For Sonya Mullins, the benefits of thinking small are obvious – when it comes to housing
Mullins grew up in Halifax but spent most of her life in Montreal. Before the pandemic, she thought about moving back to Nova Scotia. But by the time she started looking seriously, housing prices had jumped so much that a traditional family home was out of her reach.
“I never even thought about a mini house [before]“But it was an option I could afford.
Mullins did the research and bought a mini-home in Hubbards west of Halifax for $180,000, sight unseen. “I’ll tell you, it’s probably the best choice I’ve ever made in my life.
As the cost of housing continues to rise in Nova Scotia, officials and service providers are hoping smaller homes could be part of the solution. The Halifax Regional Municipality recently voted to remove minimum dimensions for single-family homes and remove restrictions on shipping containers and mobile homes.
It’s part of a move he hopes will help meet the need for housing at the speed and scale needed as the province’s population continues to grow.
Home prices and rents continue to rise
In Nova Scotia, huge price increases in the early years of the pandemic have leveled off, but demand continues to outstrip supply.
In December, Atlantic Canada saw the largest annual increase in rental costs in the country, with average rents jumping 31.8 per cent for condos and rentals. Meanwhile, home values in Halifax-Dartmouth increased by eight percent year over year in 2022.
“With the pandemic and inflation and the continuing imbalance between the number of people moving into [Halifax] and the number of units we’re producing, we’re falling further and further behind in terms of affordable supplies,” said Kevin Hooper, Partnerships and Community Development Manager at United Way Halifax.
Hooper said the situation was “terrible” with a growing number of people simply having nowhere to go.
As this trajectory continues, Hooper said it’s important for people to look beyond conventional housing, which focuses on single-family homes, and instead encourage the construction of compact dwellings, including tiny homes, manufactured homes and shipping container homes.
“To build a tiny house, assuming it’s one unit at a time, but we need the units now, so there’s an argument to be made not only for the cost, but also for the time it takes and the need.” “
Hooper said supporting more small-scale development allows individual households to act as developers, including grown children struggling to find housing or older adults who need support.
“I just think we really need to open our minds to how this can really work for both housing and just community building.”
Encouraging “gentle density”
Kate Green, director of regional and community planning at HRM, said regional law amendments could expand options within existing housing stock, which is faster than building new supply.
“We’re really focused on what we call enabling fine density,” Green said. “Most Canadian cities are made up of large areas of single-family zones. So we really want to move that forward and use that land more efficiently.”
Two recent bylaw changes in HRM aim to encourage that shift, Green said. One was to allow shared housing – which includes hostels and senior housing – in all residential areas.
The statutes were also amended to limit the size of strikes from the eight areas where there were minimum size requirements. They also changed the rules so that mobile homes, including tiny homes, can be considered single-family homes, allowing them to be located in multiple locations. And the ban on using shipping containers as backyards was lifted.
Planning to double the population
HRM had previously taken a step towards encouraging smaller developments in 2020 when it changed the rules to allow secondary and courtyard suites. Since then, the municipality has issued 371 building permits for these types of units.
It’s all part of the solution to a projected population of just over a million people in the Halifax area by 2050.
“We will need to continue to focus on how we create diverse housing options and new forms of housing across the region.”
The government push for smaller development is not unprecedented.
After World War II, the demand for housing increased sharply, but due to the Great Depression and the war, few apartments were built for ten years.
In response, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation designed and built hundreds of thousands of one-and-a-half-story, 900-square-foot dwellings called “Victory Houses” in communities across the country.
Over time, the houses grew. The average home built today is 2,200 square feet. As cities try to fit more people into existing lots, Green said downsizing could be the answer.
“[Tiny homes] are less intensive land use. They are smaller so you can create places where you have more units on a given lot than you could with a large family home. So it creates more possibilities,” Green said.
Roger Gallant, a small-scale PEI homebuilder who sells to customers across the country, including Nova Scotia, also sees a need for more types of housing and has seen growing interest.
Gallant said his clients typically want to live off the grid in rural areas, although they can be modified to connect to the grid and city water.
He said that while tiny homes aren’t for everyone — he encourages potential buyers to come look at his tiny homes and shipping container homes to see if they think it would work for them — they might help some people for whom it’s average house outside. achieve. “We will have to change something because not everyone can afford it [a house]”So people are looking for options.”
With current housing costs, Mullins worries about the impact on families. If she hadn’t bought her mobile home, she would have a hard time affording the rent in Halifax now, and if she had faced the housing costs of years ago when she was a divorced mother of three working multiple jobs, it would have been impossible.
“I don’t know what I would do. I wouldn’t be able to hold on.”
While the cost of mobile homes has risen — the same model she bought now sells for about $100,000 more — she said it’s still more affordable than many other options.
And while moving to a smaller home involved downsizing, she said being able to choose a home that fit her budget was worth it. “I know I’m capable of living comfortably, financially,” she said. “That’s beautiful.”
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