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After tuition fees, one of the largest expenses students face is housing. Every year thousands of students rent or purchase houses and apartments, with the hope of finding affordable and high quality housing. Municipalities have a responsibility to make sure it is available to them.
A 2015 report from the Housing and Homelessness Partnership found that 42.7% of renters have a housing affordability issue – they spend more than 30% of their total household income on housing. It is projected that over the next 10-years Halifax will grow by 47,000 people, but that only 20,240 units of housing will be built during this period. This trend will only worsen the housing affordability crisis and its impact on students. Halifax, and other municipalities, should work with the provincial government to introduce rent controls to ensure that housing is affordable for students and all Nova Scotians.
Municipalities can also introduce and expand inclusionary housing policies. These policies require private developers to dedicate a percentage of units in new properties to affordable housing. This would guarantee that new housing being built across the province is still affordable for students.
As well as cost, students are concerned about the quality of the housing they rent. There are many documented cases of students renting a property that is unsafe and unsuitable to live in. Students must then turn to a tenant’s appeal process, adding to the workloads they already face with class and work. ACORN NS is recommending that municipalities in Nova Scotia implement landlord licensing. Licensing, which is required to operate many other types of businesses, would create a small revenue stream through license fees that would fund improved inspections. It would make inspections routine, and tie complaints to registered properties instead of tenants. Basically, it would proactively make sure that properties were suitable to rent, rather than waiting for an unsuspecting tenant to rent such a property. This policy has already been implemented successfully in Windsor, Ontario.
Steps that municipalities can take to improve affordable housing:
- Call on provincial government to implement rent control
- Introduce and strengthen inclusionary housing policies
- Implement landlord licensing
Arts and Culture
Artists play an integral role in communities across our province. Our universities and colleges offer programs in fine arts, craft, design, and performance. In a 2010 survey, 18,300 Nova Scotians identified as working in the Arts and Culture sector. This survey also found that these workers made on average 32% less per year than the provincial average. Municipalities need to play a stronger role in supporting arts and culture, and the people working in these fields.
Municipalities must provide sufficient grant funding to arts and culture initiatives. The Greater Halifax Arts Council reports that in 2012, per capita investment in arts and culture in Halifax was just $0.55 compared to $5 nationally. In the past 4-years, Halifax has made some progress in closing this gap, but more should be done. On top of increasing grants funding, municipalities should take efforts to ensure that these grants are awarded by an independent and peer-review process.
Many municipalities are failing to access national supports like the Creative City Network. Currently the only three municipalities to be members of this network are the Halifax Regional Municipality, the town of New Glasgow, and the town of Port Hawkesbury.
What municipalities can do to support arts and culture:
- Create a dedicated cultural affairs office
- Match national per capita funding for arts and culture ($5.00)
- Introduce dedicated arts grants that are awarded by an independent arts council
- Subscribe to the Creative City Network of Canada
- Create and maintain purpose built performance venues
Since the 1970s, the minimum wage in Nova Scotia has failed to keep pace with inflation. You can now work full time making the minimum wage and still live below the poverty line. If the minimum wage had increased at the same rate as tuition fees in Nova Scotia, it would now be approximately $23/hour. While provincial governments set minimum wages in Canada, municipalities can take a strong stand by paying all their employees at least $15 hour and only working with contractors who do the same. Not only does this pressure the provincial government to follow suit, it also boosts consumer spending and the economy in the municipality.
What municipalities can do to support fair wages:
- Introduce a $15 minimum wage ordinance
Food security means that an individual can secure enough healthy food for themselves and their families. Province wide, Nova Scotia is currently going through a period of increasing food insecurity. Since 2008, food bank use province wide has grown by 16.6%. Students, who have limited incomes and face skyrocketing tuition fees, are particularly susceptible to food insecurity. The food bank run by the Students’ Union for NSCAD University reported a 200% increase in use of their food bank between 2013 and 2015. Tackling food insecurity will require cooperation from the federal and provincial levels of government, but there are some steps that municipalities can take to combat it.
What municipalities can do to combat food insecurity:
- Invest in local food production and distribution
- Support farmers markets
- Introduce and strengthen grants to develop community garden projects
Public transportation is important to students. Not only does good public transport reduce greenhouse gasses, it provides an affordable option for getting around our communities.
In their 2015 report On Track for 2020, the Halifax Cycling Coalition notes a general trend across North America towards cycling. Cycling promotes healthier lifestyles, reduces the cost of automobile infrastructure, and cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions. The coalition cites many documented cases of protected bike lanes increasing cycling up to four times the pre-existing rate. Urbanised municipalities should do everything they can to support the number of cyclists in their community.
What municipalities can do to boost cycling:
- Create protected bike lanes
A key component of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) is to reduce reliance on single-occupancy vehicle use. According to HRM Metro Transit, a single 40-foot bus takes the place of approximately 40 vehicles on HRM streets, reducing GHG emissions by 20%. Individuals using public transit instead of a private vehicle can prevent nearly a ton of pollutants from being released into the atmosphere every year. Improving pricing, planning and commuting option measures will reduce reliance on vehicles.
What municipalities can do to improve transit:
- Invest in public transit to increase the number of busses available for routes
- Redirect funding from projects that will increase car volume, such as road widening projects
- Work with the provincial governments to extend public transit and link rural communities