The provincial government is contributing more than $200,000 to a Habitat for Humanity project in Spryfield that will provide 70 affordable homes in the coming years.
The Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing made the announcement in a news release on Monday.
Habitat for Humanity’s typical model provides an interest-free mortgage to a family who qualifies and provides 500 hours of volunteer time — sweat equity, as Habitat for Humanity calls it — in lieu of a down payment. The mortgage payments are then capped at 30% of the family’s income.
The new government money, $203,500, will go toward pre-construction costs at Habitat Way, the charity’s long-planned housing project off Drysdale Road.
“That’s going to allow us to build out the business plan for this development,” Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia executive director Donna Williamson said in an interview.
“We realize in order for this development to be successful, we need to have a proper plan in place, understand the true cost, understand some of the sources of funding that will be available to us, so that when we break ground and we announce that we’re going to start the 70 units that we can continue and we don’t have those barriers in front of us and we’re not starting and stopping and starting and stopping.”
Getting started certainly hasn’t been easy.
In September 2018, HRM’s Halifax and West Community Council approved a development agreement for the site, bounded by Drysdale Road, River Road and the J.L. Ilsley High School property.
At the time, the plan was to build a new “P-loop” street, a four-storey apartment or condo building, and then a series of townhouses — 78 units in total. It was billed as Habitat for Humanity’s largest project in Canada.
But as the Halifax Examiner reported in November 2018, an overlooked covenant on the property got in the way:
The H4H and the Paradigm parcels are the result of the split of a larger parcel back in 1994. At that time, the larger property was owned by Cadillac Developments of Chester. The president of Cadillac was then Wilfred Young.
In 1994, Cadillac sold the 3.8-acre parcel to Paradigm, and Cadillac kept ownership of the adjacent 5.6-acre parcel. However, along with the deal, Paradigm was granted a covenant restriction on the Cadillac property, signed by Wilfred Young. The covenant restriction reads:
The said lands, known as the “restricted lands”, owned by the Grantor [Cadillac] herein being and lying along the northern boundary of Lots X and RC-1 [that is, the Paradigm property], herein shall not be developed, sub-divided, conveyed or used for purposes other than “R-2” uses as provided for by the City of Halifax, Province of Nova Scotia as of April 19, 1994, provided that and in no event may such lands be developed, sub-divided, conveyed or used for a greaty density than duplex dwellings, without the written permission of the Grantee herein (Paradigm Investments Limited).
So H4H had purchased the property thinking there were no restrictions on it, but Paradigm had and has a legal right to enforce those restrictions. And the restriction gives Paradigm veto power over any development larger than duplexes — that is, Paradigm can prohibit H4H from building its proposed four-storey, 40-unit condo building.
Then-CEO of Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia, Steve Doane, told the Examiner at the time he felt the covenant issue would be resolved, but Williamson said on Monday that the plans have changed. In 2020, Williamson said, Habitat decided to switch from an apartment building to “stacked” townhouses. Those townhouses will have upper and lower flats.
The new plan will have to go back before the Halifax and West Community Council for an amendment to the original development agreement.
With this new funding in place, the plan is to get started this year building the new road and starting work on five townhouses. By the end of 2024, Williamson said the hope is to have 30 townhouses completed. In the centre of the new street, Habitat Way, there’ll be park space and a community centre, Williamson said.
“We’re just excited to get this project started,” Williamson said.
Williamson said the usual home ownership model is the plan for most of Habitat Way, but they may explore other affordable housing models in the stacked townhouses.
There is already a row of Habitat for Humanity townhouses in the area, seven units in total, built between 2015 and 2018.
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This is good news. I hope the project really gets going and is completed as soon as possible.