Nova Scotia

Possible sale of Dartmouth housing complex leaves hundreds of residents worried

An apartment complex in Dartmouth, N.S., is for sale, sparking concerns among residents that hundreds of people could soon lose their homes if the new owners decide to increase rent or tear the whole thing down. 

'Gentrification is a thing, and it's devastating to neighbourhoods like this,' says Ocean Breeze resident

Hundreds of people live in the Dartmouth neighbourhood, but they face uncertain futures with the land up for sale. (CBC)

An apartment complex in Dartmouth, N.S., is for sale, sparking concerns among residents that hundreds of people could soon lose their homes if the new owners decide to increase rent or tear the whole thing down. 

Ocean Breeze is a mix of about 400 townhouse-style apartments nestled into woods near the MacKay Bridge.

The units each have three or four bedrooms, putting the total population at around 1,000 people. Tenants say rents range from around $875 to $1,400. 

It was built in 1963 and has since been owned by Dartmouth Investment Limited, a subsidiary of the Ontario-based Elia Corporation.

But that company has listed the 12-hectare property for sale. It was assessed at nearly $23.8 million this year. 

CEO Vince Burns declined to comment when contacted by CBC. CBRE, the real-estate firm selling it as an "an exceptional urban multifamily development opportunity with existing holding income," also declined to speak to CBC. 

The listing and an accompanying brochure do not include an asking price. The listing says existing municipal zoning would allow for a 3.2-million-square-foot redevelopment.

Celine Porcheron says Ocean Breeze is like a village and offers housing that would be nearly impossible to find elsewhere in Nova Scotia. (CBC)

Celine Porcheron moved from Montreal to Ocean Breeze four years ago. She soon fell in love with the actual ocean breeze drifting in from Halifax harbour and through the trees that are home to a small herd of deer. 

"I just love this community. It's very welcoming, it's quiet. And we're a little stressed out about what's happening," she told CBC News Tuesday. 

Porcheron said some residents have lived there for decades, others are new immigrants to Canada, and the community is a mix of families, adults and seniors.

"That's a lot of people to displace without a plan, without talking to us," she said. "I understand the sale is going to happen, but we need to be a part of that process."

'I don't think I could handle another move'

She's been in touch with ACORN, an independent organization that advocates for people of low to moderate income, and Dalhousie Legal Aid to see what options they have. She hasn't been able to reach the owners. 

"Best-case scenario? It would be great if someone bought it and renovated these very old structures and continue the community," she said. 

The worst case would be a quick sale, followed by a new owner increasing rents, or simply ending tenancies so the site can be redeveloped into something like condos. 

"Gentrification is a thing, and it's devastating to neighbourhoods like this."

Donna Bishop lives at Ocean Breeze with her husband and daughter. She hopes they don't have to move. (CBC)

Donna Bishop and her family moved to Ocean Breeze five years ago.

She uses a wheelchair and can get directly into her home on the ground floor. Her husband is experiencing the early stages of dementia and their daughter is his caregiver. 

"Find a three-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a building that I can get into? That we could afford?" she said. "We're on a fixed income. This is a blessing. When we found this, it was just unbelievable."

She half-jokes that her best hope now is that it sits on the market for years, or that they find asbestos in the walls and can't sell it. 

"I'm scared to death. I broke down the day before we moved in here. I don't think I could handle another move," she said. 

Residents have been creating signs to spread awareness, as not everyone knows the complex is for sale. (CBC)

Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister John Lohr said the new PC government brought in many changes to the Residential Tenancy Act and extended the rent cap

He said he doesn't expect the government to bid on the property. "It's very expensive real estate. Many of the things we've already done will protect those renters there," he said. 

NDP calls for government action

Sue LeBlanc, MLA for Dartmouth North, including Ocean Breeze, said the government should look at buying the complex. "I think that would be a great way to protect the affordable housing that is in Ocean Breeze," she said. 

Her NDP introduced a bill last year that would have given the provincial government the first right to refuse sales on buildings and properties, but that did not pass into law. 

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said it should have become law. 

"We would be in a position where the government would be able to step in and have vacant buildings, or buildings for sale, immediately addressed to this pressing need in the province."

with files from Michael Gorman and Taryn Grant