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Nova Scotia Housing Minister John Lohr fields a question as the premier delivered a housing plan in Halifax on Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Nova Scotia’s housing minister has given a special designation to nine areas in the Halifax region with the aim of accelerating the development of as many as 22,600 new residential units.

John Lohr told reporters Friday the move is essential because of the severe housing shortage in greater Halifax, adding it could shave months and even years off the approval time for the developments in some instances.

According to the province, it’s estimated the Halifax region is short at least 17,000 housing units – a figure Lohr said is growing.

“Our province is growing rapidly, and the supply of available housing needs to keep pace, particularly in the sHalifax Regional Municipality,” he said. “The time for action is now.”

The designation allows Lohr to assume authority for the development approvals in the areas as outlined in legislation governing housing in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The nine projects – one in each of the designated areas – will be subject to required permitting, fees and regulatory requirements as specified within the housing legislation. They are spread across suburban Halifax, including in Dartmouth and Bedford.

“For some of these projects, we can expect to see shovels in the ground almost immediately, while others are further out,” Lohr said.

The province is also providing $2.3 million to help the municipality conduct environmental, land use suitability, transportation and infrastructure studies that will assist future planning and development decisions, Lohr added.

All nine are projects that were identified and recommended for fast-tracking by a five-person task force panel appointed last fall chaired by former Liberal cabinet minister Geoff MacLellan.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said the nine projects were already in various stages of the municipality’s planning process and one, Indigo Shores – a 150-lot project – has already been voted down by council over concerns about a lack of school capacity in the area.

“So now the province has the right to go in and accelerate that process and build a new school or whatever they need to,” said Savage.

Meanwhile, Savage said the provincial funding for the various planning studies is a “big help.”

“It will accelerate the studies that need to be done,” he said. “It will allow us to look at areas where we see an opportunity … and identify a road forward.”

Lohr said the province is committed to increasing housing stock on “every level of affordability” although it’s not clear whether the nine developments will contain a significant amount of affordable or social housing units. He said that is subject to negotiations with the developers, but it’s likely some of the projects will have an “affordable component” to them.

MacLellan said it’s unlikely any of the nine developments will be completed this year, adding that it typically takes a year to 18 months to complete a project once it receives final regulatory approval.

“Lots of things can happen to accelerate that (timeline) and delay it,” he said. “With the understanding from the development community that we need units now, I think they are going to do what they can to be ready to go sooner rather than later.”