Nova Scotia

Halifax narrowing the search for partners to spend federal housing money

Sixteen non-profit organizations are jockeying to partner with Halifax Regional Municipality to spend $8.7 million to create more affordable housing. 

City reviewing 16 proposals for affordable housing projects

By Nov. 27, Halifax council needs a plan for spending $8.7 million in federal funding that's designated for modular housing — like this multi-unit build — residential conversions or renovations to create at least 28 new affordable units. (City of London)

Sixteen organizations are jockeying to partner with Halifax Regional Municipality to spend $8.7 million to create more affordable housing. 

The money comes from the $1-billion Rapid Housing Initiative, a program launched by the federal government this fall to quickly house vulnerable people across the country.

Ottawa announced last month that half the money would be divided between 15 municipalities with the most severe levels of housing insecurity and homelessness.

The federal government gave the cities one month to come up with a plan for spending the money, and one year to make the new housing available.

Halifax reached out to 40 non-profit housing organizations and "numerous" housing advocates, according to a report to council published on Friday, looking for projects that would create a minimum of 28 new affordable units.

Municipal staff are now reviewing the 16 proposals that came in.

Adsum House executive director Sheri Lecker says competition for Ottawa's rapid housing money is stiff. (CBC)

Among them is a 25-unit building in Lakeside that could house up to 60 people — a project that Adsum House, a shelter and support organization for women and children, has been working on for the past 18 months. 

Executive director Sheri Lecker said it will be "highly challenging" to meet the one-year completion timeline that the federal government has mandated. "But we believe it's possible."

"We have ourselves, in the past, in an 11-month period, purchased land, demolished two buildings, had to do some environmental remediation and built a three-storey building with 10 units," Lecker said.

"That was super fast ... but we did it."

HRM staff reported to council that timing is non-negotiable.

"[The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation] has indicated there is no flexibility in extending the 12 month deadline for buildings to be developed and ready for occupancy. As such, HRM will need to be extremely confident that Third Party developments can meet this deadline." 

Modular construction, only

Also seemingly non-negotiable is that construction must be modular — meaning large pieces of a building are pre-fabricated in a factory, then transported and finished on-site.

Halifax councillors will be asked to vote this Tuesday on whether to accept the $8.7 million in rapid housing money from Ottawa. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Adsum House project was not modular in its original design, but the organization quickly reworked its plans to make a modular build possible.

Non-modular proposals could be accepted, but they would have to fit one of two other categories: conversions of non-residential buildings or renovations of buildings that are currently uninhabitable.

Affirmative Ventures was one of the 40 non-profits invited to apply with HRM, and David Harrison said he submitted a proposal for a new build that is not modular. He said HRM already told him his project won't be chosen.

Harrison is the manager of an affordable housing project being developed by Affirmative Ventures, a Dartmouth-based organization that supports people with mental illness and disabilities. 

Affirmative Ventures already has two housing projects — one supportive housing and one transitional housing — and has a plan to create a 45-unit apartment building that would offer affordable housing to seniors and people with mental health concerns.

Harrison said the project was already "shovel ready," and not easily adaptable to a modular build.

'Huge competition' expected for remaining $500M

Still, Harrison could tap into the other half-billion dollars from the Rapid Housing Initiative that isn't dedicated to cities.

That half of the funding is open for applications until the end of the year and non-profits can apply directly, which Harrison said he intends to do. It's also open to provincial and municipal governments, and Indigenous governing bodies and organizations.

Lecker said if HRM doesn't choose to partner with Adsum House, she'll be going for the other funding stream, too. She expects many of the other local proponents have the same idea.

"I can imagine there will be huge competition for that half-billion dollars from coast to coast to coast," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Taryn Grant

Reporter

Taryn Grant is a Halifax-based reporter and web writer for CBC Nova Scotia. You can email her with tips and feedback at taryn.grant@cbc.ca

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