Worried about a “swath of renoviction,” Halifax councillors have voted to spend $445,500 to help a non-profit keep hundreds of homes affordable.

As the Halifax Examiner reported on May 2, the Housing Trust of Nova Scotia is working to buy a portfolio of hundreds of apartments in HRM:

There’s a deal in the works now for the trust to buy “several hundred” units from one seller. The buildings are “in walkable communities close to little economic centres” across HRM. The sale is expected to close early this summer.

“We think that’s the best way to make good use of our resources, both time and the equity that we have,” [strategic planner Angela] Bishop said.

Bishop said there are buildings like these in cities across the country, “little gems” that have been owned by one family for decades. When the owners decide to get out of the business, they typically get sold to another landlord.

“Usually, because of the age of the buildings, they need to go in and do repairs and maintenance and along with that, rents have to go up to cover the investment in the private sector,” Bishop said.

“In our model, we will avoid that. We will have no renovictions, and we will not be dislocating any anyone.”

Rents will be geared to tenants’ income, Bishop said, and they’ll be kept affordable in perpetuity.

The trust asked for financial help with the purchase from the city, and on Tuesday, council received a staff report on the request from grants manager Peta-Jane Temple.

The report revealed that the trust is looking to buy 295 units in total, spread across five properties — 122 units at two properties in Dartmouth within the Circumferential Highway and 173 at three properties in Halifax, off the peninsula.

The trust requested $445,500 to cover the deed transfer tax on the purchase. That’s a 1.5% tax levied on the buyer of any property in HRM, suggesting the total purchase price is $29.7 million.

The municipality has an affordable housing grant program for properties inside the regional centre (the peninsula and downtown Dartmouth), but not outside. Temple recommended council approve a one-time grant of $261,173 to cover the ineligible properties. She also recommended council refer the two properties in Dartmouth to the usual grant process.

Coun. Sam Austin proposed instead to fund the entire request, arguing the properties are “prime buildings” with rents under $1,000. They just have some deferred maintenance.

“If those go out to market, it’ll be a crying shame,” Austin said.

“The consequences of this going out to market is a swath of renoviction, almost guaranteed.”

Coun. Kathryn Morse echoed Austin’s comments, and said 89 of the units are in her Halifax-Bedford Basin West district.

“I think this is a really rare opportunity, and also a time sensitive opportunity,” Morse said.

“It’s really well-situated affordable housing and I think it would be a terrible thing if it was lost because this is the area in my district that is seeing a lot of renovictions and a lot of turnover in properties.”

Two peninsula councillors had some qualms, however, based on the trust’s record. The trust owned two properties on Gottingen and Maitland streets for 10 years with a plan to build mixed-income housing that never came to fruition. The sale of those properties is partially funding this new purchase.

“So far the housing trust hasn’t been able to deliver any affordable housing,” Coun. Waye Mason said.

Mason, along with Coun. Lindell Smith, wanted to know whether the units would remain truly affordable.

“I’m just wondering what kind of assurances we have,” Smith said, suggesting he’d like to see terms mandating affordability over a long period.

Temple said the trust’s plan was to maintain at least 60% of the units at current rents, and then transition some units to market value. But in an email on Tuesday, Temple said the trust told HRM it has received extra funding that would allow it to maintain affordable rents in all units.

“I think realistically as the project proceeds, what proportion and what those rental rates will actually prove to be is going to evolve over time,” Temple said.

Under the recommended option, the housing trust would have to pay back the grant if it sold the property within three years. Temple said that was a standard clause for deed transfer tax grans for charities.

Rather than stipulating a longer term, council directed staff to negotiate the terms with the housing trust and provide the full amount of funding.

Despite their concerns, Mason and Smith voted with Austin to approve the grant.


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Zane Woodford

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. HRM’s “not our responsibility” approach has given away to a piecemeal approach to affordable housing. I guess that’s progress. So, how about really helping all non-profit housing providers by paying Halifax Water’s highway robbery fees and waive the deed transfer tax for all eligible non-profit housing providers? HRM hasn’t quite caught on yet, but it can help leverage federal financing and expand the stock of new non-profit affordable housing, but in order to do so it will have to become a financial partner. BTW, the equivalent amount of the density bonus fund in the centre plan was made available to districts outside the centre plan area.

    1. Agreed. in this case, the MGA or halifax charter doesnt allow HRM to waive the deed transfer tax. The relevant legislation should be amended so that all Nonprofits are exempt from the DTT. And you are correct, the Regional Development Charges (RDC”s) from Halifax Water should also be waived. This is the Best Practice in most progressive municipalities across Canada. HRM has a long way to go to get in front of this Housing Crisis.