AG’s report on public housing calls out system failures

·3 min read

GUYSBOROUGH – Nova Scotia doesn’t have an effective governance structure in place for public housing and is failing to provide adequate oversight of the regional housing authorities across the province, says Auditor General Kim Adair in a report released June 21.

“It is important that eligible Nova Scotians are provided access to public housing in a fair, consistent and timely manner that ensures existing public housing units are used to their maximum potential,” said Adair.

The province’s public housing portfolio consists of more than 11,000 units. As of Dec. 31, 2021, there were close to 6,000 applicants on the waitlist for housing, more than half the number of units in the province. While there is an average wait time of about two years, some applicants can wait much longer for a unit, depending on the location and size required.

The report found that regional housing authorities are not effectively managing public housing application and tenant placement processes. Inconsistent and poor processes were identified throughout the audit period, which covered Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2020.

In response to the report, Guysborough-Tracadie MLA Greg Morrow provided the following statement to The Journal on June 24, via email: “The audit makes 20 recommendations, including implementing an effective governance structure, and creating a fair and consistent public housing application process and accurate waitlist ranking system. The Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing agrees with the recommendations and is actively working toward resolutions.”

Nancy O’Regan, co-chair of the Guysborough County Housing Network, wrote of the report in an email to The Journal, “Nothing about the report surprises me. The regional authority approach does not seem to work as well as intended. Some of the recommendations from the Auditor General really stand out for me. Often tenants who have challenges securing and maintaining adequate housing require wrap-around supports including health, mental health, addictions and other services. New policies are needed, but a process to revise and update policies on a regular basis would be helpful.”

O’Regan continued, “What was not looked at in this audit is the physical state of public housing in Guysborough. In our recent community housing consultations, we heard concerns about aging properties that are not being adequately upgraded. This speaks to the need for increased budgets for both upgrading and regular maintenance.

“I hope the recently launched needs and demands study [by] the Province…will address the need to increase public housing in rural areas that are undeserved, in particular the African Nova Scotian communities in Guysborough County,” O’Regan concluded.

A press release issued by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing on June 21 stated, “As the government, we owe it to all Nova Scotians to ensure we are managing our public housing units efficiently and effectively. While the issues did not develop overnight and we know there is much to improve, we are taking immediate action to make things better. We agree with the findings in the Auditor General’s report on the Oversight and Management of Government Owned Public Housing and accept all the recommendations.

“We have made progress already on some of the areas highlighted and are working on plans to modernize operations so we can help more people and families … We have also taken steps to reduce our wait-lists and decrease the turnaround time on vacant units, as well as put measures in place to confirm the eligibility of people waiting for our units. We are working to improve issues resolution for residents.”

The Auditor General’s report can be found online at https://www.oag-ns.ca.

Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal

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