So Premier Tim Houston has done a 180 (well maybe not quite) about the 2% tax on every $100 of the assessed value of a property for out-of-province property owners. Clearly, a lot of people were angry and the newspapers (including The Globe and Mail!) and other media were full of protests by furious owners – and their relatives! Many had owned holiday homes in NS for generations; others had recently bought property as a hedge against the health panic around Covid; still others were speculators who had made a good buy when they purchased their NS property years before. Granted the 2% could have been pretty stiff for some. But the government was looking forward to enriching the province’s coffers by about $60 million with the new tax.
Houston and his cronies heard the protests that were loud and clear. He has rolled back his tax grab and re-jigged it to a graduated tax which will mean the government will only take in about $45 million or 25% less than what the government had originally wanted.
If only the premier listened as closely to those in real need – rather than the summer homeowners, the cottagers, and the speculators. It’s odd that after a mere 14 days of pressure, he’s watered down his proposed tax to calm the rich.
Houston is not listening to the people of NS whose median household income is less than $60,000. That means half the households in the province earn less than $60,000 in total, and half bring in more. On $60,000 or less, there is no way most working people can afford to buy a house or pay the astronomical rents in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). The same people would also find slim pickings in affordable housing in Truro, or in Sydney. In 2018, the average rent for an apartment (any size) in Halifax was $1,066 a month. A household had to have an income of at least $42,000 just to pay that rent and not have to squeeze out other necessities like transportation and food. In the last few months, inflation has shot up to 6.8% and by fall it might be closer to 10%. We all know people who can barely get by.
What’s more, the premier does not even pretend to listen to the poor, the homeless, the disabled or the elderly. If he did, why would he have given $21 million to developers of 9 suburban tracts to make it easier for them to build housing. Those millions in handouts to developers will provide for thousands of people who can afford $600,000 plus, on average, for a home, or $2,000 or more for an apartment big enough for a family. Sure there will be a few hundred units set aside for “affordable housing” (whatever that means see my earlier post here) but who exactly will subsidise those units? And for how many years?
The windfall coming to the government due to taxing the homes owned by non-residents will stand at about $45 million (instead of the $60 million first touted). To give you some idea, $45 million could build 250 detached 1200 square foot homes, with an attached garage. It could build nearly 400 townhouses, and apartments buildings that could house even more.
“This Should Be Housing”
In HRM there are more than a dozen buildings that are vacant (including the old public library) which could be turned into housing. This map gives some idea of where these buildings are located, and most are owned by the city, the province or the feds. Some are privately owned. $45 million could go a long way to renovate some of these existing empty buildings and create sustainable housing.
If the provincial government clawed back the $21 million it recently gave to its friends, the developers of the nine suburban tracts of land, that money could be added to the $45 million and could be spent on housing– throughout the province..
The front page of the Herald on Tuesday featured a long article about the fight by the Disability Rights Coalition against the NS government’s unacknowledged policy of systemic discrimination against people with disabilities. What stands out is that 500 hundred disabled people in NS must live in long-term care, in nursing homes (institutions), or live with aging parents, or in shelters without appropriate supports because the government will not pay them income assistance or give them supportive care—if they live outside of an institution. The discrimination is based on the fact that almost anyNova Scotian can access welfare — but the disabled cannot. This is because of the government’s lack of will, and worse – their lack of interest – in supporting those with disabilities. In fact there is a budgetary cap on assistance to the disabled which does not exist for non-disabled Nova Scotians. “That’s a human rights violation and it’s also contrary to the government’s statutory obligation and it flows from this budgetary cap,” said Claire McNeil, lawyer for the Disability Rights Coalition in this article.
It’s simply “not a priority” according to McNeil, speaking for the Coalition.
The trickle-down theory of economics simply doesn’t work. But Houston and his Tories rely on this theory to provide housing. The government wants to believe that giving money to developers (example: the $21 million) to build hundreds of private homes which will be sold, for profit, will solve the housing problem. It won’t. Because at the heart of the housing crisis is inequality.
A Look at Co-ops
In fact, experts are saying that non-market solutions are the way to go. That means governments must put serious money in non-profit housing, public housing and co-operatives. Let’s look at co-ops: there are currently 60 co-ops in NS which provide homes to over 1700 households. No landlord will force these people out; no one will renovict them. That is because the residents of co-ops are members and they decide how their communities will operate. A percentage of homes in a co-op are reserved for those who are low-income and need subsidies. Members pay a fair housing charge every month, which means money can go toward housing subsidies, repairs, or upgrades. Housing co-ops are communities with an investment in mutual aid – which we have seen in the pandemic is critical to getting through tough times.
Our premier is deliberately making the rich and well off more comfortable, and continuing to afflict the poor, the homeless, the disabled and elderly.
Featured image: A photo of folk-artist Maud Lewis and husband Everett, probably in the 1940s, in front of their one room home in Marshalltown, NS.