Can Small Space Living Help Address the Housing Shortage in Nova Scotia?

I didn’t think I would ever see the day when Nova Scotians would live in tents on sports fields and public parks because they can’t afford housing. I know the situation is complicated, but if we don’t speak up, the situation will only become worse. The housing shortage is serious, that’s for sure.

Mini Houses

I recently visited a new building site near Chester, Nova Scotia, belonging to Sprout Dwellings, and it has me obsessing about small-space living again! (Actually, I never stop thinking about living in less square footage.) I love what they are doing so much that every time I see a new “Sprout,” my desire to buy one for myself is rekindled.

After looking at several of these small homes, I wondered if they might help address the housing shortage as they are more affordable than traditional housing. However, part of the problem is that everyone’s definition of “affordable” is different. I am lucky that I could afford a nicer home than many, and for that, I am grateful.

Even though Sprout Homes are affordable, you need land on which to build one. I certainly can’t buy a piece of land (also now selling for absurdly high prices) and build a new house. But, if I had my way, I would approach a friend and ask if they would be willing to lease a part of their backyard so I could build a small secondary home on their property. Imagine – this extra income could be one way to help those struggling with high mortgage payments and repair costs. It might allow them to keep their home.

The bylaws around home construction in our city (and many others) are changing, albeit very, very slowly. A small Sprout (1 bedroom) is now allowed as a backyard suite, depending on the size of the lot. However, I learned that the builders must jump through a number of hoops to get approval and obtaining permits is quite expensive. It should be easier for homeowners to get permission to build another dwelling on the land that they own – taking into consideration building and property sizes, of course. Then, more of us could contribute to solving the housing shortage.

Bigger Yet Smaller

All this talk about making it easier to build more housing is only one part of the puzzle. Did you know that since the 1960s, the size of the average Canadian home has almost doubled? And during the same period, the number of people in the typical family unit has practically halved. This got me thinking… what if the government created incentives for owners of large houses to divide their dwellings into several smaller units?

This type of multi-family dwelling might suit more people’s budgets than an expensive luxury apartment. In Halifax, the average one-bedroom apartment (approximately $1700/month) is most definitely not affordable. And they are still building luxury apartments! I can’t wrap my head around all the development happening all over Halifax. We don’t need luxury. We need nice, clean, functional apartments. There is nothing wrong with laminate countertops and an acrylic shower surround. Why does everything have to be expensive stone and tile? I don’t understand it!

Upon reflection, I suppose it’s because people rent the units as fast as they build them. But as the cost of living increases, it creates a much bigger gap between high-, middle-, and low-income earners. And I fear Nova Scotia’s middle class – and perhaps Canada’s – is slowly disappearing.

Do you think that small-space living can address the housing shortage? Have you considered renovating to add an apartment to your home? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or feel free to contact me.

5 thoughts on “Can Small Space Living Help Address the Housing Shortage in Nova Scotia?”

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about how my kids are going to be able to afford their own housing in a few years. So I’ve been devising ideas on how on we might divide up our home and renovate the backyard shed to accommodate all of us! Might be cost prohibitive in the end, but it’s a fun project.

  2. Hi Jane,
    I live in Victoria BC which is ranked the fourth most expensive city to rent in the nation. A one-bedroom unit is around $2,000 while a two-bedroom unit is around $2,700 as of Oct. 23, 2023.

    We are allowed to build a 700 sq.ft. backyard house if your lot is large enough. But as you mention there are hoops to go through, which council is trying to reduce.

    The latest consideration being given to homeowners that have a minimum 7,500 sq. ft. lot, (avergage suburban size lot with a one family dwelling) is to tear down the house and erect a 4-plex on that lot. There are certain criterria such as walking distance to a park, school, shopping, bus, recreation etc. I recently came across a 4-plex in a single family home neighbourhood and thought it was a most efficent use of the land. There were two units on the bottom and two on the top and each had a good size balcony but no off street parking.

    Victoria is also clamping down on AirBnB and insiting that the only AirBnB one can own must be in their home. This will give small condos back to the public to rent on a long term basis.

    Thanks for your article.

    • Hi Edna,

      Thank you for your comment. Rent prices sound very similar to Halifax sadly. It sounds as though there is progress being made in Victoria as well, I just hope that the changes move quickly.

  3. There is an affordable housing crisis all across Canada. It’s a sad reality that there are people living in tents and cars because a decent roof over your head has become a luxury. We all know the government can fix this situation, but in the mean time I think your proposal makes sense. I love the idea of opening up the option to build accommodations in your own back yard. We just need to get the red-tape obstacles removed to make it easier for people to do that.


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