Nova Scotia

Notorious Halifax apartment buildings transformed into clean affordable housing

Buildings that made headlines in Halifax because of their deplorable living conditions have been gutted and transformed into affordable — and attractive — housing, thanks to a new landlord.

'This wasn't a lipstick job, this was starting from scratch,' says Ron Lovett, the new landlord

Ron Lovett said he is carefully screening new tenants for 22 Evans Ave. The building was once condemned but has been transformed into clean, safe and attractive affordable housing. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

Some of Halifax's most notorious apartment buildings — known for bedbugs, squatting and illegal drug activity — have undergone a complete transformation under a new owner who has pledged to maintain affordable and desirable rental housing.

Over the years, the buildings at 22 and 24 Evans Ave., and 15 and 16 Dawn St., in Fairview were occasionally in the news as scenes of arsons and drug overdoses.

The filthy and dangerous living conditions at 22 Evans Ave. also made headlines two years ago when the city took the unusual step of condemning the building, ordering it be shut down and its tenants removed.

The previous landlord said he tried to keep the buildings up, but blamed the tenants for trashing them.

Ron Lovett, owner of apartment company Vida Living, bought the four buildings last August, and secured $1.19 million from the province and federal government to convert the two Evans Avenue properties into safe, secure affordable housing. He also poured another $500,000 into improvements.

He admits he walked into a "disaster." The buildings were infested with bed bugs and cockroaches, mould covered the walls and ceilings, windows and pipes were damaged, and graffiti, litter and drug paraphernalia were everywhere.

"It was disgusting, the place was in disarray," said Lovett. "Rodents, bugs, you name it, needles, everything was here." He even found small mounds of white powder on a stove, which he suspects was cocaine.

Cockroaches and trashed apartments are some of the problems Lovett encountered when he bought the Fairview buildings. (Submitted by Ron Lovett)

Lovett, who is also the founder of the Halifax firm Source Security, which he sold in 2016, has been moving into the affordable housing business.

He admits most investors would run from the properties he bought, but instead he saw a business opportunity — and much more.

His concept is to create affordable rental housing that's sustainable. The business model invests in the property and people: Make the building attractive, safe and clean; attract the right tenants and screen them carefully; if tenants have skills such as painting, hire them to work in the building to help create a sense of community.

A brand new kitchen is one of the features of this apartment at 22 Evans Ave. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

To make the buildings safe, portions were gutted and taken back to the studs, and new subfloors, drywall, flooring, kitchens, bathrooms and surveillance cameras were installed.

To kill the bed bugs, Lovett turned off the heat for several months and "froze the building." 

Some of the upgraded buildings have gyms, libraries and common rooms.

"This wasn't a lipstick job, this was starting from scratch," he said.

Vida Living is hiring 'building ambassadors' to contribute their skills to the building. (Robert Guertin/CBC)

Lovett said he's doing his part to help to solve an affordable housing problem in the city. He's focusing on the neighbourhood where he attended junior high.

His new tenants are a mix of immigrants, blue collar workers and former Fairview residents who "have lost all confidence in this area that are coming back to the area — which is a great sign."

There are still vacancies, but he's hoping the apartments will be snapped up by tenants who share his vision.

A two-bedroom apartment with heat and hot water included is $850 a month.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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