated with that.
There seems to be a consistent pattern. What would seem to be increasing is the amount that would often go into a repair, thus the whole impetus for creating a preservation program. When you have repairs that would exceed the $16,000 maximum that is associated under RRAP for a homeowner, whether that's cost of labour, cost of materials or you just need to do larger repairs to those units, it's probably a combination of all of those. That particular program, we've put in the Affordable Housing Program and are delivering, so that essentially is a 50/50 funded program between the federal government and the province, and is part of Phase I and also part of Phase II of the Affordable Housing Program.
With regard to the repairs, Harold mentioned we do have, at different times, blips where we have more repairs coming in in any given month, but overall it appears that we have a fairly consistent number of repairs that seem to be coming in across the province as a whole, over time. Whether that would go up as stock gets older or as incomes change, at this point in time I don't have any specific information that would lead us to believe that number would be growing dramatically.
MR. DILLON: If I could add, the overall measure of affordability, which is often the way this is described in any province or in the country, varies by province. Statistically, in the country, I think the latest statistics suggest 85 per cent of Canadian households have affordable housing, and correspondingly, perhaps 15 per cent of households have an affordability problem. That's generally a national statistic. It's consistent province to province. I think in Nova Scotia, it's somewhere around 16 per cent of households are measured as having an affordability problem.
The overwhelming majority of those Nova Scotians who statistically would have an affordability problem are probably living in the housing they want to live in. They don't need new affordable housing, necessarily, they don't need housing somewhere else. The overwhelming majority of them are either renting or living where they want to be. But their income is such that you get this affordability challenge between their income and what it's costing where they live.
So there are two ways to address the issue. One is through the income side, through employment, through strengthening the economy and so on. A couple of other ways is through improving the stock they're in to make it more affordable for them, through repairs, or in fact going to the creation of new stock entirely. The new stock solution is the most expensive solution, obviously because it involves investing $150,000 a unit for every unit you create. Home preservation and repairs is a less expensive option for both the owner and for government. Increasing the income is a much more challenging variable, because it's a function of the economy, it's a function of
government support programs and so on. So it's a rather complex equation that's not necessarily addressed by the creation of new stock.
The other factor you need to understand is that the population of Nova Scotia, for the first time, has kind of taken a reduction. When the population is reducing, it brings in the question of whether we have enough stock for the population that exists here and how we make that stock both affordable and in good condition for the population we serve. So those are the challenges we deal with every day, trying to balance those different priorities.
MR. THERIAULT: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay, we have a few minutes, four or five minutes left for short snappers, if anyone wants to. Otherwise, I'll ask the deputy to give some closing comments. Trevor.
MR. ZINCK: It's interesting comments you make there, Mr. Dillon, in regard to new stock. Deputy, you're well aware of a situation that we've been dealing with, the minister has been dealing with in the recent weeks. I've had the opportunity to meet with several parents and we're talking about the moratorium that's on small options homes, the 11-year moratorium.
I don't want to put words in Mr. Dillon's mouth, but what he's telling us is that it costs an enormous amount of money for new units. Rents are rising. These individuals who have been dealing with this series of studies, I'm wondering - and I'll pose it to you, Deputy - if we're just merely putting off something that we can't deal with, saying we're going to do one more study. Why not be honest and just say, look, we can't afford it. At least those individuals would be able to deal with that.
What seems to be taking place is that we're continuously studying a subject that we're very well aware of, the need of it, the necessity of it. I'm just wondering why we continue to study something that we already know is important, already know a possible solution. I know another study is in the works, it's six months, when will we see that? Will we see that right at the six-month barrier? Will there be an announcement to these families that have been struggling with this for many years, will they know where they stand at that point?
MS. TYSON: That's a very large area. I'll try to be as brief as I can. Our whole services for persons with disabilities continuum of supports has been under review and it has been greatly needed. We have introduced three new programs and each one is a very major program. The effort of those three programs has been endorsed by the community at large, through unanimous agreement through a working paper, a discussion paper, and responses. The result of that is to put more effort and to put more of our
money and resources into supporting people to stay in their own communities in their own homes. So the three programs that have been introduced, one each year, provide financial support for people to remain in their home and the financial support enables respite and other supports for the family members to enable that to happen.
The alternate family support, which is other families who are willing and able to take people into their homes; an adult foster care arrangement; and the independent living, I think, is a wonderful program which enables people to live on their own in apartments with up to 21 hours of support. So these are the people who are capable of being more independent. Some of those people have come out of larger residential options and they are now living in apartments.
So we're expanding those programs and developing those programs province-wide, but they've all been introduced. There are more steps that we need to take and to look at the residential options from small options homes to group homes to the larger facilities, we need to - there is a continuum there from the community through the smaller homes - there's a place for all of them.
We need to look at what we have in the province and what the needs are and, as we did in the child welfare residential redesign, in that case we found there were enough option properties but we didn't have enough of the right kind. So we are in the process of rejigging or juggling those residential properties to suit the needs. We found actually that we had many options at the lower support level, but at the higher support level we didn't have enough.
I don't know if we'll find that, as we are going through the residential redesign process, the six-month process that you mentioned with adults with disabilities. I'm not sure, I think the situation is tighter in that area.
We are, meanwhile, looking at options that we can introduce right away to relieve some of that support. There is a place for the small options homes, the group homes. We will, I hope, over the next year be able to be more definitive on what we have and what we need. We're also looking at the funding strategy, which has not been addressed for many years. We're looking at the adult workshops and day programs, and how they support people who are living at home or who are living in these other residential options, where are they and how many do we have, how many do we need, what condition are they in? We're looking at the condition of our residential options province-wide, as well. We're looking at a common assessment tool with Health.
I could talk to you for quite a long time, but I'll stop there. I hope to be able to meet that six-month deadline. Staff have been hired. Helen Patriquin, who was formerly
with the Nova Scotia Health Authorities Organization, has been hired to lead that initiative, and she is working now. I certainly hope to be able to meet that deadline.
MR. ZINCK: One more really quick one?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: No, sorry, Trevor. Junior wants one quick one, and then - actually we have a whole meeting dedicated to persons with disabilities, so we're going to be able to pursue some of this discussion at that time. Junior.
MR. THERIAULT: Community Services is quite a complicated department - big. You've run off here today, a few times, in other places. Do you think the department of Housing or the Housing side of Community Services would function better and more efficiently if it was a department by itself?
MS. TYSON: We have two different functions in Housing, really. We have the Housing programs, the support programs, the repair programs that are federally and provincially funded. We find that quite a few of our clients require more than one of our programs. The people who require repairs to their houses, sometimes require income assistance or employment supports. We do find there's a synergy there, and we're working toward looking after those people in one place with one application, and dealing with all of their needs at the same time. We're not there yet - obviously, we're not there yet.
The other side of Housing is the rental, it's a landlord-tenant - we're the largest landlord in the province through our housing authorities. They are set up - there's a housing corporation which does the funding and the financing, and then there are seven housing authorities. We are currently looking at that arrangement. That operates relatively separately. We have local boards that make decisions, tenant decisions, that approve tenant applications to come in and deal with those issues. And we have staff who deal with that function, which is really - there's about a 15 per cent overlap there, but it's a more separate operation. We are looking at that whole issue right now. In fact, yesterday we had quite a lengthy meeting, talking about how we can improve the operation of the housing and the effectiveness of the housing and accountability and those kinds of questions. I'll leave it at that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: One quick snapper from Gordie, and then we have to move into the deputy's comments, and we have to continue on prioritizing the topics and timing for the next couple of meetings.
MR. GOSSE: When was the last report by the Auditor General of Nova Scotia on Housing in the Province of Nova Scotia given to the General Assembly?
MR. DILLON: The broad scope audit - I don't know if that's the right term - was completed in 2003, and I believe the Auditor General is revisiting the Housing Services section of the department right now. We've been notified. So there's an audit underway, and he'll be engaging all the sectors in the department and the authorities and so on.
MR. GOSSE: It has been three years?
MR. DILLON: That's my knowledge, that they went in 2003, and they're in again.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Deputy, would you like to make a few closing remarks?
MS. TYSON: Just that I would like to thank people for their comments. I've made a couple of notes of things that I would like to look into a little further. It's a very difficult area, a challenging area, housing. I'd just like to say that we can always improve. Do we need more? Could we use more? Sure, yes, we could use more money, more staff, more federal programs.
I think we are trying to juggle and do the best we can with what we have. I think staff are quite successful at that, but can we improve? I think your comments today will help us in that direction. We take them seriously and we'll follow-up on them. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, and we certainly appreciate . . .
OBSERVER: I'd just like to put these comments in context. In HRM, there are 31,000 residents at risk of homelessness while Marion Tyson gets a $16,000 bonus . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Excuse me, I'm sorry, I haven't adjourned the meeting.
ANOTHER OBSERVER: We don't mean to offend the standing committee, but we never got a chance to talk. We're here from the Halifax Coalition Against Poverty . . .
ANOTHER OBSERVER: You should be ashamed of yourselves . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I want to thank the three of you for coming today and we're going to move into this session where we're talking about the upcoming meetings. Deputy, you may be interested because actually your department is on the list a few more times so if you don't mind just staying for five minutes while this discussion goes on, then we can all break at the same time. Okay.
I just want to remind the committee that we have two sort of larger meetings next on our agenda and unfortunately the witnesses couldn't come for December so we need to get your comments on this. You remember that we decided to set aside three hours for early learning and child care and that would include three presentations, including an hour from the Department of Community Services.
We also wanted, around the anniversary date of our Forum on Poverty - sort of January-February - to bring four or five of the main groups that we heard from at that forum back and talk about whether or not there have been any updates, any progress, any changes in their information and sort of re-strategize how our standing committee wants to move forward on issues around poverty.
The other couple of agenda items that we approved during our organizational meeting were having the Department of Community Services in again to talk about services for persons with disabilities and also to invite the chairperson and committee member from the National Council on Welfare to come and talk about some of their recent reports.
So our scheduling has been thrown a little bit into disarray because of the fact that we've been called back into the Legislature on January 8th, so one option is to plan one of the larger meetings towards the end of January, assuming that we'll be out of the Legislature by then, and then perhaps planning a second, larger meeting earlier February. That would sort of bring us back on track in terms of our meetings. I want to get feedback, especially from the permanent members of the standing committee as to how you want to handle that.
MR. ZINCK: I'm fine. The biggest question is how long this next session is going to last. We're only supposedly addressing one issue but we don't know per se how long it is going to take. So I think later in January or earlier in February we should go ahead with the schedule, in my opinion. I'm fine with that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So do I have agreement or consensus that we'll do the early learning and child care towards the end of January, if at all possible, and then the second one will be revisiting the Forum on Poverty, hopefully within the first couple of weeks of February, then we can move back to our regular schedule, which is usually the third Thursday of the month. Do we have agreement on that?
MR. ZINCK: So we would actually meet twice in February, then? Or just the one time?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: There's the possibility. We can discuss that at one of the early meetings in 2007. Any disagreement?
Okay, we'll move forward and try to arrange that.
Thank you very much and I declare the meeting adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:56 a.m.]