The next time you’re wandering Halifax and come across an abandoned building or empty piece of land, put a pin in that thought: With your help that property could become an affordable place for people to live. This should be housing is a brand-new collaborative mapping project that invites residents of the HRM to create a public database of vacancies in the city landscape.
“I’m sick of seeing the government pass the baton between themselves,” says Lorax Horne, creator of the mapping database that launched Monday. “We have a Liberal mayor, a Liberal premier and a Liberal prime minister, and they can’t blame each other for not doing anything.”
Horne first got involved with the creation of the map after noticing a “This should be housing” sticker on the old Spring Garden Road Memorial Library, during a rally for housing advocacy group Halifax Mutual Aid a couple weeks ago. After searching for more stickers around locations they believed should also be considered for the project, Horne reached out to Halifax Mutual Aid and the San Francisco-based Anti Eviction Mapping Project, a website that uses data-visualization to document the changes in gentrified landscapes.
“There’s always been datasets online that a subscriber can pay for, like Property Online, where realtors et cetera can get that level of insight into the property. But for the average person, it isn’t always easy,” says Horne. “So we wanted to invite folks to add their own data to the public record.”
To participate, members of the public simply need to find their desired location on the map of Nova Scotia at This should be housing’s website, and place a pin. Pins are colour-coded to signify the land’s current owner: red for public land controlled by the federal government, blue for provincial land, orange for municipal land, black for private and white when the ownership is unknown. Local housing advocates are illuminating this map as a method to encourage both the government and the public to get creative about solutions to the housing crisis in the HRM.
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ recent Housing for All plan, Nova Scotia needs over “30,000 units of permanently affordable housing, enough for all those in core housing need and who are homeless.” The plan tackles housing insecurity by calling for funding for adequate community-based support and a capital investment of $531 million each year for 10 years, as well as an additional $161 million per year in operating spending.
It sounds like a prohibitive amount of money, but getting 30,000 housing units for $5.31 billion works out to about $177,000 each, a bit less than half the $367,000 price of the average home in Halifax. And according to the book The Cost of Poverty in the Atlantic Provinces, cited in the report, poverty already costs the province “$2 billion per year in economic loss, $279 million in excess public services cost, and $231 million in foregone revenue,” far more than the annual price tag of the proposed plan.
“The report laid out a clear recommendation that has been useful to be able to build off of,” says Horne, who has continued to work with Halifax Mutual Aid to bring the project into fruition. “I think the folks who are working in this space have a clear vision and are working on transforming Halifax into what it could be.”
Of the locations already included on the new map, Halifax Mutual Aid specifically cites the former Saint Patrick’s-Alexandra school on Maitland Street, the Bloomfield Centre on Robie Street and the old Spring Garden library as three empty properties that “alone could provide more than enough housing to all those who are currently unhoused in our city.”
In addition to the map, Halifax Mutual Aid continues to fundraise donations to cover material costs and build shelters for those who are in critical need, having raised just over $9,000 of its $15,000 goal.