People could start moving into a “trailblazing” new housing project in a former Dartmouth hotel in mid-March.
The municipal, provincial and federal governments held a joint video conference on Thursday to announce the Overlook, a new supportive housing project by the Affordable Housing Association (AHANS) and the North End Community Health Centre (NECHC). The building will have 65 tenants.
As the Halifax Examiner first reported in October 2021, AHANS bought the Travellodge Suites at 101 Yorkshire Ave Ext., off Windmill Road in Dartmouth, using a mix of provincial and federal funding directed through the municipal government targeted toward deeply affordable housing.
That federal funding comes from the Rapid Housing Initiative, and totals $6.5 million. The provincial government added $3.5 million to the capital costs and is spending $1.5 million annually on the operating costs.
That operating funding will pay for NECHC to provide support services, including occupational therapy, nursing, addictions counselling, harm reduction services and peer support.
During Thursday’s announcement, NECHC executive director Marie-France LeBlanc said the building is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada.
“It’s a trailblazing housing project that provides safe, independent living and looks beyond the chaotic lifestyles of many of our tenants and their choices, to work collaboratively with them and the community as a whole to create individual plans for safety, stability that a traditional model could not support,” LeBlanc said.
“Specifically, it’s a harm reduction, peer-supported housing program for adults who have long experienced evictions and struggle with addiction and have the associated health issues chronic health issues that go with that.”
LeBlanc said that along with units for each tenant, the Overlook will have a library, a multi-use group meeting space, a pharmacy, a drop-in centre for tenants, a counselling office, and a café and community kitchen.
NECHC has hired most of the staff for the project and it’s adding more soon, LeBlanc said. They’ve already started working with the future tenants.
The sale closed Oct. 29 for about $9.5 million, and AHANS executive director Jim Graham told the Examiner work on the building started right away.
“It was a hotel. It wasn’t an apartment building and it certainly wasn’t an apartment building designed for the folks that are going to live there,” Graham said in an interview on Thursday.
For that reason, workers immediately tore up all the carpet in the building, Graham said, and then found the material underneath wasn’t suitable for the vinyl flooring planned to replace it. They also have to retrofit all the rooms with kitchenettes and ventilation so tenants can make food in their units. And to incorporate the community spaces needed for NECHC’s programming, walls need to come down on the main floor.
“There’s a fair amount of work done in terms of design,” Graham said. The work will now turn to actually finishing a few of the units to get a solid understanding of the cost and timing of each one.
“We’re far enough along so we can actually get permitting to start to work and then we’ll be off and running,” he said.
In terms of when people can start to move in, Graham said AHANS is aiming for March 15.
“If everything goes as it should, with what we know now, we should be there around the middle of March,” he said.
LeBlanc said the tenants won’t be moved in all at once.
“There would never be any any best practice that would say to move 60 people in all at once,” she said. “So we’ve started the program, and you’ll start seeing people trickling in shortly, in the next little while.”
Asked how long the operating funding for NECHC will last, Community Services Minister Karla MacFarlane said it’s permanent.
“We will continue to work closely with them and and negotiate anything that they see they may need and to ensure that individuals that will be staying and living at the Overlook have the services they need to put them on a successful path,” MacFarlane said.
Graham said the project is a “pretty big deal.”
“It’s going to be game changing for many people and there’s a really strong commitment to to do this right,” he said.