The Nova Scotia government's five-year housing plan will cost almost $700 million more than originally announced, according to updated figures provided by the province.
Even with the revised figure opposition members say it's unclear if the government can meet its targets for housing construction.
On Monday, Housing Minister John Lohr released the plan, which was originally due last spring, along with an assessment of housing needs in the province. At the time, he said the province would spend more than $1 billion to help create 41,200 new housing units in the next five years while improving the conditions of thousands more and bringing housing costs down.
Lohr told reporters Monday he was sure on the number was higher than $1 billion, but did not provide details.
In response to a request from reporters for further information, Lohr's department provided a breakdown of costs showing that the spending would actually reach almost $1.7 billion.
The breakdown includes funding for recently announced projects, such as 222 new public housing units, modular housing for health-care workers and people with disabilities and an incentive program for people to build backyard suites.
But it also counts funding announcements intended to get more people involved with the trades and the removal of the provincial portion of HST from new multi-unit apartment construction projects.
Liberal Leader Zach Churchill says he does not trust the government's housing plan. (Robert Short/CBC)
Opposition members raised questions about the plan during Question Period on Wednesday at the legislature. Among other things, they noted that the assessment of housing needs was completed some time ago using now outdated population projections.
"This plan is a regurgitation of a bunch of previous announcements that they've made that haven't led to any increased housing or more affordable housing," Liberal Leader Zach Churchill told reporters.
"I now see why they wanted to hide it from the public, because it's not good. There's holes in it and I don't think there's anything in this that's actually going to move the needle in the right direction."
Originally scheduled for release last spring, Lohr and Premier Tim Houston recently said that they were not going to release the plan, only to change their minds a few days later.
NDP Leader Claudia Chender said the wide swing in financial numbers from one day to the next shows the government's release of its plan was "sloppy" and "ambiguous."
NDP Leader Claudia Chender says there is no guarantee of how much housing the plan will create. (Robert Short/CBC)
"I think a lot of the money that is announced there doesn't come with a guarantee of housing units or housing preservation," she told reporters.
"So we actually have no idea if this will meet the need."
Chender said she's also concerned the plan lacks a definition of affordability, meaning it's unclear how much new housing built in the next five years will be attainable for most people.
The premier was asked whether he thought 41,000 new units in five years is a realistic target or aspirational target. He called it "a necessary target."
"Some targets will be met and some won't and opposition will have fun with that and media will have fun with that but that doesn't matter to us," he told reporters. "The only thing we care about is pushing forward, moving forward."
Premier Tim Houston says if the population projects used in the plan aren't high enough, more housing can be built. (Robert Short/CBC)
The premier said he's also not concerned that the housing needs assessment used population growth estimates that the province is currently outpacing.
"We'll build more if we need more," said Houston.
"Nobody's saying you can't build more than 41,000. You have to believe in the future of this province, you have to believe that this province has a future that involves growth and if you don't believe that, then you'll get negative on everything else."
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