N.S. government puts up $22M forgivable loan for 373 affordable housing units
Units to be included as part of new development in the Dartmouth area
The Nova Scotia government is putting almost $22 million toward a housing development in Dartmouth that will include 373 affordable units, but there are concerns about the nature of the development and whether the units will be truly affordable.
Housing Minister John Lohr announced the $21.8-million forgivable loan for Clayton Developments on Monday.
The company plans to build 875 townhouses, fourplexes and multi-unit apartment buildings in the Southdale-Mount Hope area of Dartmouth. Construction is slated to begin in autumn.
The loan will be forgiven if the company makes good on the 373 affordable units.
"This project will produce more affordable housing units than all our programs have produced in the last three years combined," Lohr told reporters.
The minister said the 373 units will hold the affordable designation for 20 years. Rent will be between 60 and 80 per cent of average market rents for the area.
Based on available housing data, that means rents could be as low as $605 per month for a one-bedroom apartment and $788 for a two-bedroom unit. The province could also make rent supplements available for those who still couldn't afford the lower rents, said Lohr.
"We've always said the answer to the housing crisis we are facing is increasing the overall housing supply, as well as the number of affordable units. [The] Mount Hope project offers both."
Concerns about limited community consultation
The land is part of nine areas Lohr announced last week would be fast-tracked for development.
While some of these areas — all in Halifax Regional Municipality — have received a favourable response, there are concerns about the land in the Southdale-Mount Hope area.
Some residents point to limited community consultation about the project and the potential effect it could have on green space and wetlands.
Bill Zebedee, who lives near the proposed development and is a member of the group Protect Eisner Cove Wetlands, said it seems like the process is moving ahead without much consideration for community feedback or potential environmental issues.
Zebedee said he's particularly concerned about some reports the company has filed related to the project, which he said don't seem to capture the range of potential environmental impacts.
"I think that council has to be very cautious and the province should be cautious about moving forward with this because there's so many unanswered questions."
Different developments, different approaches
District 5 HRM Coun. Sam Austin said he's not sure how much input council will actually have.
Because of powers Lohr received through legislation last fall, and a dedicated housing task force, it's possible the development could be a done deal as presented, said Austin. While he hopes that isn't the case, he said the amount of feedback that went into a proposal for the former Penhorn Mall site is in stark contrast.
"There's been extensive community and visioning that's been completed over several years before the property owner was even interested in doing development," he said.
"Then you have Southdale over there with the marsh, where there's been no community discussion in the past whatsoever as to the future of the lands and so it's a much more open question as to what development on that land would look like, how much land should be saved for conservation."
Grants for community groups
Monday's announcement marks the end of the remaining money in the province's $35-million quick-start program, which was announced last fall.
Lohr said that the forgivable loan for Clayton Developments was anticipated at that time. He said more affordable housing announcements would come.
The minister also announced that the province and federal government are partnering to make $916,000 in grants available to community groups looking to begin the work on potential housing developments.
Provincial officials have previously said there need to be more non-profit housing developments led by community groups as part of the effort to expand affordable housing across the province.
"They know their communities best and we're optimistic that this seed money will provide for more projects in the future," said Lohr.
Liberal MLA Lorelei Nicoll said the announcements from the province are a good start, but she wants to hear more about the plan to increase affordable housing outside Halifax Regional Municipality.
New Democrat MLA Suzy Hansen said she's concerned about the formula the province is using to consider a unit affordable.
Hansen said it would be better if the province used a threshold based on 30 per cent of a person's annual income.
MORE TOP STORIES
With files from Pam Berman