The Grafton Street Glory Hole, with the convention centre above it. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Quebec was granted $1.4 billion for affordable housing. Quebec City, Montreal, and Gatineau came together to make the ask. Nova Scotia should ask for $160 million based on a per capita equivalent. The mayors of Sydney, HRM, Bridgewater, Kentville, Yarmouth, Truro, and Wolfville could get together and make a similar coordinated bid. 

HRM’s portion of that money would be about $68.8 million. Could HRM be trusted to figure out how to spend this amount? The federal government may want to see that HRM and the province have firm policies on affordable housing. This is something that both HRM and the province need to get their act together on. 

If Halifax spent $9 million for 52 units under the Rapid Housing Initiative, could it stretch the $68.8M to provide housing for all the 300 Haligonians sleeping rough this winter? The province has jurisdiction over the rent supplement for affordable housing but maybe HRM could deal with the building part. On November 17, 2020 HRM CAO Jacques Dubé admitted that housing was a joint responsibility of the province and the municipality. Maybe that’s a sign that they can figure out how to work together. 

HRM could fund the other 13 applicants that originally applied to the Rapid Housing Initiative. There would be no one-year time restraint. The nine projects for which there is available information cost about $30.7 million, which would result in 165 affordable units. That number is nowhere near what HRM needs, but it is a start.

Another idea is for HRM to repurpose the convention centre. Big conventions were already in decline when it was built. The restrictions imposed by COVID-19 demonstrated how meetings and conventions can be held virtually. Pretending there will be a return to normal is both delusional and expensive — but what a great opportunity to convert the convention centre to small affordable apartments. If small apartments can be built between 300-700 square feet, the 120,000 square feet of the Convention Centre could result in approximately 170 units. This number may vary with hallway width and common space. The building code for residential use is slightly different than that for office towers, but the fact that the government of Canada has suggested using old office towers for the Rapid Housing Initiative means that the building code is not an insurmountable obstacle.

A repurposed Convention Centre could be arranged like a housing cooperative. The renters could spend a portion of their monthly rent to pay for elevator maintenance, heat, electricity, and other expenses. The oversight could be dealt with by a cooperative board.

Constructing apartments in the building will take time, but this is also an opportunity to create employment. Money that is being spent to keep the convention centre operating and empty could be spent to keep it operating and filled with safe and accessible housing. If HRM can spend $11.1 million bailing out the convention centre it spent $59 million erecting, then it certainly has money to deal with the homelessness crisis.

If HRM didn’t want to make use of the $59 million we already spent to build the convention centre, another option could be to purchase the South Tower of the Nova Centre. The tower is not fully occupied by tenants. Any current tenants could relocate to the Bank of Montreal tower adjacent to the South Tower. The South Tower is not fully finished on the interior, so there is an opportunity to make small apartments.

A lot of individuals and groups thought that building the Nova Centre wasn’t a good idea. Let’s remedy that big financial mistake by at least making the space useful.  

Jen Powley

Writer, advocate of equal rights. Former staff of Ecology Action Centre and NSLEO. MFA in Creative Nonfiction, University of King's College. Master of Urban and Rural Planning, Dalhousie University. Bachelor...

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  1. I left a comment on the Convention Centre recently but cannot find it on the Readers Comments records! Iain Taylor

      1. One thing that could be done by the Convention Centre principals is to publicly apologise to all who fought valiantly to avoid this public train wreck in the first place.

        Begin by asking all those developers who paid for a full page C-H ad vilifying the Heritage Trust and its execs (pensioners in the main) who were made individually responsible in a ‘slap suit’ action by Ramia et al. which was only avoided by corporate liability insurance held by the Trust. Iain T.

  2. Moncton did not get Rapid Housing money. Instead, Moncton put up $6M for affordable housing and this was matched by NB/Feds… a total of $12M for 125 affordable units. St. John’s got some Rapid Housing money, not much mind you, but they happen to have their own housing division with 6 staff and they manage 479 low income housing units. Even adjacent District of Chester is investing in affordable seniors housing. All of these local governments are much smaller than HRM. But they get it. They are leveraging funding from senior governments to help solve affordable housing problems in their communities. HRM was gifted $8.7M from CMHC under the Rapid Housing program. How much money has HRM actually invested in affordable housing?

  3. Please, and with all due respect; enough with the Convention Centre being used for housing.It aint gonna happen, ever.

    1. I agree that it is not the best solution, but since HRM sold Bloomfield, the only other publicly owned land I can think of is the Cunard Centre and that has a really high ceiling. I thought building walls would be harder there. I know it’s not a great solution, but I was trying to work with what we have.

  4. Covid vaccination centre first, then affordable housing.

    Doubt the ruling Liberal hoypolloy would want that though. They need a posh setting for their self congratulatory cocktail parties and circle jerks.