A former all-ages music venue in Halifax is being converted into an overnight shelter, but only for a few weeks.

In a news release on Tuesday, the provincial Department of Community Services announced that the municipally-owned building on Cogswell Street on the Halifax Common will be used as a 25-bed shelter, open from 9pm to 9am, until March 31.

The new temporary shelter is meant to replace one the municipality and the province have intermittently operated this winter at the George Dixon Centre during severe weather.

The Permanent, Accessible, Dignified and Safe (P.A.D.S.) Community Network and others have criticized the unreliable nature of that system: there’s often a lack of communication about when the shelter is open and it’s sometimes closed during severe weather. (P.A.D.S. advocates on behalf of the residents of the People’s Park, where the municipality and police destroyed a makeshift pantry and seized the lumber at 10pm on Saturday.)

A small brick building is seen in a grainy image with the word google at the bottom. It's a sunny day, and there are solar panels visible on the back of the building, facing away from the camera.
The Pavilion on Cogswell Street will be turned into an overnight shelter for the month of March. Photo: Google Streetview

The province is spending $30,000 to staff the Pavilion shelter, while HRM will pay the operating costs. Come April, it’s back to the existing model.

“After March 31, activating a temporary shelter will be determined on a case-by-case basis,” the news release said.

Also on Tuesday, Halifax regional council passed a series of motions directing funding for several housing projects offering varying levels of affordability.

Most significantly, council approved a grant of more than $400,000 for Compass Nova Scotia, the housing co-operative planning two six-storey buildings on Maitland Street in Halifax. As the Halifax Examiner reported last March, the federal and provincial governments put up $4 million for that project.

Compass applied to the municipality for funding under its Affordable Housing Grant Program, which uses density bonus money collected from developers. That program places a cap on grants for one year of $400,000. Chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé awarded Compass $57,037 for the project, and in a report to council on Tuesday, municipal planners Jamy-Ellen Klenavic and Jill MacLellan recommended council approve the withdrawal of another $415,245 for the project for a total of $472,282.

A rendering of the proposal for Maitland Street. Photo: CNW Group/Compass Nova Scotia Co-operative Homes Ltd. Credit: CNW Group/Compass Nova Scotia Co-operative Homes Ltd.

According to Klenavic and MacLellan’s report, the Compass project is “more closely geared to moderate/low incomes vs addressing deep affordability.” Rents for the 56 units planned are listed as $937 for one-bedrooms (18), $1,237 for two-bedrooms (24), and $1,462 for three-bedrooms (14).

The rest of the originally-budgeted $400,000 in grant funding went to Affirmative Ventures, which received $162,636 for its development on Main Street in Dartmouth, and Welcome Housing and YWCA, which received $180,327 for their project on Belle Aire Terrace in Halifax.

In another motion, council approved changes to the city’s agreement to sell property in north Dartmouth to the Affordable Housing Association of Nova Scotia (AHANS).

In November 2020, council agreed to sell four properties on True North Crescent for $1 each. At the time, AHANS was planning to build 25 townhouse-style apartments. The sale was contingent upon AHANS securing financing, and it’s now done so.

Through the projects stream of the Rapid Housing Initiative, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has agreed to provide $3.7 million in funding for AHANS to build 12 deeply affordable units. According to a staff report to council on Tuesday, CMHC wants HRM to amend the terms of the sale.

CMHC’s amendments significantly strengthen the affordability of the units and speed up the timeframe.

Originally, HRM proposed a buy-back clause based on a 25-year term. AHANS would have to rent 56% of the units for no more than 20% below market value, or HRM would buy back the property for $1. The project would have to be complete within five years of the sale closing.

Under the new terms, approved unanimously at council, the project will have to be complete within three years, and tenants in the units will pay no more than 30% of their gross income. AHANS will also have to serve “people and populations who are vulnerable” and make a “reasonable” effort to reserve 10 units for people who are unhoused or at risk and two for newcomers or refugees. The new terms also mandate those conditions for 40 years.

Under the Rapid Housing Initiative’s cities stream, HRM chose six projects to receive funding to create a total of 137 units. Those include the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre, Adsum Women and Children and the North End Community Health Centre projects approved in November 2020, and the AHANS, Souls Harbour and Akoma Holdings projects approved in August 2021.

On Tuesday, council voted to enter into agreements with Housing Nova Scotia to dole out the funding for those projects.

Councillors also voted to use some of the property tax money collected for supplementary education funding in Halifax Regional Centre for Education schools, $205,601, to pay for their modular housing projects.

Council has already budgeted $4.9 million for those units — those occupied by 26 people in Dartmouth and others planned to accommodate 38 people in Halifax. The extra $205,601, which was identified as surplus by the Halifax Regional Centre for Education, would give the city some budget contingency.

“With many aspects of the emergency housing work still ongoing, it would be advantageous to provide a contingency that would allow the flexibility to complete the work on the emergency housing initiatives and minimize the potential of having to request additional funds from Regional Council in the current fiscal year,” Lisa Martin, financial business partner with HRM, wrote in the staff report to council.

The units planned for the parking lot of the Centennial Pool in Halifax were planned to be complete by mid-March. According to an information report attached to the council agenda, dated February 22, “the surveyed layout and construction of the structural support system for the Halifax modular units is ongoing.”

“The civil site work (i.e. installation of water, sanitary and electrical infrastructure) within Cogswell Street and on site is expected to be completed by the end of February,” Paul Johnston, managing director of government relations and external affairs, wrote in the report.

“All construction permits have been received. Seven modular units have been delivered and stored at Bird Construction’s equipment yard and the two remaining units will be delivered to the site at the time of installation. The municipality continues to work with partners to complete the work as quickly as possible.”

Exactly when people can move in is dependent on the provincial government, Johnston wrote, as they contract the service provider.

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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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