Everything you need to know about HRM council’s Sept. 12, 2023 meeting | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Catch up on Halifax council's Tuesday, Sept. 12 meeting.

Everything you need to know about HRM council’s Sept. 12, 2023 meeting

Including a shoutout to members of the public who took part in democracy.

On Sept 12, 2023, Halifax council decided not to go ahead with putting an encampment on the Common. Councillors briefly considered treating the housing crisis like the immediate and ongoing emergency it is. But ultimately their decision was underwhelming.

There’s not much more to be written on this that hasn’t already been said before, so here’s something that was written in the 1940s.

“No city in Canada was closer to the front lines of battle in 1942 than Halifax, Nova Scotia. But Halifax, like the rest of the country, was unprepared for a long war and the city struggled to cope with the heavy demand placed on her housing stock and municipal services. In one respect, Halifax was ready: the massive federal investment in new piers and rail facilities, begun before the First World War, enabled the port to accommodate huge British battleships and passenger liners converted into troopships. Her commodious harbour provided safe haven from German U-boats to hundreds of Allied merchantmen. But on the domestic front, Halifax could not even begin to manage the effects of a 10% rise in population in less than two years. Few industrial jobs, limited housing construction, a very high transient population, and a reluctance on the part of the federal government to accept responsibility for local problems all contributed to Halifax having a rather uncomfortable rail seat at the spectacle of war."

This is a quote from Gateway to the World, a film produced by the Nova Scotia Department of Industry and Publicity in 1946. In 1992 Jay White used this quote as the abstract for his paper on Halifax’s accommodation crisis. The paper, written for the Urban History Review in 1992, details that in the post-war housing crisis the government tried to act, did so poorly and the only thing that made the housing crisis better was that the Macdonald Bridge was built so more urban development could be done inexpensively on new land.

We can’t afford to rely on developing new land when we have plenty of good land that’s being underused. We need to change how we’re using the land we’ve already built up. We need to do something different. As of right now, we are condemned to repeat the mistakes of our past until the wheels come off of this ride.

Things that passed

The city is making it so that seniors housing is no longer an official zoning designation in the Beaver Bank area. There are 25 properties that can still be developed as long as they are supportive mixed-use units (formerly known as seniors units) and are completed by 2026, as their agreements are governed by the rules that changed during Tuesday’s council meeting. There’s a technical reason why seniors housing shouldn’t really be a legal zone anymore—if you want to read that reasoning, it’s here.

Councillor Waye Mason says putting wifi on buses won’t be feasible in the short-term, so council directed Halifax Transit to stop looking into it and instead focus on making transit more reliable. During this very short debate, councillor Trish Purdy asked how other cities get wifi on their buses. City staff said that small cities pay for it, but large cities have corporate sponsors. Halifax, it seems, is the middle child of public services.

The HRM’s war on pizza has reached an uneasy truce. The Pizza Faction, consisting of pizzerias Jubilee and Triple A, has agreed to stop selling pizza by 1am on Friday and Saturday nights. (The three Dartmouth pizzarias remained neutral in this conflict as they were almost completely unaffected.)

The city is going to see if it can afford a library for Mill Cove in this year’s budget. Council will look into this at a later meeting, though: This item was deferred due to the length of time that council spent talking about the growing humanitarian crisis in public parks.

Fees will go up for tearing up the street to do work.

Clayton Developments wants to build a tower, and the Centre Plan needs a minor amendment to allow for an architectural feature the developer wants included. There will be a public hearing in the future about this.

The HRM-owned Prospect Road Community Centre can now officially be run by volunteers.

The city will likely give up to $20,000 to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness Conference being held in Halifax on Nov. 3. But there’s been some administrative weirdness behind the scenes, so mayor Mike Savage asked that this be deferred so he could ensure this funding was going through the proper channels.

The city is in the process of making a process to ease the stress of preventing automotive egress on roads if a public congress wants to frolic to excess. (AKA, it will be easier to open streets up to people/shut them down to cars.)

Council’s got a report about its year-end financials. The increased cost of fuel left business units with a $3.6 million deficit—even though the city got $8 million to offset the increased cost of fuel, gas ended up costing $11 million.

The city is starting the process of making 6484 Jubilee Road, 1741-1743 Henry Street, 1745 Henry Street and 6038 Charles Street heritage properties. The Downtown Halifax Heritage Conservation District Plan, plus those four properties, will now all go to their subsequent public hearings.

Councillor Pam Lovelace will ask for an emergency preparedness plan for schools in the HRM to see how efficiently they could be evacuated in an emergency. This report should be interesting when it comes back; she’ll ask for this next meeting as it was deferred.

In 2006 and 2022, the province offloaded water infrastructure to the HRM, but didn’t give the city enough of the surrounding land to effectively manage stormwater. Lovelace wants the provincial government to do maintenance, or give the city the lands so the city can do it. But this too will wait for the next council meeting.

Lovelace wants Halifax to rejoin the Capital Cities Organization and host the conference in 2024. This motion passed.

Councillor Tim Outhit wants to know if the city can buy out homeowners who find themselves on flood plains in Bedford. This requires a staff report and a letter to the premier, and Outhit has asked for both. Councillor Tony Mancini chimed in to say that the city has to do this because the province is aware of what is provincial responsibility and what is municipal responsibility. So far, however, the province has only used this knowledge to shirk its responsibility for the housing crisis and throw the city under the bus. This motion also passed after Mancini’s jurisdictional chirp.

Notable debates

This week's notable debates are vox populi! Here are some kudos to folks for participating in democracy, specifically the public hearing about the changes to seniors housing.

Big shoutout to the member of the public who tried really hard to confirm that his understanding of the seniors housing report was correct before going on an angry rant. The public hearing structure does not allow that (because people like me exist), but it will be interesting to see if this is something the city tries to address when the results of the ongoing public engagement review come back. That review is still open for feedback.

Other members of the public spoke up against those 25 developments—and this is where things get a bit tricky. Members of the affected communities argued that the seniors housing should not be built. They argued (correctly) that their communities have been negatively impacted by development. In the HRM, developers have not historically been responsible for paying for infrastructure and the needed public services. Which has resulted in residents occasionally having to pay for needed infrastructure out of pocket. The city is in the process of fixing this problem, which it has started to do piecemeal with development fee increases in last year’s budget, and a massive ongoing Regional Plan Review that aims to make development patterns more sustainable and uniform across the HRM in the future.

These big changes have the potential to be genuinely good for the betterment of the city. The sticky part is that there will be people who are on the wrong side of this change: People who will likely narrowly miss out on benefiting from any long-term improvement. If there are strong social supports, and if the people who miss out are equitably distributed, that’s likely the best we can hope for. But It’s less cool if we don’t really have strong social supports and the people who are missing out this time are the same ones who have missed out, or been left out, for the past 196 years.

The final speaker of note was Gabby from Bedford, who pointed out that the HRM’s bureaucracy was working against its own interest. Council is spending a lot of time and resources on grandfathering in a measly 25 properties to be more in line with something the city wants to be doing anyway. Is this really the best thing council could be doing with its time and resources—quite literally in the middle of the housing crisis debate?

About The Author

Matt Stickland

Matt spent 10 years in the Navy where he deployed to Libya with HMCS Charlottetown and then became a submariner until ‘retiring’ in 2018. In 2019 he completed his Bachelor of Journalism from the University of King’s College. Matt is an almost award winning opinion writer.
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