Affordable Housing in Nova Scotia and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

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Affordable Housing in Nova Scotia and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Summary of a Webinar, May 19, 2022

The first of three webinars, the focus of this session was to provide an overview of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) generally, and their relevance to Nova Scotia and affordable housing.

Panelists: Marion Sheridan, CSM, Antigonish Affordable Housing Society, Nikki Jamieson, Provincial Coordinator, Atlantic Council for International Cooperation, and Blair Crawford, Sustainable Development Goals Program Director, Engage NS.

Marion Sheridan, Congregation of St. Martha (CSM), Antigonish, brought her experience at both local and international levels with her work with the Antigonish Affordable Housing Association, and as an NGO (non-governmental organization) liaison at the UN, participating in advocacy on the SDGs. Past UN-led initiatives to address specific issues such as poverty had produced varying degrees of success, so in 2015 a more comprehensive approach was adopted by the 193 Member States, including Canada. Seventeen goals were identified as part of a universal call to action, Agenda 2030, to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people would enjoy peace and prosperity. The goals are interlinked as are the solutions to the issues identified. The Declaration of Human Rights serves as a foundation and the values of equality and dignity must not be forgotten in working towards achieving these goals. Affordable housing is related to numerous goals, but for the purpose of the discussion, Marion noted specifically Goal 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities. The first target of this goal is safe and affordable housing. Goal 17’s focus on partnerships is key to what we are doing in our communities, to work together from a cooperative lens. Quoting Lawrence Hill, “We all have the same colour blood,” the SDGs, based on the Declaration of Human Rights and the principle that no one will be left behind, provide us with a moral compass for our world and work. This can be exciting and hopeful for all of us to improve the quality of life for all whom we meet.

Nikki Jamieson, provincial coordinator for the Atlantic Council for International Cooperation (ACIC), built on Marion’s overview to talk about how we can get from the broader goals into policy that works for communities—thinking of the goals as a shared global vision that can help us initiate conversations and help us co-create solutions for tangible collaboration and action at the local level. To do this requires rethinking attitudes towards change, a critical evaluation of individual and government responsibilities, and the strengthening of communities to initiate change. Delving into government roles in more detail, the social policy framework for Nova Scotia published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, encompasses concepts such as interconnection, decolonization, inclusion, climate, decent work, governance and democratization. Action on these principles will also support progress for Agenda 2030. Research consistently shows positive correlations between public spending, rising GDP (gross domestic product) and overall health of societies. It is critically important that we not sit back and tolerate policies rooted in austerity. Homelessness and lack of affordable housing is an avoidable systemic disaster. The pandemic brought to light existing inequalities in our society, and the government responses demonstrated that they could act quickly when such issues are prioritized. Not only can we afford to address poverty in Nova Scotia we cannot afford not to address it. It is cheaper to invest in people than watch them continuously fall through the cracks. Housing cannot be approached from a silo and requires addressing other elements such as access to childcare, a living wage, public transportation that can contribute to people’s capacity to participate in society. Highlighting systemic barriers such as discrimination that further marginalize populations is a priority. Recalling the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, housing is a human right and must be universal regardless of income. Looking at environmental sustainability, we must incorporate clean technologies, and promote communal green spaces.

Blair Crawford, Sustainable Development Goals Program Director, Engage NS, rounded out the panel discussion with a review of how the SDGs are showing up in Nova Scotia in relation to affordable housing. There is a lot of work happening even if we do not use the SDG language. For example, a mentorship program for 2SLGBTQIA+ youth, observed through the SDG lens, is contributing to health and equality, and sustainable cities and communities because it is working to improve folks’ sense of belonging to community. Engage Nova Scotia is mapping SDG progress and integrates the 2019 Nova Scotia Quality of Life Survey data to map that information against the targets set by the UN SDGs. For example, for Goal 1-No Poverty, the data will show how many residents were unable to pay their bills on time, or their mortgage, or rent at some point. In 2019, over a quarter of Nova Scotian residents did not have access to what would be considered affordable housing (less than 30% of gross income spent on shelter). Drilling down further into the data shows disparities across regions, and the multiple interconnections with other issues such as access to other necessities and services, status of mental and community well-being, and other social indicators. For those working in affordable housing, these data come as no surprise. It is reiterating the importance of taking a holistic approach to thinking about affordable housing in Nova Scotia.

The discussion highlighted the importance of health, both in terms of how individual health outcomes are related to housing security, and community health, regarding people’s participation in their communities. These issues have been around for a long time and have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Also noted was the importance of civic education and public participation to restructure the narrative on sustainable changes in public policy.

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