Nova Scotia’s housing gap now wider than Ontario’s

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Appeared in AllNovaScotia, October 19, 2023
Nova Scotia’s housing gap now wider than Ontario’s

According to a new study published by the Fraser Institute, Nova Scotia’s population grew by 7,253 people in 2016—more than in any year since 1984. Population growth then increased every year since (barring the 2020 lockdown year) to reach 35,341 last year alone—the highest number of any year on record.

As a result, from 2016 to 2022, the province added nearly 100,000 people while the previous 100,000 took almost four decades. In short, Nova Scotia’s population growth has entered uncharted territory. It also shows no signs of slowing down—the Houston government has announced a target population of two million people by 2060, double the current level.

Meanwhile, housing completions have barely budged since 2016. For context, between 1973 and 2022, Nova Scotia’s population grew by one person per year (on average) for every home completed the previous year—the second-lowest ratio among all 10 provinces. But in recent years, that number has skyrocketed to reach 7.7 additional people per home built in 2022, with no signs of shrinking. This is the fourth-widest ratio in Canada and is actually higher than provinces with high-profile housing challenges such as Ontario and British Columbia.

These statistics illustrate the wide growing gap between the number of homes needed (population growth) and the number of homes built (housing completions). When housing is scarce, the cost of renting or buying homes goes up. This bodes poorly for Nova Scotia’s renters, young families looking for their first home, newcomers seeking their first home in the province, or workers and students in search of better prospects.

To its credit, the provincial government has taken note, striking an Executive Panel on Housing in the Halifax Regional Municipality in 2021 and acting quickly on its recommendations. Notably, the province designated 10 “special planning areas” where the minister of municipal affairs and housing has direct authority to fast-track housing projects. It’s too soon to tell whether this regulatory acceleration will bear fruit, but if all goes to plan these areas of the province should see the development of up to 22,600 new residential units—historically equivalent to more than four average years’ worth of housing completions.

However, recent population growth trends have been anything but average. The province saw far more immigration in 2022 than in any previous year on record, and there’s no sign of in-migration (from other provinces or abroad) slowing in coming years. Nova Scotia’s efforts to accelerate housing supply are largely commendable, but they’re unlikely to result in the amount of housing needed to close the province’s widening gap between housing supply and housing demand at current levels of growth.

In other words, Nova Scotia has made the right diagnosis of its housing problem, and given itself some tools to deal with it. But until the gap can be closed between rapid population growth and housing supply, Nova Scotia’s housing challenges are here to stay.