A brief History of Temporary Housing in Halifax

Halifax is in the midst of a housing crisis. Rents are rising and people are living in tents in parks.

Halifax for the last several years has been undergoing a bit of a building boom. But its also experienced massive population growth over the same period. Since 2015, Nova Scotia has seen strong In migration from other parts of Canada.

We have also had strong population growth from Immigration, and have also gotten younger as a province, But housing starts have basically remained flat. Neil Lovitt, VP Planning & Economic Intelligence at Turner Drake & Partners, tweeted the graph below which nicely illustrates the issue. Neil figures we have a deficit of close to 30000 units.

People camping in parks is generally a bad option overall, but when its the best option they have, and the city seems to be able to take any meaningful action to deal with the problem, other than turning to the cops on them to remove them we have a right to be upset.

People have been claiming that the camps have been scenes of assault, drug use, public urination,the camps are littered with garbage, and that the shelters are unsafe since one suffered a fire.

Proper houses catch fire too.. Crimes also take place in proper houses, they house residents that make the neighbours cranky, and some proper houses are even unsightly and filled with garbage.

all the “complaints” people have about those in temporary shelters apply equally to all forms of shelter in this city.

if conditions are bad in the camps, understand its because the city chose not to provide the services to those citizens that it provides to folks who own or rent homes. if garbage collection stopped, your neighbourhood would be gross too. just go google photos of the last Toronto garbage strike. a dumpster and a portapotty would cost the city almost nothing, and would go along way to make the lives of residents better.

The strange thing, is the city has a proud history of Camping on the Commons, and Erecting Emergency Shelters on public lands.

Just over 100 years ago the north end was flattened instantly by an explosion, and most of the community was instantly killed or rendered homeless. The survivors were forced to seek shelter in public buildings, moved in with family and friends, or else sheltered into tents raised on the Halifax Commons.

Military reports of the relief efforts immediately following the explosion detail the following taskings:

Lieut. G.B. Isnor spent the first 36 hours after the explosion driving his car, assisting in the search for places to house the homeless, conveying nurses and doctors from the Terminals to the Hospitals, and helping with the distribution of emergency blankets clothing, etc

Lieut. L.G. Esther, on the 6th, ordered to assist in putting up tents on the Common. Relieved at midnight

Lieut. O. R. Crowell, … Spent evening till 10.00.p.m. conveying oil to tents on Common. On the 7th, assisted in boarding up Union Jack Club building for shelter.

The Tents were only temporary, and by January, more permanent temporary housing was under construction. The photos below form the Archives are dated Jan 26/18, less then 2 months after the explosion. the first shows the Gov. McCall Apartments built on the Provencal Exhibition Grounds (which were bounded by Young, Robie, Almon and Windsor streets)

This second set of buildings also housed the Halifax Relief commission, and were built on the Garrison Grounds. These buildings were basically constructed of timber and tar paper. These replaced the tents, and lasted until the hydrostone, and other more permanent accomidation could be constructed.

In the second world war, what is now Mulgrave park was known as Manning Pool. The site began as a large estate in the north end. It was destroyed in the Halifax Explosion and sat as vacant land until it was developed by wartime housing authorities for military use. In 1941, Manning Pool was built on the site. At the end of hostilities, when Wartime Housing was transformed into CMHC, the site became available for further development.

Apartments under construction at Manning Pool. The building is constructed on simple wooden posts. These would eventually be coverd with a plywood facing. The single family homes were also constructed on wood posts.

Wartime housing was able to quickly provide homes for service members and their families. The houses IIRC were prefab, and assembled on site. Constructed of basic Wood, they provided suitable, but temporary shelter. you can see the edges of the plywood in the photos. they were simply painted.

So what lesson do these wartime examples have for today?

In the middle of wartime supply shortages we manged to provide quality emergency housing to deal with homelessness in the first world war . During the second world war, facing rapid population growth due to the influx of service men, we were able to quickly build emergency housing.

Apparently now, with our economy once again booming, we have forgotten how to do what we have done twice in the past.

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