About a dozen demonstrators rallied in front of the former Bloomfield school in Halifax Friday morning asking that affordable housing be built at the rundown site.
Jackie Barkley, who has lived in the North End neighbourhood for 35 years, said she made several phone calls to organize today’s demonstration. Members of the group stood on the sidewalk while holding signs, while other large banners were hung on the chain link fence around the property. One banner read “Shame on Banc Developments! This could be affordable housing.”
“People who actually live in the area have noticed that the gates aren’t kept closed. Possibly people could die in there and no one would know,” Barkley said during an interview at the demonstration. “The city should expropriate it at this time. I know that’s not going to happen, but this is appalling.”
As Zane Woodford reported in February 2021, Banc Investments Ltd. purchased the property from HRM for $22 million. In an interview at that time, Alex Halef, who owns Banc Investments Ltd. with his father, Besim Halef, told Woodford that he was “excited about the project.”
“I’ve been in the north end for a number of years already, so I’m just pleased to continue the growth of that node of the city, which I think is going to transform over the next number of years,” Halef said.
“It’ll be unrecognizable when it’s done, I think, for the better.”
Conditions of the purchase included that the development have below-market-value housing, and that the site be developed within five years with a deadline of January 2026. But to date, the site remains untouched.
The demonstrators, including Barkley, want to see the site be used for affordable housing.
The last time public housing was built in Halifax, I believe, was 40 years ago. There are major cities around the world that have huge public housing developments that are part of the city’s life. Here, the idea of spending public money on a necessity like housing is considered as some kind of strange, bizarre, out-there theory. People need housing, and it is a public right. Currently, the inaccessibility to housing in this city is beyond comprehension.
It’s an incredible situation. We act like it’s a mystery. And I don’t think it’s a mystery; it’s a history. It’s a decision not to have built and intervene sooner, by the Liberal government, by the Conservative government, the municipality, and by the federal government. Those have been political decisions; they’re not accidents of history.
Sam Krawec is one of the other demonstrators calling for HRM to take back the property. Krawec, who lives nearby, said “the only way we’re going to fix the problem is by taking direct action.” He said the Bloomfield School site has “so much potential.”
“It could be social housing. It could be public housing or cooperative for people of mixed-income backgrounds. It could be mixed-use. We could have green spaces, we could have child care. There’s so much we could do,” Krawec said.
“We need to take it back from Banc Developments and use it for the people who need it most. I think the city should just expropriate it without compensation.”
Suzanne MacNeil, a labour activist with Justice for Workers Nova Scotia, said housing “comes to the forefront” every time she talks about wages and workers’ rights.
“I think what happened with the Bloomfield site is an illustration, an example, really, of the kinds of policy failures and bad decisions that are contributing to the crisis,” MacNeil said.
“I imagine this could be affordable housing. It could be safe, dignified, accessible, and deeply affordable [housing]. I know a lot of people who have moved out of this neighbourhood because the rents are just so high. It’s hard to feel settled here when everything is so expensive. I imagine it being much nicer than what it is right now.”
Barkley is a social worker and said she has a client who had to leave her housing because of violence, and has been staying in a women’s shelter with her children for several months.
“Please, we need to be demanding as citizens of our province and our city, we need to be demanding that our governments start intervention to provide housing, and stop doing only crisis management,” Barkley said.
“Crisis management is necessary when people are in tents but people living homeless and living rough is a sub-issue of the larger issue of no affordable housing.”
No building permits yet
The Examiner contacted HRM and spokesperson Klara Needler said “municipality has not yet received any permit applications.”
As for the current state of the property, the municipality has received more than a dozen complaints. The municipality or the developer fixed nine of those issues, while councillors voted in May to give the developer more time to fix others.
The Examiner contacted Banc Investments Ltd. to get an update on the development and ask for comment on today’s demonstration. We were told Alex Halef was in meetings all day, but that our email would be forwarded to him. We will update this story if we hear back.