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The province has issued “a call to action” to all Nova Scotians who have an extra bedroom to “consider hosting a person or family in their home.” According to the minister responsible, “We all have a role to play as we work together to overcome the housing crisis,” says John Lohr, Municipal Affairs and Housing minister.

The department is banking on the hospitable nature of all Nova Scotians to fill the 130,000 empty bedrooms in the province.

To make the introductions between those with bedrooms and those needing a place to call home – or at least call bedroom – the province has partnered with the online home-sharing platform, Happipad.

The province first partnered with the Canadian non-profit organization in the spring to help people displaced by the Tantallon wildfires.

Photo by Trinity Nguyen on Unsplash

Happipad does thorough background checks, matches renters with hosts, collects and distributes the rent, and provides dispute resolution support in case of host or renter concerns. The Residential Tenancies Act applies to all rentals.

According to the department, the rents through Happipad are typically at rates below those of other rentals. Happipad users also report meaningful social connections, with options to share meals and other household activities. The program focuses on short-term accommodation and was designed for students, healthcare workers, and tradespeople.

The Third reached out to the department to get more information about the overall goals of the program.

According to the department’s communications spokesperson, Krista Higdon, “The goal of the Happipad program in Nova Scotia is to help make under-utilized housing available for those who need a safe, affordable and welcoming place to call home, whether for a few months or several years,” she says. “This is intended to create healthier and happier communities where renters can access affordable housing, older adults are supported, and everyone can feel a sense of belonging in their community. We know this is not the answer to solving the housing crisis but it is one option that can help.”

Happipads was started with the support of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation. A couple of Canadian colleges, an immigration organization, Students Nova Scotia, and a seniors’ outreach centre have either partnered with the service or support its concept.

Because of a $1.3 M grant from the province, Happipad’s programs are offered free of charge to users. The organization says it wants to help break down barriers to affordable housing. “We want to help bring new purpose to empty bedrooms so they can be available to vetted renters who want to call Nova Scotia home,” says Happipad CEO, Cailin Libby.

The Third didn’t have to go far to find some international students and newcomers who have thoughts on the program. Unlike CBRM’s new policy on boarding rooms, there was unanimous agreement among those we spoke to that the program should help in the short-term.

“I am really interested in this program because this is like a win-win situation for both sides as it will help students and others [in need of accommodations] to find a house to live [in and also] a person to whom they can take to and won’t feel alone or sad,” says Jashandeep Singh.

He notes that the senior population is high in the Third and the program “will be a really good help to them too.”

Singh did stress that lease agreements and ensuring that tenants know their rights should be part of the program’s criteria. But otherwise, he thinks the program is “a really great idea and would like as many as possible aware of the program.”

Leslie Mercado, who has lived in the Third in a one bedroom with her husband and their small son for about a year, is a bit more cautious in her support of the approach. “I find this solution quite helpful but only for the short-term period, she says. “I just hope they already invested those resources for the long-term goal of helping residents, immigrants, and students.”

The department told us that there is a one-time background screening fee of $20 which is fully reimbursed if you commit to rent through the program. Rentals in the program are fixed term and typically range from 1 to 12 months. There is a 1-month minimum, and contracts can be renewed to stay for multiple years.

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