One-fifth of the units in a new 15-storey apartment building in Dartmouth will rent for less than market value, and 20 units will be accessible — as long as the developer secures financing with the federal government.
The municipality’s Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council, tasked with development approvals on the Dartmouth side of the harbour, approved the plans from the Armour Group following a virtual public hearing at a meeting Thursday night.
The building, comprising about 150 units, will be the second apartment building on the same lot at 1000 Micmac Blvd., near the mall in Dartmouth. The Armour Group built the six-storey, 130-unit apartment building known as Kings Wood in the 1970s. It also owns the Kings Arms apartments next door.
The new proposal was submitted before the Centre Plan was approved, and so Dartmouth’s old planning rules apply, requiring a development agreement for any apartment project of more than three units.
In a report to the community council, planner Dean MacDougall recommended in favour of the development agreement, writing that the proposal is reasonably consistent with the land-use bylaw, and is, “compatible and consistent with the surrounding neighborhood in land use and built form.”
While there’s no mention of affordability in the developer’s application, Armour Group CEO Scott McCrea told the council he’s pre-approved for financing from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, CMHC, under the National Housing Strategy Program.
“That requires us, as a developer, to meet various restraints for affordability through CMHC,” McCrea said.
They look at the median household income, they look at average rents. In general terms, you’re going to see rents for a certain portion of the building 10-15% below. You must maintain a certain level of accessibility. There’s also green standards in that program.
It’s a very favourable program for financing, but it is obviously providing the federal government some of those items that they want to do on their strategy. We have not really promoted that in the development agreement because we can’t promise it, but I can tell you that is our intent and that we are approved for that program.
Those favourable terms include a 10-year term with a fixed interest rate, and up to a 50-year amortization period. Payments on the principle aren’t due until the building is making money for a year.
To qualify, the developer’s project must have five or more residential units, with a loan of at least $1 million, it must “respond to a need for rental supply,”and it must be approved for zoning and ready for a permit.
It also needs to meet one of two affordability thresholds. CMHC words the one chosen by Armour Group as follows:
At least 20% of units must have rents below 30% of the median total income of all families for the area, and the total residential rental income must be at least 10% below its gross achievable residential income.
Coun. Sam Austin asked what the area for total median income includes and was told it’s the census tract for the area.
That census tract includes Crichton Park and had a higher total median income ($43,746) than the Halifax average ($36,089) in 2015, according to Statistics Canada.
Assuming that figure, the most recent currently available, is used to calculate rents, they’d have to be less than $1,093.65.
CMHC’s financing is also contingent upon a building decreasing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions 15% below the national energy code.
And at least 10% of the units have to meet accessibility standards.
Armour said 16% of the units will be accessible: 20 will be barrier-free, two will be adaptable and two will be universally designed, meaning they work for everyone.
No one spoke for or against the proposal at the meeting on Thursday. Austin said he’s heard concerns from residents in Armour’s buildings in the area about parking and construction noise, but he thinks it’s the right place for density.
“When we think about where we want to grow as a community, next to a transit hub, near an existing commercial centre, this is the sort of place where we want to see more development,” he said. “It works for everyone in the community.”
The housing won’t be “deeply affordable,” Austin said, noting that’s where the crisis really lies. But he said these kinds of mid-range rents are important too.
“With a 1% vacancy, we need all kinds of new housing, not just that deep affordability, we need units of all sorts,” he said.
The motion to approve the development agreement passed unanimously.