Three Halifax nonprofits will share $8 million in federal funding to create more than 50 units of “truly affordable” housing, as long the the municipality’s proposal meets the federal government’s terms.
At its meeting on Tuesday, Halifax regional council voted unanimously in favour of a motion to submit an investment plan to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) for three projects — from the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, Adsum Women and Children and the North End Community Health Centre — worth a total of $8,083,213.
“Some people are going to get housing in our city who don’t have it now,” Mayor Mike Savage said during Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s not where we need to be, but I’ll tell ya, by heavens … it’s going to make a big difference.”
The money comes from the federal government’s new Rapid Housing Initiative (RHI) — $1 billion in spending announced in late October to quickly create 3,000 affordable housing units across Canada. Half of that money went directly to municipalities, including Halifax, which was allotted $8.7 million if it could come up with an investment plan by Nov. 27 to create at least 28 units.
To be considered for the funding, projects had to either be modular housing, conversion of non-residential into residential, or a renovation of currently uninhabitable existing housing. They had to be built within a year and be affordable to people at high risk of homelessness for at least 20 years.
“We are absolutely committed to providing truly affordable housing to people who are otherwise at risk of homelessness, or insecurely housed,” Sheri Lecker, Adsum’s executive director said in an interview Tuesday.
“We are 100% there.”
The municipality solicited bids from 40 nonprofits and received 16 submissions, but four of those organizations later withdrew their proposals. In a staff report to council on Tuesday, planner Jillian MacLellan and regional policy program manager Kate Greene picked three of the 12.
The three projects recommended by staff and endorsed by council are:
- The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre’s proposal to spend $2,878,400 to redevelop its property at 5853 College St. to create a 30-bed shelter, 10-room shared housing and seven one- or two-bedroom units for urban Indigenous people.
- Adsum Women and Children’s proposal to spend $3,977,188 to add to its property at 158 Greenhead Road in Lakeside to create 25 units for women, families and trans persons at-risk of homelessness.
- The North End Community Health Centre’s proposal to spend $1,227,625 to renovate a vacant four-unit building at 2218 Maitland Street to create a 10- or 11-unit shared housing building for African Nova Scotians experiencing chronic homelessness.
Together, the three proposals will create at least 52 units, with more than 30% targeted to Indigenous people and 48% targeted to women.
With the three projects adding up to $8,083,213, Halifax will have $576,314 of its allotted $8,659,527 left for contingency.
All three projects will need to be completed by December 2021 or the municipality will be on the hook for the money, and “HRM will also need to ensure units are targeted to those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness and that rents are not more than 30 percent of their income.”
Marie-France LeBlanc, executive director of the North End Community Health Centre, said in an interview Tuesday that she’s “thrilled” her organization’s project was one of the three chosen.
“Obviously, this is something that is very much needed in our community and we have the opportunity to provide some real affordable housing for our clients, and so we’re very excited to be getting the funds to do that,” LeBlanc said.
The North End Community Health Centre already provides a housing first program, and it houses and supports 85 people across the municipality.
“This would actually be an extension of this program that would be our clients living in a residence that we actually own and can make sure that remains affordable housing,” LeBlanc said.
The health centre doesn’t own the property yet, but LeBlanc said it has an agreement with the current owner, the adjacent New Horizons Baptist Church, to purchase the building.
It’s in good shape, LeBlanc said.
“It’s been boarded up for about 15 years, but they’ve done a very, very good job of making sure that it remains dry,” she said.
The plan is to renovate the building and change the interior layout, and it could be done by the summer.
“We think that the work could be done in six months, so we’re targeting in the summertime or September at the latest,” LeBlanc said.
The Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre owns its building on College Street, but needs rezoning for the project to go ahead. Municipal staff are recommending in favour of land-use bylaw amendments to make it happen.
“While the proposed amendment to the land use planning documents is specific in relation to the site, the development has significant regional impacts as it will provide deeply affordable housing available to indigenous residents throughout HRM,” MacLellan and Greene wrote in the report to council.
Coun. Waye Mason gave notice on Tuesday that he’ll have a motion aimed at starting the process to make those zoning changes at the next meeting. He noted that although the site isn’t zoned for this use, it was a halfway house until 2017 and was used as the Out of the Cold Shelter until a pipe burst last year.
“I think it’s the right place for it,” Mason said. “Historically there’s always been hard-to-house people there.”
Like the Friendship Centre, Adsum already owns its property, and is in the late stages of completing a development agreement with the municipality. According to MacLellan and Green’s report, “It is anticipated that staff will be bringing the proposed development agreement to Halifax and West Community Council in December 2020 and a public hearing will be held in January 2021.”
Lecker, Adsum’s executive director, said she doesn’t think the project would be a contender if it wasn’t for the fact that the organization has been working on it for 18 months.
There’s currently transitional housing in an old school house on the site, known as Adsum Centre, for 16 residents and their children in four units.
The plan, modified to meet the requirements of the RHI, is to add panelized housing to the site — five structures built using prefabricated panels — for a total of 25 permanent units.
“It has changed considerably but in some ways for the better,” Lecker said. “It looks more like a community, I think.”
The other benefit to the change is that nine of the units — six one-bedrooms and three three-bedrooms — will be fully accessible.
The new building will also be more energy efficient, employing passive house design to cut energy use by as much as 70%.
“It’s built to the purpose that it’s going to be used for instead of trying to retrofit an old school that will always look like an old school,” Lecker said.
“That’s what makes this really exciting is that we’re not trying to fit a square into a round hole, but we’re actually trying to build for the future.”
Like the other two proposals, Lecker said Adsum isn’t just providing housing but also support.
Adsum has done this before. A decade ago, they built their 10-unit Gottingen Street building in 11 months. They’re “thrilled” to have the opportunity to do it again, Lecker said.
“It’s also daunting, I won’t lie. It represents a lot of work in the coming months,” Lecker said.
“But this is it, we have this window, and we just have to take advantage of it and we have to get this, we have to make this happen, not just our organization and the others but we have to see some of those other very good projects, move forward.”
Some of the eight projects not recommended for the municipality’s side of the RHI money include a proposal from Akoma for four modular units as part of its development plans in Westphal; Homes for Heroes’ proposal for tiny homes for veterans; and the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia’s proposal for north Dartmouth — although the report notes it’s a “strong proposal and staff hope to support their submission for project stream funding.”
Staff also plan to work with Lake City Works on its proposal for “23 tiny homes as backyard suites throughout HRM,” and Welcome Housing on its proposal for a 28-unit building for men experiencing homelessness to get their applications in for the other half of the federal funding.
The other half of the RHI funding, the project stream, carries a later but still tight deadline of the end of December. It’s available directly through CMHC to nonprofits and governments across the country, but they’ll have to compete for the limited pot of $500 million.
Several councillors expressed their support for helping to make those other projects happen, with Mason noting another $30 million could get them all built.
The municipality has until Friday to submit its investment plan for the three chosen projects to the federal government.
“It is anticipated CMHC will advise HRM within 7 to 14 days if the projects satisfy the requirements and meet the terms of the funding arrangement,” MacLellan and Greene wrote.
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