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Addressing Housing Affordability and Availability: HRM’s Upcoming Planning Reforms

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The HRM is currently facing substantial challenges concerning housing affordability and availability due to unprecedented increases in local demand, primarily driven by recent historical high population growth. Recent construction trends have failed to keep pace with this surging demand, resulting in an estimated shortage of 17,500 units across the housing spectrum as of the end of 2022 (as per the Provincial Housing Needs Assessment project – see here – led by Turner Drake). Projections indicate a possible increased unit deficit of 31,000 by 2027 if construction rates remain average.

In response to national gaps in housing, the federal government initiated the Housing Accelerator Fund (HAF) program in 2023, which offers incentive funding to local governments to boost housing supply. On October 12, 2023, an agreement between the HRM and the Government of Canada secured $79.3 million in federal funding for housing initiatives to be implemented by the end of 2026.

To meet the 2026 deadline and address the considerable local shortage, the HRM’s Regional Council directed the CAO to expedite planning document amendments in the Regional Centre and Suburban Area, facilitating denser housing development. The HRM proposed several amendments, outlined on their website, with a particular focus on enhancing missing middle housing, such as townhouses and small-scale multi-unit housing. This shift aims to bridge the gap between single-unit dwellings and high-density apartments, eliminating single-detached-only zoning in the Regional Centre and allowing many low-density residential areas to permit upwards of four units.

Focusing on missing middle housing aligns with similar efforts in various Canadian communities under HAF agreements. The Province of British Columbia, for instance, passed legislation allowing three to four units per lot within municipalities of 5,000 or more people. This aligns with international practices, with communities like Portland, Oregon; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Auckland, New Zealand, who are experimenting with similar concepts.

Another crucial proposal involves enhancing the flexibility of the built form within HRM’s Regional Centre. This includes increasing the maximum building heights in specific zones, reducing setback requirements, providing additional floor area exemptions, and expanding size permissions for tower floor plates. These proposed changes are designed to boost the density of new developments, aiming to introduce larger volumes of new housing units within a single structure to address the existing housing gap. 

For more details on the HRM’s future development rules, visit their website. Residents can share questions or feedback on these amendments until Friday, February 16, 2024, at , contributing to a report to Regional Council in March 2024.

If you or your community are interested in learning more about housing needs and the effectiveness of planning initiatives like HRM’s in your jurisdiction, feel free to contact our planning division. We have extensive experience in housing needs assessment and strategy work and are eager to share our expertise.

Andrew Scanlan is manager of our Planning Division. For more information about how you can benefit from the unique expertise of our Planning & Economic Intelligence team, contact Andrew at (902) 429-1811 or .

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