According to the National Council of Welfare, 146,000 Nova Scotians—16 per cent of our population—are living in poverty. If this seems bad, the figure for women will come as a shock. The same study reports that 43.2 per cent of unattached women in our province are poor, meaning their incomes fall below the low-income cutoff (LICO). The poverty rate is even higher for single mothers.
Women and men experience poverty differently. For many women in Nova Scotia poverty takes the form of homelessness, which can be visible or hidden. Visible homelessness includes staying in emergency shelters or places unfit for living, such as vehicles or parks. Hidden homelessness occurs when women live temporarily with friends, family or partners, too often experiencing violence and abuse.
A major factor contributing to homelessness is the severe lack of affordable housing in Nova Scotia. The Alternative Budget released this year by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives points out that “there are 4000 people on the waiting list for public housing in the province, and the turnover rate is only 13 to 15 per cent – that means a wait time of at least 2.5 years.”
What have our political leaders done to respond to this crisis? While there has been much talk about the need for affordable housing in Nova Scotia, there has been markedly little action. True, our provincial government has spent $44 million on affordable housing since 2005 and boasts the creation of some 1,000 new units. However, as researcher Katherine Reed has pointed out, most of this money was spent on renovations rather than building new homes.
Even if the government used this money to construct new affordable housing units, it would scarcely address the demand for affordable housing in Nova Scotia. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates that 22.6 per cent, or roughly 80,000, of our province’s households are in “core housing need” meaning they spend more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter. It would take much more than 1,000 new units to meet the needs of these households, says Reed.
Fortunately, politicians need not puzzle over how to solve this problem. Solutions to our province’s housing crisis are readily available; the only missing ingredient is political will. Although the Nova Scotia government has promised to spend $59 million on renovations and new units over the next three years, a more substantial investment is needed to ensure decent and affordable housing for all Nova Scotians.
Our provincial government would be wise to take its cue from the CCPA’s Alternative Budget which allocates $200 million over three years toward developing new affordable housing units and advises working in consultation with community-based organizations. The CCPA stresses that we need a national and provincial housing strategy to make this happen.
Adequate shelter is an issue for more than one-fifth of Nova Scotians, the majority of them women. Who among our political leaders is prepared to act on this issue?