A non-profit in Bridgewater that serves clients across the South Shore is asking Bridgewater town council for a tax exemption, among other requests, for an affordable housing project it plans on building on King Street.
Art Fisher, the executive director of the Family Service of Mi’kma’ki, gave a presentation on the requests to Bridgewater Town Council on Monday evening.
The project started in 2017 when Fisher said the housing crisis was already emerging in Bridgewater and Family Service of Mi’kma’ki was a “first-hand witness” to it. The site at King Street was formerly a hardware store, which has since been was remediated, yet construction on the housing remains at a standstill.
The project will provide 68 units of deeply affordable housing in downtown Bridgewater. Some of those units will be set aside for women and their children who are fleeing situations of domestic violence. The housing will also be connected with the community’s Coordinated Access to Housing System that will provide needed supports to tenants. The project will also be a net-zero-energy build.
Family Service of Mi’kma’ki already has three units of housing in another building on King Street.
The project also includes ground floor and rooftop indoor and outdoor cafés, as well as a five-story public gallery and cultural, performance, and meeting space.
“641 King St. Is not only affordable housing,” Fisher told council. “It’s also a site that welcomes the community in.”
‘We need to work together’
Fisher said Family Service of Mi’kma’ki received $268,000 in funding from the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) this past summmer, but that funding can’t be released to help pay for final reports unless taxes on the project are non-existent or alleviated.
“So, we need to work together to see do we have a solution for that,” Fisher said during his presentation. “If we won’t have a solution for that, this project is dead in the water.”
There are others asks of the town that Fisher didn’t have time to address in his presentation. Those requests include mitigation of construction permits and fees, minimizing parking requirements, and a separate fast track for non-profit housing development approvals to expedite nonprofit housing development.
Mayor David Mitchell said council would review the requests and provide a response in January.
In an interview with the Halifax Examiner after the council meeting, Fisher said he felt optimistic about the requests made to the town.
“For me, the optimism is around us recognizing, and hopefully the town recognizing, that we’re only going to be able to do this if we do this together,” Fisher said. “It was very helpful to point out tonight to the town the millions of dollars of program funding we’ve brought to this community since 1998.”
“And it was helpful to point out and clarify what the roles of non-profits are. Non-profits are providing services that are worth way more in your community than the small amount of tax we’re asking you to alleviate. I feel hopeful, of course, because I think it’s a very bright, intelligent, and caring council. I’m hoping they will make the decisions that will benefit our community.”
Project could break ground by end of 2023
Fisher said if the town can make a decision in January, then it will take about four months to complete the final reports, another six months to finalize the co-investment contributions for the project, which means they could break ground on the project by the end of 2023.
Fisher said Family Service of Mi’kma’ki doesn’t receive core funding, that is funding that covers typical administrative costs such as rent, salaries, and equipment, yet has secured $7.9 million dollars of provincial and federal funding for programs for children, youth, adults, families, and communities since 1998. Some of that funding included $170,000 in funding to offer a skills trade program for youth who helped with the remediation of the site at King Street.
“The services and roles non-profits play and the money we can bring in… is of way more value than what we can contribute to the tax base of the town,” he said.
Roles of non-profits in providing affordable housing
Fisher pointed to examples of how rural municipalities are helping non-profits in their own communities with affordable housing. He said there are non-profits in Antigonish that received lump sums of funding from their municipalities to develop housing sites he said are much smaller than the one on King Street. Fisher also pointed to Charlottetown’s Affordable Housing Incentive Program that encourages non-profit sectors to provide housing projects that will assist that city in meeting housing demands.
Fisher said he hopes that this project serves as an example of what non-profits can do about providing affordable housing in other rural communities across the province.
“It’s my hope that we’re somehow forward together for all rural areas,” Fisher said. “Because the housing crisis is everywhere. … It was extremely important tonight to ask our town council for these commitments. And it was important to be able to demonstrate the incredibly valuable nonprofits already make in the community.”