Plans for affordable housing project in Halifax cut in half
Housing Trust of Nova Scotia has sold one Gottingen Street property, hopes to build on another
After a decade-long push to build two apartment buildings with affordable units in north-end Halifax, a non-profit group has cut its vision in half in order to keep it alive.
The Housing Trust of Nova Scotia was established in 2009 with the goal of developing and maintaining housing that mixes affordable- and market-rate units under the same roof; the idea being that market-rate units would subsidize the affordable ones.
The approach has proven difficult to realize.
The housing trust's original plan was to build more than 200 units split between two sites — 2215 and 2183 Gottingen St. — with half to be rented below market rates. In 2011, the housing trust demolished existing buildings at those sites. By 2015, the municipality had approved designs for new buildings at each site.
Since then, housing trust president Ross Cantwell said he and the rest of the volunteer board have been trying to round up enough money to start building, but without success.
One lot sold for $6.5M
Last month, the housing trust sold one of the properties, 2215 Gottingen, for $6.5 million. According to property records, the deed for the 2,166-square-metre lot went to a numbered company owned by Elie Chater. Chater has not responded to a request from CBC News for comment about his plans for the lot.
Cantwell said it was a "heart-wrenching" sale.
"It's like, which child do we put up for adoption? It was not a decision that we wanted to make," Cantwell said in an interview.
What it came down to, he said, was selling one of the vacant lots or letting them go to foreclosure. He said the housing trust could no longer keep up with property taxes.
The group chose to keep 2183 Gottingen because it was closer to completing the building permit application for that site, Cantwell said.
Now, the housing trust is hoping the money made from the sale, along with a renewed focus on just one project, will mean construction can finally begin.
The development agreement with the city was due to expire last June, but the housing trust applied for and was granted an extension. The agreement is now set to expire this June, so the clock is ticking.
"Unless we can break ground this summer, our current plans, which we spent $200,000 developing, are going to have to get pushed aside and we would have to redesign the building based on the new Centre Plan," he said, referring to Halifax Regional Municipality's planning guidelines adopted in 2019.
Since the housing trust's development agreement predates the Centre Plan, it's been grandfathered in.
Costs have ballooned
The housing trust first developed its plans for the apartment buildings in the early 2010s. Cantwell said in the meantime, estimated construction costs have ballooned by 70 per cent. His latest estimate for the apartment building at 2183 Gottingen is about $30 million.
Despite the challenges he's faced so far in securing funding, Cantwell said he's optimistic. He attributed that optimism, in part, to promises from all levels of government that have come about in the face of an affordable housing crunch in Halifax, other parts of Nova Scotia, and across the country.
"It's sad that it's come to this point, but the issues have become so severe that ... everyone is talking about it, everyone's working," he said.
He pointed to recent changes adopted by Halifax regional council to waive some permitting fees for affordable housing developments as one example, and to the province's new affordable housing commission as another.
Cantwell said there's more government money available now for affordable housing developments than he's seen at any point in the past decade. He's expected to meet with provincial and federal officials later this month to talk about tapping into funding from those two levels of government.
"We're hoping to sort of bring everything to a conclusion so we can make a decision and move forward," he said.