The Halifax Regional Municipality has one month to decide how to use the federal government’s recently announced $8.7 million dollars for affordable housing. Given the length of time that Halifax has been facing a housing crisis, it is surprising that Mayor Savage has no apparent plan in place as to where to use this money. That’s surprising as there is at least one obvious solution.
Bloomfield is the one piece of municipal property left on the peninsula that could be used for affordable non-market housing. The municipality should develop it using the money the federal government has given. The municipality doesn’t need to buy or pay for the property, it already owns the property. It could use the federal money to pay for the renovation of the old buildings and possibly to construct a new building, or additional floors to the old building and a new elevator if the existing building is found to be structurally sound, whichever is the logical place to start.
Regional council has not signed off on the sale of Bloomfield so there is still time for the municipality to decide not to sell. On August 15, 2017, council voted unanimously not to sell the property. It then agreed to a second motion where it would ask the province if it wanted the property for a reserve fund or to use as a school. If the province didn’t want the Bloomfield site, it would be sold to a developer. That motion passed unanimously. But council might have been thinking that there was another purpose for Bloomfield.
Now that the federal government has offered money for housing, why doesn’t the municipality take advantage of this? If the province wants to remain in charge of housing and doesn’t want to give the power for affordable housing to the municipality, why doesn’t HRM sell the property to a non-profit like Imagine Bloomfield or a similar organization for a nominal amount?
The $8 million can be used, if the building is not sound, to construct a new five-storey accessible building. If more money is needed, either for construction or to preserve the existing buildings, then the housing fund the municipality has started could be used. The money from density bonusing may be allocated to the downtown, but it may be able to be used. The fund should have the $1.8 million from George Armoyan’s Willow Tree project (now to be a Shannex seniors’ complex). Although not downtown, Bloomfield is still on the peninsula.
If the density bonusing money cannot be used, HRM should have the $37.61 million from BANC developments it received from the sale of St. Pats on Quinpool and the $3 million it received from JONO developments for the sale of St. Pats Alexandra on Maitland St. This money should not go into general revenue but should be allocated to specific projects for the betterment of residents — in this case, urgently needed affordable housing!
A similar plan could be used with the redevelopment of the Cogswell District.
Councillors cannot claim they don’t know what to do with the money. This is not the first time Halifax has faced a housing emergency. After the explosion in 1917, the Hydrostone was built. It has become a monumental neighbourhood.
The Nova Scotia government should also rethink its allocation of $100 million for new parking garages at the Halifax Infirmary. If the money could be used to fulfil pressing needs of the community, affordable housing should trump parking.
As per the Imagine Bloomfield project, the city would need to work with the community in determining what portion of the buildings could be dedicated to commercial art space or community rental property. As numerous people have pointed out, Bloomfield should be preserved for its centrality of place and purpose to the north end community.
I worked in the building in 2002 when tenants were informed that the building would no longer be used as a community office space. It was devastating for many community groups who called Bloomfield their home. Let’s use the federal money to help make Imagine Bloomfield grow again.