Nova Scotia Housing Minister John Lohr heeded concerns expressed by community leaders and amended a Halifax Regional Municipality by-law law to clearly protect historic black communities.
At issue is a bill before the Legislative Assembly that gives Lohr and future ministers the ability to strike down any new bylaws in the Halifax Regional Municipality within six months of second reading if the minister deems it regulation constitutes an obstacle to the development and construction of housing.
Lohr said the move, which has angered city officials, is specifically linked to an amendment to HRM’s noise bylaw that would reduce late working hours for construction crews. The minister said the change was needed to help solve the province’s housing crisis.
However, the bill does not explicitly refer to noise regulations, which worries residents of historic black communities.
In an open letter to Premier Tim Houston and copied to Lohr and African Nova Scotian Affairs Minister Pat Dunn, Vanessa Fells, Director of Operations for the Coalition for the African Nova Scotian Decade for People of said the change is “deeply concerning because it could undo all the work that African Nova Scotian (ANS) communities have done to protect and preserve their historic communities in favor of real estate developers.”
“Without safeguards in Bill 225 to protect historic ANS communities in HRM, the outcome could be disastrous. If this bill passes as currently proposed, it will allow for further gentrification and possible erasure of our historic ANS communities within HRM.”
Fells writes that any effort to speed up and streamline the construction process cannot come at the expense of African Nova Scotian communities.
“We are among the founding settled peoples of this country and this province and despite sustained oppression to this day, we have helped make this country and this province what it is today,” Fells wrote.
“This new bill as currently proposed is another form of structural discrimination and anti-Black racism that will have disastrous consequences for historic ANS communities if nothing is done to protect them.”
A gesture to reassure
The amendment Lohr tabled Thursday evening states that any regulations that “exclusively affect marginalized communities, including African Nova Scotians and Mi’kmaq communities,” would require the minister to consult with representatives of affected communities to ensure their protection. before changes can be made. .
After the amendment passed and the bill passed third reading, Lohr said he recognized the historic concerns expressed by Fells and others who had contacted the government and wanted to reassure them.
“I have no interest in negatively impacting these communities. In fact, we want to strengthen them and help them,” he said in an interview.
“It was a just desire to reassure them.”
NDP MP Suzy Hansen welcomed the government’s amendment and said it shows Lohr and her colleagues are listening to community concerns.
Hansen said the lesson from all of this is the importance of government tapping into available expertise when it comes to changes that might affect marginalized communities.
“You have a number of people from different communities who could actually give you valuable insight on how to move forward with a number of pieces of legislation and yet we continue to see legislation that hasn’t this lens of the different communities in which we serve,” she said in an interview with Province House.
Earlier in the day, Lohr was asked by reporters about the community’s concerns and he tried to assuage them. The amendment was drafted shortly thereafter.
“Sometimes things happen quickly in government,” he said.
Hansen said Lohr’s change shows the importance for the public to pay attention to what is happening at Province House and how bills passing through the legislature could affect different communities.
“Communities need to pay attention to what is happening right now,” she said.
“Your voices are powerful.”